Thursday, May 05, 2005

Growing Up Celtic Green

Okay, okay, not everyone here is even a Red Sox fan, let alone a basketball or a Celtic fan. Growing up in suburban Boston, I was spoiled, and didn't know it. There were Russell and the Jones', Cousy, Satch Sanders, Heinsohn, Havlicek, and Cowens. Later on, Bird, Parish and McHale blessed Boston with the Auerbachian Brinks job that was Parish and McHale for Joe Barry Carroll.

Sixteen titles, a dynasty of Biblical proportions, with perennial playoff contential were all we knew.

The times they have changed. Sometimes the Celtics make the playoffs, and few seasons since 1986 have they made anything approaching a title run. Cocaine killed Len Bias before he got on the parquet and Reggie Lewis' death remains something of a mystery even today. In the talent depleted Eastern Conference of 2005 they won the third seed, courtesy of 'Ron-amok' Artest along with miscellaneous Indiana suspensions and injuries.

Danny Ainge has clearly assembled a higher talent level through a hodgepodge of trades (Ricky Davis a legitimate talent, Antoine Walker a mercurial one, and Gary Payton a wizened star) and drafts. Manchild Al Jefferson and a pair of high energy rookie guards, Delonte West and Tony Allen have made the team fun to watch, although not a championship contender as of now.

Hardest to understand is the inconsistency and petulance that Paul Pierce has become. Pierce has the capacity to be the best all-around offensive player the Celtics have ever had, rivalling the skills of Larry Bird.

Pierce has an astonishing catalog of moves from the wing, rebounds well for his size, and his court vision is pretty solid. He can block shots and anticipate defensively. For all his developed skills, honed on the hardscrabble courts of Los Angeles, he lacked what he needed most, playoff focus for forty-eight minutes.

Pierce took a hard and predictable foul in the final seconds of regulation, and retaliated with a technical foul-inducing forearm shiver to his defender. This sent 'automatic' Reggie Miller to the line to tie the game, and earned Pierce a disqualification.

The Celtics battled valiantly in overtime, undermanned with a weary Payton, a green Jefferson, and the redoubtable Walker and Davis edging out a 92-89 victory.

The grass wasn't greener in younger days, and the league didn't have the same dilution that expansion always brings. But the Celtics always showed poise and professionalism; they need to summon it again from within their basketball souls.

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