Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A hilarious love letter to the 10th best team in the NBA

Bill Simmons to the Celtics: DRAW ME LIKE ONE OF YOUR FRENCH GIRLS!

You know what happens when you're rooting for a creaky but lovable basketball contender?

DUH- you write articles full of ridiculous nonsense about them because you're convinced that they're special and different and definitely not destined to get swept out of the second round of the playoffs by the Bulls or Heat (should they get past the first round).

You relish the big victories. All of them. Every single one.

You're not like OTHER fans. You're a fan's fan. You appreciate winningness.

You know the season could collapse at any time, and you're perfectly aware that a torn meniscus, calf tear or herniated disk might sucker punch your season when you least expect it. It's a little liberating, actually. Your expectations are low because you shouldn't expect anything at all.

And yet you keep in mind that it's important to tweet like a petulant child when your team gets bounced out of the playoffs.

And with that said … I actually expected the Celtics to prevail in Miami last night. I really did. Had you told me as recently as six weeks ago, "The Celtics are going to win in Miami in mid-April, and by the way, you will expect it to happen," I would have assumed that LeBron and Wade had crashed on Bobby Petrino's motorcycle or something.


Miami IN Miami? No way.

They've got nearly as formidable a home court advantage as the Grizzlies!

How did we get here? It wasn't that long ago that the great Bob Ryan described Boston's situation as "Year Five of a Three-Year Plan."

For a Bob Ryan line, that's pretty great.

A five-game losing streak had dropped the C's to a measly 15-17, as a-hole writers like myself were grabbing shovels and burying the team.

Boston writers/fans pointing in the direction the wind is blowing w/r/t one of their teams? Now I've heard it all. Fortunately Simmons learned how to be more levelheaded from that experience though, and now sees the Celtics for what they are--an aging team with no depth and no shot at the Finals. *record scratch* Wait, what?

With trade rumors swirling around All-Star Rajon Rondo — planted by other teams hoping to cause chemistry problems and drive down his price, by the way —


the Celtics won three straight, then throttled the Knicks on a Sunday ABC home game

As I type this, the Knicks are putting the finishing touches on an eight point win over the Celtics that wasn't nearly that close.

that we'll always remember

I forget the blog I was reading that pointed out how oddly obsessed Simmons is with speculating about how we will one day look back on insignificant things that are currently happening, but man, they were spot on.

as Rondo's "Look, You're Not Effing Trading Me, You'd Be Insane" game (18 points, 20 assists, 17 rebounds). The next two weeks were fairly fascinating:

MESMERIZING. The world's eyes were squarely trained on Big Papi Nation. Moreso than usual, Earth's 7 billion inhabitants spent their days and nights wondering what was going on in THE HUB.

The Celtics hoping to rebuild around Rondo and cap space, while steadfastly refusing to give away their valuable veterans.

I can't believe the media had time to focus on anything else! Republican primaries? Recovering economy? Civil war in Syria? WHO CARES, THE CELTICS ARE THINKING ABOUT MAKING A COUPLE TRADES

Before the Clippers game at Staples, less than three days before the deadline, I spent 25 minutes talking to Ainge and fellow BYU grad Michael Smith, now a broadcaster for the Clippers. It was becoming more and more clear that Ainge should keep the team intact; the day before, they played extremely well in a last-minute Lakers loss, and it's not like anyone in the East was pulling away from them. Making the decision easier: Nobody was offering anything decent for Pierce (owed $32 million total in 2013 and 2014) or Garnett (whose $21 million cap figure made it near impossible just to match salaries in a trade). Allen's expiring contract and crunch-time pedigree made him more appealing, but no contender had the right assets to pursue him. At one point, Smith brought up a young player who could, conceivably, have been the centerpiece of an Allen trade. Danny just started laughing."We're not trading Ray Allen for [the player's last name]," Danny said. "Come on! It's Ray Allen!"

This man is in charge of one of the most valuable and respected franchises in the league. To his credit, the Garnett/Allen trades worked out swimmingly. To his detriment, he's still obviously a huge fucking toolshed.

[400 words of Simmons wearing Ainge as as hat omitted]

Anyway, I left our conversation thinking that Danny honestly didn't know how the deadline would play out. Chatting with Wyc Grousbeck a few minutes later, the Celtics' owner seemed similarly confused. Why break these guys up without a really good reason? What's the point?

My thoughts right now exactly--why include any of this in this article? The point?

