LONGSHOTS: Celtics bull their way into round two — finally!
by Dave Long
Now that the Celtics-Bulls series has settled the non-sense over which is more entertaining at its peak — college basketball or the NBA — I can get on to some other matters from the truly great series.
Contrary to what a meatball like Michael Felger said on his new Sunday night show on Comcast Sports Net (which ain’t bad, by the way), the series shouldn’t have been a walk. It is standard practice for the media to say a team underperformed when challenged unexpectedly by a surprising (usually) young team. And if you disagree you’re a “homer,” because you have to always say tough things about the favorite to earn journalistic props. It’s also typical from someone who can’t judge the talent of a rising team. Or maybe he can’t see past prevailing perception of the Bulls, like the national media with the Cs and L.A. before last year’s final.
From the time they made the trade for John Salmons and Brad Miller that dramatically improved the team, the Bulls went 18-10. That included a St. Patrick’s Day thumping of the Celtics and it’s a 52- or 53-win pace — hardly a typical seven seed. Throw out the early adjustment period and it’s more like a 56-win pace. During the same period the Celtics were a nearly identical 18-8 without KG. Since trends at the end of a year are usually more important than the 62 wins the Cs put on the board (43 with KG), that looks like the teams, as constituted for the series, were pretty even. Minus the experience factor, which went to Boston. But considering they lost Leon Powe early (his six fouls with it) and got virtually nothing from Miki Moore and Stephon Marbury, does it really seem like a clear-cut Celtics win? It didn’t look that way before the series and it doesn’t now.
For a player or coach to expect they’ll be just as good without their best player and be unwilling to use it as an excuse is the right way to think. But for someone in the cheap seats to think they should play like the same team without KG is nuts. When Larry Bird didn’t play back in the day the Cs were a .500 team — in 1988-89 he played just six games and they went a lackluster 42-40. This team did a lot better than that with their top guy out. When Larry came back the next year they went out of the box at 25-5 before injuries hit again. They wound up winning 52, then blew a 2-0 lead over the Knicks to lose the mini-series 3-2. When Robert Parish didn’t play they were around .400, which should end the argument over who was more important, he or Kevin McHale, who they were around .600 without. Not even close, but I digress.
Did the Sox underachieve in the ’08 ALCS, or did Tampa’s red hot rising stars and superior pitching beat them? I say the latter. So the bottom line here is I think the Bulls are the Tampa Bay of the NBA. I said last week they’re better than Atlanta, whose promise (largely fulfilled) many were drooling over after they pushed Garnett and company to seven games last year, when they did underachieve. If they can keep their core together — which is a big if with Ben Gordon and new Garden villain Brad Miller free agents — they’ll be the next team to climb the ladder to join the group of top-tier NBA teams. And when that happens keep those cards and letters coming to Mr. Felger. If it doesn’t, send them to me.
Now for some other thoughts on the great series.
I sent an e-mail to my friend Jimmy Connolly in Milwaukee. Grew up with him in NY. He went to Marquette during the Al McGuire era and knows what he’s talking about. He told me when the Celtics got Ray Allen he wouldn’t play well in the clutch. My note said “I’m pretty sure you’re wrong.”
I had no idea not only Derek Rose was as good as he is, but ditto for John Salmons. He can play.
And riddle me this, Batman: how many teams in playoff history have ever had THREE different guys go for 35 or more in the same series against the Celtics as Rose, Salmons and Gordon? The threesomes of Jabbar, Magic and Big Game James Worthy; Moses, Dr. J and either Andrew Toney or a young Charles Barkley; and Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt were all capable of doing it. But to my knowledge none did.
From the “I was right and most other hoopsters I know were wrong” department: Once you get past the ’do, Joakim Noah is a real player and will get a lot better. Most I know said/say Al Horford was the best player at Florida, and from a traditional skills sense maybe they’re right. But Noah is the kind of guy winning teams must have. Tell me how many guys you’ve seen who could regularly impact a game and not have to score at all. I’ve got five: Bill Walton, Bill Russell, Dennis Rodman, Ben Wallace and Will “the Thrill” Flowers. That’s it. Until now — ’cause he’s one of them.
And how many seven-footers could’ve made all of what was involved in the play that sealed Game Six? KG, Hakeem Olajuwan and Dave Cowens. Maybe Bob McAdoo or Marcus Camby. Anyone else come to mind?
Thank god the APB put out on Eddie House before Game Seven worked. Those threes of his were and are very important.
Put a check in the “clueless” column for Felger’s notion that Rajon Rondo played badly in Game Six because he had just eight points. Must have missed the nine rebounds, tying a Celtics team record 19 assists and NO turnovers. You don’t have to be a math major to know when one guy goes off for 51 as Allen did, someone else doesn’t score as much. If you don’t believe me, check how many Danny Ainge had the day Bird scored 60.
How can Bulls assistant Del Harris look exactly as he did as the head coach of Houston when the Celtics beat them in the 1981 Finals?
Even with the incredible number of lead changes, ties, five games decided by three or less and four OTs, I still can’t call this the greatest series ever. First because it happened in the first round and second because there’s no real history or rivalry between the teams. But it does set one up for next year, doesn’t it?
Consolation to Felgi — at least I watched the new show and give it a thumbs up.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.