Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Earlier tonight, I played basketball. This is not abnormal, but something felt different tonight. I hit my first three shots without warming up. The kids around me waited before they jacked up half-court throws, crazy drives and terrible fade-away threes. The dudes looking to beat up on a skinny white kid waited for me to ask them to play before they were ready.
If this happened normally, I would probably stink up the joint. Not tonight. I hit jumpers from everywhere, I finished drives and even hit six straight at one point. As someone who doesn't feel vindicated or alive through sports, really, it's nice to play up to my capability. (Six in a row, I guess, would be beyond said capability). I came home feeling confident, and just in time for the tipoff.
If I was felling confident and released, there is no telling the amount of emotion pouring from Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce or Ray Allen. I was surprised to see Kevin Garnett be as cogent or coherent as he was after the game. The fact that 48% of what he said was audible and actual caught me off guard. Pierce's elation cracked through but never affected his speech. Ray Allen was, well, Ray Allen (is there a rule that UConn guys have to be the most boring interviews in history?). I could talk forever about this team, I really could.
Now, the unbelievable last four minutes. After the big three left the game, they celebrated with eagerness-- not like the Spurs first win (the reserved Robinson seemed to just smile and soak) or the Shaquille-Kobe Lakers (expectation trumping anticipation). They treated the game like a job. When the clock was stuck on thirty seconds, they had the look of children waiting for their rides home from school. They were rambunctious and anticipatory; relentless in their need to release. A year of doing the right things finally paid off.
That's what makes this a championship to remember. For the most part (aside from Garnett's on-again-off-again trade mongering and Pierce's bout with listlessness on bad teams), all of these players did the right thing either for the year (Perkins, Powe, Rondo, etc.) or for their entire careers. They got no reward for efforts beyond their capability. Eddie House, left behind on the playoff roster, executed to the best of his ability even on the bench. Rajon Rondo used his shaky inconsistency the same way a young Jason Kidd did-- feeding the monsters no matter if he was open or not, etc.
Now, the execution. Perhaps the strangest part of last night's game was the relentless execution. Basketball at it's purest form is a mistake ridden experience. Basketball is a sinner's respite. The best players not only make few mistakes, they know exactly what to do when mistakes occur. This is why Kobe Bryant faltered and Paul Pierce soared. Kobe has been Hercules for so long that he panicked when he couldn't find the rhythm of his game. He jacked up shots quicker and from awkward angles when he lost his way. Pierce has never been the best player on the floor for a sustained period of time. So he executed. He wanted to stay on top because he had never been there before. He was drawing double teams from the best two defenders on the floor regularly. This was his all-too-late coming out party into the NBA's elite for Paul.
In fact, that was the case for everyone but Kevin Garnett. The Celtics knew they had to be perfect to overcome a home loss against the Pistons. They knew they had to be flawless to beat a team with more all-around talent (I still believe that) and a superior coach. They knew. And the culmination of perfection came last night. Every rebound, every loose ball, every steal, every shot and every hand-check was calculated and scientifically executed. The Celtics played the closest to perfection that I have seen any team play.
This wasn't about overcoming odds, it was about the culmination of angst and bitterness-- the appreciation of basketball for a team (and, yes, city) that did not know how to anymore. The glossed over idea amongst basketball fans has nothing to do with style or personality. This championship was more involved than past glory-- for the first time in a while, it had to do with the idea of want: wanting something so bad and then getting it. It was higher evolved than a man shooting hoops in a park, more involved than the task of basketball. It showed.