Archives For June 2008

It’s the late 50’s and a pattern begins. It involves an emerging professional basketball league, and a team that is about to drag it out of the smoky arenas and into the consciousness of the American sports fan. It involves a team that will draw attention to the new league by its singular and, in retrospect, ridiculously one-sided dominance. 11 banners in 13 years. 8 championships in a row.

In our modern sports lexicon, we carelessly bandy about the word “Dynasty”. If 3 in a row or four in a decade is considered a dynasty, then those early Celtics were an uber-dynasty.

As the ’50’s turn into the ’60’s, and Bob Short moves his Minneapolis Lakers west, another piece of that pattern becomes painfully evident for the Los Angelinos who filled the seats of new owner Jack Kent Cooke’s Fabulous Forum.

As much it is hard to imagine a franchise dominating for an entire decade, it’s even harder to imagine that every year they would be vanquishing the same team.

“I still see green people,” Jerry West said in a recent interview on the Dan Patrick Show. “It definitely left me emotionally scarred.”

The Lakers and Celtics would meet in the finals from 1961 to 1969. They would push the Celtics to 7 games three times, but never get their hands on the trophy.

And the Celtics would do it with the same “Seven master plays” of Red Auerbach. With future Hall of Famers filling the Celtic’s and Laker’s roster, the short answer for this dominance is answered in two words: Bill Russell.

But what about Wilt? There’s a simple answer there as well. Wilt intimidated everyone and dominated all comers…all except Russell.

West and Elgin Baylor would take turns filling the bucket, scoring 60 plus, hitting half court shots to send games into overtime, but to no avail.

Frank Selvy is a name few Laker fans may recognize in 2008, but he was the goat of ’62. If he hits a wide open jumper in that game 7 in ’62 at the end of regulation in the Garden… but he doesn’t. And teammate “Hot Rod” Hundley consoles him in the locker room with,

“Don’t worry. You only cost us $30,000 dollars. (their playoff share). You b*stard.”

They would push Havlicek and crew to 7 games again in ’66 only to have Russell score 25 points and pull down 32 rebounds in the pivotal game.

Until ’69…

This would be the Laker’s year. They finally had the home court advantage. Jack Kent Cooke would have the USC band there to play “Happy Days Are Here Again” and balloons would drift down from the rafters of the Forum.

Russell would look up into those rafters and see those balloons and, as the mythology goes, say…

“Those balloons are going to stay up there a hell of a long time.”

And so they did.

But Russell would retire, and Baylor would as well. Leaving West and Chamberlain to lead the team to their first ‘chip in L.A. It would do little to satiate West after so many years of Garden-variety abuse.

Mr. Clutch’s sole ring would come against the Knicks, and he would be coached by a Celtic legend, Bill Sharman.

Bill Sharman, A Celtic player with 3 rings would be the architect of the first Los Angeles team to win it all, and use Auerbach’s blueprint by convincing Chamberlain to imitate Russell: focusing him on playing defense, rebounding, and throwing the outlet pass to start the break.

As the Lakers scuffled through the ‘rest of the70’s after West’s retirement, Auerbach would retool with his ability to flummox other owners on a regular basis for their best players, and utilize his uncanny knack for drafting players late who would turn into the key cogs of a team that would capture two more titles in the 70’s.

If you’re keeping score, that’s 13 to 1.

A Small Amount of Redemption

It’s 1979, and the rivalry that would save the the waning and increasingly NBA, is in its nascent stages.

Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team is man handling Larry Bird’s Sycamores.

Auerbach, in another one of his savvy thinking ahead of the curve moves, drafted Bird when he was a junior using a loophole.

“…a player who expressed interest in entering the draft early could return to college even after being selected.”

Auerbach’s unsurpassed shrewdness would surface again when he traded the first pick of the draft, Joe Berry Carrol, to the Golden State Warriors for the third pick, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parrish.

