A few quick thoughts as we steamroll toward a finals matchup between Golden State and Boston (if there are any Warrior or Celtic fans reading this, you are forgiven for cringing, as my recent predictions have cast a pox on those I select to win). I don’t know about you, but I am having a really hard time reconciling my feelings on this matchup in the East.
The Boston Celtics are the franchise I’ve most hated through their every reincarnation since the early-’70’s. I don’t like anything about them, especially those awful green uniforms and that ridiculous parquet floor. Couldn’t stand Red Auerbach (cigar puffing blowhard). Havlicek? Overrated. Don’t get me started on the ’80’s Celts. Kevin (Herman Munster) McHale? A thug, plain and simple. Suffice it say that other than the brief interlude where I couldn’t help but enjoy myself watching Bird and Walton on the court together, I hated that ’80’s version, too. The Showtime Lakers were the superior ball club of that decade. End of story. And as much as I like Doc Rivers (everyone likes Doc it seems), to me there couldn’t have been a threesome more easy to dislike than KG, Pierce and Ray Allen. Again, the Lakers (who I had stopped rooting for by then due to my intense disdain for Kobe) were the better squad.
Which is why I find it odd that I’m rooting for the boys in Kelly Green in this series. Part of it is the LeBron factor. Rooting for LeBron is like rooting for the four Number 1 seeds to meet up in the Final Four during March Madness. You just don’t do it. So yes, I’m enjoying LeBron’s beatdown right now, even if it is to the hated Celtics. But if things play out the way it seems they will, I have another larger dilemma taking shape on the horizon, as I also struggle to root for the Warriors. Don’t get me wrong, as I won’t root against them. Steph Curry, Steve Kerr and the gang are just too positive and talented to overtly root against, but they will be such tremendously prohibitive favorites that I will have a hard time jumping on their overcrowded bandwagon. But I will not and cannot root for Boston past this round.
This rooting dilemma got me thinking. Is it even a possibility that the pre-ordained Warriors-Celtics finals matchup we all expect at the moment could somehow be derailed? Maybe, but I’m now certain the surprise won’t be coming out of the Western Conference.
On the way into my San Francisco office this morning a colleague gleefully reminded me how I had predicted that this wasn’t the Warriors year and that the Rockets wouldn’t win this series. He was practically jumping up and down like a kid on his way to the circus, having been completely overcome by his delight over the Warriors domination last night. And give him his props. The Dubs did look that good. Yes, they are a remarkably strong offensive team, but it was their suffocating defense that got my attention. When they are focused, switching effectively and locked in on the defensive side of the ball, I just don’t see them getting beat. So I’ll eat my crow on that Rockets call.
What about the Celts? Could they cough up their 2-0 lead after looking so impressive at home these first two games? Yes, I think they are the vulnerable one in this equation. A couple of historical data points (yes, there is a glory-days Knicks reference coming) for you to consider that support this hypothesis:
During the Knickerbockers last championship season of 1972-73, they finished second in the division (with a 57-25 record) to what appeared at the time to be an unstoppable Celtics squad (68-14 for gosh sakes). So they had to travel up to Boston for Game 1, where the Celtics looked absolutely unbeatable in winning Game 1, 134-108. “Series over,” thought the Boston faithful. “Not so fast,” thought the Knicks fans (actually, no we didn’t think that, as we appeared totally overmatched in the Game 1 blowout).
In those days teams rotated each game between cities (a huge break back then for the Knicks) and Game 2 saw a total reversal of fortunes back at Madison Square Garden, with the Knicks coming out on top in an equally lopsided domination, 129-96. The Knicks won the series in 7 (yeah, I know all about how Havlicek got hurt, but it didn’t matter, really it didn’t…), with the clincher taking place on the storied parquet floor of Boston Garden.
Fast forward to the 1985 NBA Finals. At home, the Celtics destroy the Lakers in Game 1, 148-114. “Call the series over!” “Perhaps the greatest Celts team ever?” The Lakers didn’t even need to show up for Game 2, as they had no chance, thought that same collection of Boston hoops fans. Except the Lakers did show up, and they won Game 2, 109-102. In Boston. On the way to winning the series in 6 games (with the Game 6 win also taking place on the parquet floor to close it out). Small sample size, but hey, I’m calling it a pattern.
