Sunday, December 14, 2008

Appreciating the C's

So the Patriots famously and painfully blew their chance at perfection last year. No need to revisit that. Well this year, a similar thing is going on except with the Celtics. Sure, they are not going to go undefeated nor will they run their season's table. But what they can do is challenge the 1996 Bulls as the best team of the last 20 years or so.

That is no small feet. I for one felt that if any NBA team would challenge that mark it would have been the Shaq/Kobe Lakers of the earlier part of this decade. Yes, that team did roll off possibly the most impressive playoff run I have ever seen - they were an Allen Iverson Game of a Lifetime away from sweeping the postseason in 2001 - but that team "only" won 56 games during the regular season.

When you think about it, this Celtics team is actually somewhat similar to that '96 Bulls team. The biggest difference to me is the fact that the Celtics are defending a title while the Bulls were marching towards one which they felt entitled to.

As for similarities I three main ones:

1) What makes/made each team great was the fact that they took one year to figure out the order of things in a new situation and then in year two absolutely exploded.

For the Celtics, they actually started the gelling process late in the playoffs last year and were able to ride it to a title. Now, in Year two they look to be out for blood and destined to absolutely demolish their competition from November through June. Their three stars but namely KG and Ray Allen know their rolls now more than before and thanks to that the 72 win landmark and back to back titles seem to be the almost inevitable end result.

The Bulls lost in the Eastern Conference Semis the year prior to taking off. The next year, after losing opening night in 1995 to a laughably bad Celtic team in year one of the Rick Pitino Era they plowed their way through the rest of their schedule, ultimately beating a very good Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton lead Sonics team in a six game Finals.

2) Both teams were based around three stars. MJ/Pippen/Kukoc and Pierce/KG/Allen of course. The similarities are deeper than that though. Each team had a clear go-to, crunch time guy (MJ/Pierce), a clear #2 who was a lockdown defender (Pippen/KG), and a great third option who could nail the open shots and attack the rim when need be (Kukoc/Allen). Furthermore, each number three guy could carry the team with his shooting if need be. Yes, the scoring was much less balanced on the Bulls (MJ averaged 30 a game, Pippen 19, and Kukoc, 13) while the Celtics three will all average between 17 and 20 but the general idea was the same.

3) Finally, each team had a massive X Factor which took them from being very good to historically good. For the Celtics, it is Rajon Rondo. I've written so much about Rondo's effect in these spaces that I will not revisit it so I will just say that if you are looking for the main physical difference between last year's Celtics and these ones, it his leap to borderline stardom.

For the Bulls, they had Dennis Rodman. Remember him? Honestly, I blocked the guy out of my mind but the fact of the matter was that he averaged 15 boards a game and could shutdown your opponent's best player at will. He also won 5 rings as a player. The guy was an asshole but the end results of his career were pretty damn impressive.

It's always tricky comparing a current team to a historically great one, especially when you are talking about basketball and it isn't even the new year yet. Still, the more I watch and follow this Celtics team the more impressed I get. Yes a key injury could derail them, but beyond that do you see anything else? I guess if I had one concern it would be how they handle Lebron James without James Posey, their Designated Lebron Stopper last year, but I think they'll be okay. Why? Because honestly, beyond their inconsistent free throw shooting and knack for occasional sloppy play (both legitimate problems by the way) I honestly think that this Celtic team is the best team in any sport we have seen around here probably since the '86 Celtics (whom I was too young to really remember/understand).

Better than last year's Pats? I say yes, even without the Super Bowl loss because everybody knew the dirty little secret of that team was that their defense could be had. That is a glaring weakness. This year's Celtics only have those two, smaller obvious weaknesses mentioned above and unlike last year's Patriots if you absolutely, positively need a stop from them, don't you feel about 100% positive that they will deliver? I know I do.

So what is the point of all this? Simple. I know that it is early in the season and I know that the Patriots are fighting for their playoff lives right now and I know that the Sox are pursuing a big time free agent pickup and I even know that the Bruins are making themselves relevant for the first time since Cam Neely retired, but I want you to please pay some mind and really, really appreciate what the C's are doing. Much like Manny's brilliant career, mentioned last week I think we all need to relish in what the C's are doing because there is a good chance they could be having the season of a generation.

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