The rivalry is set when prospective owner Jerry Buss tells outgoing owner Jack Kent Cooke that if he picked Sidney Moncrief with the number one pick, the deal was off.

The Lakers would add their second banner in Magic’s rookie season.

The Bird led Celtics would garner their first title by defeating the Rockets in 1981.

As Bird, McHale, and Parrish would gel, Showtime would begin its extended run…

Head to Head Once Again

1984 would be the first time that the two teams would meet since the crushing loss of ’69. The Lakers would play the Celtics close but reminiscent of the 7 game losses of the ’60’s, a handful of plays down the stretch would decide the outcome. A too slow cross court pass by Worthy that Gerald Henderson stole in Game 2. A clothesline of Rambis by McHale after Bird referred to his teammates as “sissies”.

In defeat, missed free throws and turnovers by Magic would grab the spotlight. The sports writers pounced and questioned the moxie of Johnson. Sure he was great player, but he had crumbled down the stretch in the crucial moments.

“…take a last look at one thing the series settled: Earvin (Magic) Johnson, L.A.’s superstar guard, simply is not a clutch player…When the very biggest games get to be their very closest, is Magic’s unreliability chronic? Show us it ain’t so, Earvin.”

The Die Hard Garden Curse

In 1985, the two 60 plus clubs would clash again, the Celtics looking to be the first team to repeat since the Russell-Cousy teams. The Lakers would look to wash away the pain of ’84. The Celtics would have home court advantage and would throw the first punch.

It was a hay maker that has been ensconced in the psyche of Laker fans as the Memorial Day Massacre. Celtics 148-Lakers 114. Kareem would score 12 points and collect 3 rebounds. He would apologize to his teammates and promise that he would never play like that again. The loss was surprisingly just what the Lakers needed.

Kareem would redeem himself, averaging 30 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists, and two blocks in the four Laker wins.

“Abdul-Jabbar was old enough to invoke the most felicitous analogy. “It’s like the Dodgers beating the Yankees in 1955,” he said. “Celtic pride was in this building, but so were we.”

It is still the one and only time that an opposing team has claimed a championship on the Celtic’s home floor, and the smile that would adorn the mug of the normally stoic Captain would tell the whole story.

The demons and jinxes of 8 straight years of losses could not be squashed with one win, but it was a small amount of redemption for both the current and past Lakers.

But even that would be short-lived. The Lakers would be shocked the following year by the Houston Rocket’s Ralph Sampson’s desperation heave and the Celtics would again capture the title.

Junior Junior Sky Hook

1987 would be the final match up between the Bird-Magic incarnation of the rivalry. The Lakers would hold home court advantage and snatch the first two games in LA. But the defining moment of the series would come in Game 4.

The Celtics had let a 16 point lead slip away, and the Lakers found themselves with the ball and a chance to win. The play was called for Kareem, but McHale would switch out onto Magic away from the basket. And Chick would capture the moment as only he could…

“Magic down the middle, just like I thought. A hook shot of 12. It’s goood.”

The Laker struggles of the 90’s would lead to a return to prominence in 2000, as the Celtics would struggle, attempting to recover from the tragic death of Number One draft choice Len Bias less than 48 hours after he was picked.

Here We Are Again

Looking for redemption. A modern vindication the likes we haven’t seen since ’85.

For some it evokes memories of Sunday afternoons, and the rivalry that would galvanize our love for the Lakers and basketball.

For some it will remind them of the long ago pain of 8 straight losses.

This match up has now passed the Yankees and Dodgers for the most times professional franchises have faced each other in a final.

How much does it effect the current series?

Lakers 15
Celtics 17

Ask any Celtic fan, and they would tell you they were dying to return to relevance. After winning 16 rings in 30 years, they hadn’t been to the Finals in two decades. This mini-dynasty will solidify their prominence by having it span eras.

Ask any Laker fan, and they will tell the consistency and titles are just too much to argue against. The ghosts of those long ago losses fading into ancient history.