Does that mean the Cavs come back after looking lifeless for the first two games of this series? No, of course not. But it does mean that all that’s really happened so far is that Boston has held serve. LeBron goes home, mercilessly berates his teammates at the shoot around before Game 3, and who knows? What I do know, is that if somehow this series goes to a Game 7 back in Boston, I’m not counting out Cleveland, simply because of LeBron. And if LeBron finds a way to lead this ragtag supporting cast to the Finals, my rooting interests become clear, as I find it easy (easier anyway) to root for the Warriors when LeBron is on the opposing team’s bench.
So who to root for in the East in Game 3? I think Cleveland, simply to create a little drama and see how the Celtics respond to adversity. I really am curious to see how the Celts will take a punch if things get tight. Everyone is so busy anointing Brad Stevens the next Greg Popovich (and I’m on board with the fact that Stevens is a terrific coach, but let’s not send ole Brad to the HOF just yet, okay?) and raving about the incredible depth the Celts boast (made even the more impressive by the fact that their two best players are out for the year), but I need to see two more wins. And I simply don’t see Boston pulling this off without getting challenged at some point. So hear’s hoping it gets interesting.
A few other random NBA thoughts:
*Somehow I think before it’s all over Nick “Swaggy P” Young finds a way to tarnish the Warriors legacy, or at least makes it impossible for Kerr to keep him in the rotation. Yes, he hit a few threes in Game 1, but the guy is a pretender with a horribly selfish, “scorer on a bad team” reputation that is well earned. Frankly he doesn’t deserve to be on this squad, and I was stunned when the Dubs signed him and now question the thinking as to why he is getting meaningful minutes. Look for Swaggy P (okay, I admit, it’s the nickname that for some reason really chafes me) to pull at least one ESPN-worthy, bonehead move before we head into the offseason.
*I still can’t tell if Terry Rozier is for real. Is he a cornerstone player for a team (Celtics or otherwise) in the future, or has he just caught lightning in a bottle this postseason and will revert back to a “decent to above-average point guard off the bench”-level player once the 2018-19 season begins? How the Celts and Danny Ainge approach their offseason roster maneuvers will tell a lot. Ainge has made few personnel mistakes in recent memory. He has to move someone. If Rozier is the chess piece that gets sent out of town (a la Isaiah Thomas last year) it will speak volumes about whether or not we’ve just witnessed Rozier’s ceiling. Stay tuned.
*And if the Celts do keep Rozier (meaning Ainge has decided he is this generation’s JoJo White), would they dare move Kyrie? I actually think Kyrie could be the one on the move. He’s shown so many injury red flags as long as he’s been in the public eye (how many games did he actually play in his one and done year at Duke?), and think of the haul Ainge could pull in from some overeager trade partner. It could rival the fleecing he gave the Brooklyn Nets when he moved the Over The Hill Gang (Pierce, Garnett and Jason Terry for crying out loud) in exchange for every draft pick the Nets owned for the remainder of this decade (century?). When he’s right, Kyrie can change a franchise’s trajectory, so I’m tempted to lobby to see him in Knicks blue and orange, but there is a lot of downside here. Bottom line is if you are an NBA exec and Danny Ainge comes calling with an “opportunity” involving Kyrie, you run away. Will be interesting.
*Finally, my revised NBA predictions — the Rockets win one game and go down in 5 to the Warriors. The Cavs do get off the canvas to make things interesting n the East, but lose in 7 (finale at Boston — so much for my pattern), sending the Celtics to the NBA Finals.
And then the Dubs sweep the Leprechauns for their third title in four years (all together now — “would be a four-peat if the NBA didn’t steal one from Golden State two years ago and gift wrap it for the city of Cleveland”). I’ve gotten quite a few wrong lately (Penguins over Caps, Matt Harvey to get bombed in his first start as a Red, to name a couple), so let’s see if these revised calls can right my prognostication ship.