Friday, June 13, 2008

NBA Finals Game 4: All Apologies

By Scott Shepherd

For several months now, ever since the Kevin Garnett trade, I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop on the Boston Celtics. Since their season started in November, I immediately dismissed every story that I read about the Celtics with some sort of skeptical response.

Boston starts 8-0 and ESPN starts tracking their pace against the 72-win Bulls.

My response: whatever, wait till you go out West.

What do the Celtics do? Go 4-0 on their first West Coast road trip.

Boston goes 13-1 in December.

My response: whatever, wait till April rolls around. It's early, your team is old, and you'll run out of gas.

What does Boston do? Finish the season by winning 12 of its last 13 games.

Boston wins Game 7 of their first round series by 34 points.

My response: whatever. You got pushed to seven games by a 37-win team. Wait till you play a Cleveland team with Finals experience and a superstar.

Boston beats Cleveland in an epic Game 7.

My response: whatever, wait till you play a red-hot Pistons team that doesn't rely on one player.

Boston beats the Pistons in six, winning in convincing fashion on the road.

My response: whatever, the East is weak this year. Wait till you have to play a team from a real conference.

Boston takes the first two games of the NBA Finals.

My response: whatever, wait till you have to go to L.A. They're a lock to beat you all three games. You can't win on the road against a team that's this good at home.

Boston makes the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history, on the road no less, storming back from being down 24 at one point to take a commanding 3-1 series lead, with two home games still remaining, all but guaranteeing their 17th NBA title.

My response: whatever, wait till...

Wait till what? The parade? The ring ceremony? There's no more wait till. This is it. As much as I don't want to believe it, as much as I've tried to talk myself into the Celtics being overrated, it's all but a foregone conclusion.

The Celtics are going to be the 2008 NBA champions.

And I was wrong.

It hurts more than you can imagine typing either of the previous two sentences.

You could write a lot of thing about last night's game. You could break down each play and try to pinpoint exactly where things turned around. You could point fingers at various Lakers. You can praise Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. You can talk about K.G. coming up huge down the stretch.

But I'm not going to do any of that. Instead, I'm going to man up and apologize to various Celtics.

I apologize to Doc Rivers. I basically blamed the loss in Game 3 on you. I found a way to twist the fact that your two best players played terribly into some sort of game mismanagement on your part. You coached a hell of a game in Game 4, and the adjustment to play small ball was exactly what the Celtics needed to spark the comeback, and you made it to happen.

I apologize to Paul Pierce. I don't apologize for ripping you for using a wheelchair. I'll never waiver on that. I do, however, apologize for not giving you the credit you deserve. I wrote at one point that Kobe, Lamar Odom, and Pau Gasol were about as good as the Boston Big Three. To put Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol in the same breath as those three players for Boston is insulting.

Maybe it's because I don't like Paul Pierce as a person that it blinded me from realizing that as a player, he is really good. Everyone knows what he can do on offense, but the defense he played on Bryant in the second half is hands down the best I've ever seen Kobe defended. There are a lot of guys who can hit big shots or make clutch free throws. But there is nobody on the planet that has ever played Kobe that well, in such a big game, in Kobe's backyard, all the while knocking down clutch shots on the other end. Kudos to Paul Pierce.

I apologize to Ray Allen. I'm sorry I described you earlier in the playoffs as "what's left of Ray Allen." I was wrong. I had mistaken your early playoff shooting slump for you being washed up. Instead, you came out and played great in the Detroit series, carried it over into the NBA Finals, and ending putting the dagger in the Lakers with your drive on Sasha Vujacic.

I apologize to Kevin Garnett. I'm sorry I spent so much time doubting your ability to perform in the NBA Finals solely because you had never been there before. Just because you haven't had the opportunity before doesn't mean that you are incapable. Your four double-doubles in four games has more than proved me wrong.

Look, I hate being wrong even more than I hate the Celtics. But the fact is sometimes you have to admit when you're wrong, and sometimes you have to give credit where credit is due.

And today is just one of those times.

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