Because a good rivalry with a storied history adds excitement to a game.

Simply put, familiarity breeds contempt.

-Scott Thompson aka Gatinho

Roland Lazenby’s “The Show”, “My Life” by Earvin Magic Johnson, “24 Seconds to Shoot” by Leonrad Koppett, and The SI.com vault were used in the writing of this post.

Today, Jeff from Celtics Blog has been given this space, and I have been granted a little time over at his site.

Hello Lakers fans! Kurt was kind enough to lend me a little space on this blog to discuss the Celtics and I am doing the same for him on CelticsBlog.com. To be clear, this absolutely not intended to be a trash talking article. Far from it. Kurt is one of my favorite bloggers in the business and I respect the Lakers and fans like you a great deal. Hey, if Larry and Magic can be best of friends, then maybe we all can coexist harmoniously, right?

Anyway, Kurt and I thought it would be a fun idea to address the opposing team’s fanbase for a day. So here are some things that I wanted you to know about the Celtics and in particular Celtics fans.

Bill Simmons doesn’t always speak for all of us. Let’s get this out of the way up front. I think Simmons is a fantastic writer. He’s gotten on a lot of people’s nerves lately (especially with this whole reverse-jinx thing). Still, a lot of us in Boston still find Simmons to be clever and he’s always had a knack for expressing the emotions of being a fan (especially a Boston fan). His has a gift of putting into words exactly how it feels when we get stomach-punched (Len Bias) or when we are on top of the world (2004 Red Sox). With that said, he doesn’t always speak for a nation of Celtics fans.

He does know his basketball, but that doesn’t mean we always agree with him. For instance, not everyone is convinced that Doc Rivers is responsible for everything wrong with sports, clubbing baby seals, and the rising cost of crude oil. Some of us actually give Doc credit for taking a diverse set of alpha-dogs, getting them to buy into the team concept, and guiding the team to 66 wins and a Finals berth in their first year playing with each other. If I had to put a number on it, I’d say 50% of Celtics fans probably do think the way Simmons does about Doc. The other 50% is cautiously optimistic that he’s good enough to guide a potentially great team to the title. Nobody will confuse him with Red or even Phil, but we’re hoping he’s something like another KC Jones.

We are head over heels for Rajon Rondo (and to a lesser extent Kendrick Perkins). It is hard to put a finger on exactly what makes Rajon so popular, but I think it has something to do with the fact that we haven’t had a young, dynamic playmaking point guard in a long, long time. The best points we’ve had since DJ left have been an old Kenny Anderson and an older Gary Payton. Rondo’s a revelation with his quickness, penetration, distribution, and defense. But most importantly, the offense simply runs 100% smoother when he’s in the game than when he’s not.

I know you’ve all heard about his sub-par jumpshot. You must be salivating at the idea of leaving him open outside to double down on one of the big three. Sometimes that works, but not as much as you might think. First of all, he’s getting better and better at taking and making those wide open mid-range jumpers. Secondly, if you give him room to roam, he’ll still blow by most defenders and force you to react to him. There will be nights (like game 5 of the ECF) when he’s shooting very poorly and making the kinds of mistakes that second year point guards make. But then you’ll look up at the box score and he’s still got 13 assists, 4 steals, and 6 rebounds. The kid is just a joy to watch.

We are also big fans of Kendrick Perkins. You probably won’t like him. He is very emotional and he celebrates big moments like a linebacker that just got a sack. You might find yourself wondering why a guy that averages 6.9 points a game would ever open his mouth. But from where we sit, he’s earned his stripes with the all-out effort he gives on the court.

He’s not much of a scoring threat, but he’s been known to drop 18 points on an unsuspecting opponent from time to time. Where he’s really valuable is on defense and on the boards. He’ll blitz the pick and roll at the top of the key and sprint (not easy with a 280 lb. frame) back to the baseline to pick up his defensive rotation and box out. Let’s put it this way, Celtics fans (like our hero Tommy Heinsohn) love hustle plays and hard working players. That is Kendrick’s whole game and we love him for it.

