So much for the invincible Orlando Magic. Eight-and-oh in the playoffs … but against whom?
Overmatched Charlotte, which is built around … Steven Jackson? Gerald Wallace? A sweep of those guys, but so what? (And one game was decided by four points and two by nine. Yeah, a butt-kicking.)
Then the Atlanta Hawks, nice team in the regular season, but soft as pudding, a team that quit at the first sign of adversity and was booed out of its own arena. The closest thing to a forfeit in modern NBA playoffs history.
So who really was surprised when the Boston Celtics, fresh off the ouster of LeBron James and the Cavaliers, rolled into Orlando for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals today, ran to a 20-point lead and won 92-88?
Well, most experts, unless they put these teams into historical context.
And this reminded me that … my days of blind Celtics-hating are over. I want them around. I want them in the Finals. Against the Lakers … or against the Suns. Either way.
The Celtics are miles more interesting than the Magic.
Let’s see, the Magic has Dwight “Superman” Howard, the guy who looks at the ball like kryptonite the final five minutes of any game because he is such a wretched free-throw shooter. The best-known player with no known “game.” And after him Orlando has … Jameer Nelson. Kid can play, but does he stir any emotions west of Tallahassee? Didn’t think so. Rashard Lewis, stringbean forward who just loiters around the three-point line. And Vince Carter, most disappointing “great” player in NBA history. I kinda like the story line of “great talent, bitter failure.”
Meanwhile, Boston runs out the Big Three, who between them now are about as old as Methusaleh: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen. Yes, heard of them. And Rajon Rondo, fast-improving point guard, and the occasionally useful Kendrick Perkins at center. And off the bench, professional bad boy Rasheed Wallace, Glen “Big Baby” Davis, Tony Allen and the mummified remains of Michael Finley.
OK, NBA fans, whom would you rather see in the Finals?
Easiest question of the day.
Lakers-Boston, Suns-Boston … have to prefer either matchup over Orlando-anybody, which would either be a rematch of last year’s final (Lakers) or a major “so-what” pairing (Suns).
The Lakers and Boston would be the 53rd meeting in the NBA Finals between these bitter rivals. (What? That sounds high? OK, would you believe 12th?) The Suns and Boston would be their second meeting, but the first was a doozy, the 1976 Finals that included the triple-overtime game.
Plus, the Suns are Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire, and the go-go offense.
The Lakers and Celtics would be the best matchup, of course. Good enough to get LeBron James out of the news cycle for the duration of the series.
Great subplots. A renewal of the ancient rivalry. A chance for these Lakers and Kobe, in particular, to show that 2008 — which ended in that hideous blowout in Boston — is history. Phil Jackson with a chance to beat Red Auerbach’s team once. Pau Gasol with an opportunity to demonstrate that all those “soft-soft-soft” references of two Junes back were undeserved. And the death-bed recovery of the Celtics, who a month ago looked old and tired and maybe a year away from a descent into the lottery.
The two greatest franchises in basketball history. That’s what you want. Unless you really like Steve Nash and, well, I kinda do, so that would be OK, too.
Let’s just get Superman, Jameer and Wince outta here. Can we agree on that? Good.