We are not “front runners,” we’re just bi-polar. Some people will try to tell you that we are “front runners.” That might just be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. If Celtics fans can be accused of anything it is for caring a bit too much. On any given day, our fans are either over the moon in love with this team or tearing our hair out in frustration. That’s just the way we’re hard wired.

Take CelticsBlog for example. Last year the forums were full of people with 100 different theories about why we were so bad and everyone had a different plan to make the team better. This year, with a drastically better team, the amount of activity on the forums actually dropped a bit during the regular season. Why? Fewer things to complain about! Any team is going to pick up your standard pink hat fans when the team is doing well, including your Lakers. However, as a general rule Celtics fans are amongst the most diehard there is.

I admit, we’re pretty self absorbed. I mean, this whole post is about us isn’t it? I blame the East coast biased media. For my part, I did my part to help fans avoid the “Boston fan” stereotypes.

Some more quick hits:

• We respect Kobe’s game, but will never admire him like we do other team’s stars.

• We absolutely love Tommy.

• We like Big Baby, but right now we prefer Leon Powe off the bench.

• “Beat LA!” started out as an encouragement to the 76ers.

• Scalabrine is as much of a joke to us as he is to you.

• The 1986 team would have destroyed the Lakers, I’m still personally bitter about that.

• We love our history but we’re trying not to live in the past or become like Yankee fans.

• We are officially done with the Sam Cassell experiment. Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!

• If you see a guy from the 70’s dancing in a “Gino” shirt, you’ve already lost.

• We really don’t want to see Phil Jackson pass Red.

Feel free to pepper me with questions about the Celtics or offer your own comments on what I wrote. I’ll answer the best I can. Thanks for your time.

How Long Until Tip-off?

Kurt —  June 2, 2008

I am not, by nature, a patient man. It’s a virtue I do not possess. So the seeming interminable wait until these Finals start Thursday night seems mighty, mighty long. Phil probably doesn’t feel that way, it’s more time to plan. The players probably like the time to rest the bumps and bruises. And, we’ve got some fun things going on here in the next few days (and in collaboration with other sites) to help pass the time. But, I’d still rather be watching and talking games.

Here are a few things to chew on as we keep talking and waiting.

• The media is hyping this as “Kobe vs. The Big Three,” which anybody knowledgeable about basketball knows is crap. Both the Lakers and the Celtics got here as teams. That is especially true of a Lakers team that has a many-pronged attack. Coach Anthony Macri has his latest piece up at Basketball Prospectus and it looks at the five key moments in game five against the Spurs where Kobe’s teammates made plays that made the win possible — particularly on defense.

The Lakers and Spurs battled early to an 11-11 tie with 6:37 remaining in the first quarter. San Antonio subsequently went on a 22-5 run over the next nine minutes, putting Los Angeles in a 17-point hole. Lakers coach Phil Jackson, always calm, played right to the media timeout. Following that timeout, the Lakers came back on the floor with their three leading scorers (Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom) all on the bench. However, Jordan Farmar brought energy and life to Los Angeles with his driving layup on a clear-out situation. A stop at the other end led to an alley-oop set play for Farmar from Luke Walton, as Farmar passed to Walton on the wing and dove to the rim on a backscreen. Momentum now in the Lakers’ favor, Ronny Turiaf stuffed Duncan’s baseline drive, and after a few missed opportunities on both ends, Farmar scored a transition layup, capping his personal 6-0 run.

While Farmar’s injection of offense is easy to point to in this sequence, it really was the vitality and vigor of the Lakers’ defense that made this series of plays a reality for Los Angeles. It came at a critical time, as the Lakers had looked moribund throughout the early going. It was notable, as well, that this spark came with the Lakers’ leading scorers on the bench. So revived, the Lakers would continue their better play through the rest of the quarter.

• The Lakers bench will be key in this series, if the depth can boost leads (close deficits) as it did in the final game against the Spurs, Boston will have to play their stars more and more minutes. Of course with the long breaks between some games in this series that may not be as bad a thing.

• Henry Abbott just broke down the first couple of Lakers/Celtics games from this season over at True Hoop. It’s a great piece, he noted that the Celtics essentially used the same defensive strategy on Kobe that the Spurs just did — keep him out of the paint, make him a jump shooter, go under picks, don’t foul, dare him to shoot the midrange. It’s as good a theory as is going on how to slow Kobe.

But, as Francis pointed out in the comments: “Kobe just shot 64-120 (.533), the best career field goal percentage in a playoff series in his life.” And that was against Bowen, a better defender than anyone the Celtics can throw at Kobe (especially Jesus Shuttleworth) and using the same philosophy.

It’s hard to take too much from those games, because this is a very different Lakers team. And a different Kobe.

• Along those same lines, good point about the Lakers offense from chearn in the comments:

Caution: the Lakers must utilize the triangle to its fullest move the ball for quick passes, make the older Celtic’s play east to west on defense using their legs and energy. By the middle of the 4th quarter we will be able to exploit them by opening up the running game. Do NOT play into the Celtic’s hands by missing one pass shots, thereby giving them the opportunity to get easy baskets without having to play defense for 15-20 seconds!

• And that leads to a point made by a commenter at Celtics blog that I was going to get to as well — The Celtics defense thrives on quick help. If the Lakers move off the ball, that help will be exploited. Particularly I am thinking of KG and Perkins, the Lakers they have to play (Odom and Gasol) can pull them away from the basket, if they run off to help when Kobe goes to the lane (or to double on Gasol in the post) it will mean open looks for other Lakers.

I really think this is the key to the entire series — just how good a passing team the Lakers are. It will expose what the Celtics do on defense, and after a couple of games to adjust the Lakers will be picking them apart.

• There also is rightly going to be a lot of focus on how the vaunted Celtics defense is/is not going to stop the Lakers offense. I think, like San Antonio, they are going to slow it, not stop it, although the Lakers numbers will go up as the series goes on and they learn which places to exploit,

But I think the key may be how much the Lakers defense can slow the Celtics on offense. Many people, from national pundits to Celtics fans, seem to underestimate the Lakers team defense. I think, particularly as the series wears on, that the Lakers will force the Celtics into less-favorable positions on the floor. The Lakers may just score in the 90s, but that is plenty to win if the other team is in the 80s.

• Kevin Ding touched on this in his blog, and I think it is crucial along those lines:

The Lakers almost surely will start out with Vladimir Radmanovic on Pierce, but if they want to give Sasha Vujacic extensively playing time once again — with the idea that Vujacic can hound Boston sharpshooter Ray Allen the way that he did Manu Ginobili last round — then Bryant will slide to small forward a lot again and match up with Pierce. If it’s Pierce, Winter said Bryant has to “stay attached, which is hard for Kobe to do.”

• If you look around Celtics sites, they are not worried about the “soft” Pau Gasol, particularly on defense. I remember reading a lot of that from Spurs bloggers and fans before that series, too. He will surprise them (although they will mistakenly still call him soft).

• Speaking of Celtics blogs, man there is a plethora of them. Here is a run down of the ones I am aware of (there may be more, and those bloggers can send me a link and I’ll add them): Celtics Blog, TommyPoint, Loy’s place, Red’s Army, Celtics Cast, Celtsheads, The Shamrock Headband, Celtics Club, Can Danny?, Green Bandwagon, Celtics 17, Celtics 24/7.

• Lakers fans keep talking about the 7-game series the Celtics played against teams they should have crushed in Atlanta and Cleveland (well, maybe not crushed Cleveland). But to my eyes, they played their best basketball against the Pistons and may well play better yet in the finals. I expect the Lakers will win, but don’t underestimate the C’s.