After the Celtics played a superb game against the Clippers, I came to my own conclusion: "The Celtics are what they are: old, proud, stubborn and (mostly) fun to watch simply because they know each other so well … Leave them alone and the 2012 Boston Celtics will go down swinging. That's all we know, and frankly, that's good enough for me." I flew to Oakland for the Warriors game two nights later, if only because the trade deadline was the following day, and, I mean … not to sound corny, but you never know with this stuff. If this happened to be the last night for the Pierce/Rondo/Garnett/Allen foursome, I wanted to be there.

Bill Simmons, everyman. Regular old John Q. Public. Just a fan like the rest of us. ALSO, DAMMIT DONALD STERLING, YOU RAISED PRICES ON MY SEASON TICKETS BY 6% LAST YEAR! THAT'S FOUR MEALS AT SPAGO, DOWN THE DRAIN!

They prevailed by two behind another throwback KG game (24 points, 11-of-15 shooting), which made little sense because Garnett looked salad-fork-in-the-back-finished as recently as January. I remember when Bird's body broke down (a four-year spiral that started during the '88 Detroit series and crested in the 1992 playoffs, when he could barely move), when McHale's ankles slowly betrayed him (1991), when Parish just couldn't fight off younger leapers anymore (1993). You usually know with these things. You just do.

Unless you're proven wrong, which you usually are. In which case, you'll later point out that really, you knew the opposite of what you knew all along.

And I would have wagered anything that Garnett was more finished than Desperate Housewives.


Guys were jumping over him (shades of Parish), his jumper was flat, and worst of all, he looked absolutely miserable. Like he didn't want to play basketball anymore.

Just like Greg Oden looked that time Bill saw him for four seconds at the ESPYs and used those four seconds to flawlessly predict the future!

Even during his signature staredown/pointing routine before tip-offs at home games, you never felt like his heart was totally in it.

WEEI listeners are writing that one down so they can call in and use it on various Red Sox players throughout the summer.

When his game inexplicably rebounded in February (17.6 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 54% shooting), everyone attributed it to Rivers moving him to center. News flash: Garnett had been playing center since the Perkins trade. Everyone was just pretending otherwise for KG's sake. He's weird about this stuff. It's the same reason Garnett likes to be listed at 6-foot-11 when he's really 7-foot-1, or Tim Duncan always wants to be listed as a forward even though he's been playing center for the past seven years. You don't ask questions with big men; you just do whatever it takes to keep them happy.

Guards, though, guards you can fuck with. Well known fact from the universe of facts Bill Simmons has made up.

You know what really fueled Garnett's resurgence? He's a competitive MF'er. That's really it.

HE'S SOUTHIE TOUGH! What has fueled Andrew Bynum's strong play during the past couple of weeks? Simmons: "STEROIDS, PROBABLY."

The lockout ended, he couldn't get going those first few weeks … and then, suddenly, the "KG is done" talk started, and even worse, opponents started treating him differently. They stared him down after dunks, talked shit to him, accorded him little to no respect.

Strange, considering all the sportsmanship he's demonstrated over the years.

He probably remembered doing the same to Patrick Ewing, Derrick Coleman, Chris Webber or whomever

or pretty much everyone

over the years and thought to himself, I'm not ready to be That Guy yet. The flame started flickering again. As he told WEEI's Paul Flannery two weeks ago, "I hear you all calling me old. I hear you calling me, um, older. Weathered. I'm motivated. It don't really take much to motivate me, man. I'm older in basketball years, but in life I'm thirtysomething."

Jamie Moyer will have what he's having.

The trade deadline passed with Rondo reinvested and Garnett reenergized. You know who else stuck around? The second-leading scorer in Celtics history, Paul Pierce, who stunk in February (16.4 PPG, 39.5% FG) and inadvertently murdered his own trade value.

Every season Simmons accuses four or five players of intentionally playing like shit before the deadline to sabotage their own trade value. Couldn't have been the case with Captain Knifehole though. As Simmons already pointed out, he had no trade value in the first place given his atrocious contract situation.

Remember when New Jersey's bid for Dwight Howard fell through, then they panicked and swapped a top-three protected 2012 pick to Portland for Gerald Wallace, and everyone said, "Wait a second, why would someone give up a top-three protected pick for the third-best player on a sub-.500 team?" Not reported at the time: New Jersey could have landed Pierce for that same pick, only they chose Wallace because he was a full five years younger.

Danny Ainge would never have done that! Instead he'd have paid Shaq to unretire so Shaq could re-retire as a Celtic!

Little did they know no. 34 was slowly morphing into Paul Pierce again: In 23 games since March 2, he's averaging a 22-6-3 with 46/38/85 shooting splits and looking no different than the Pierce from 2008-11. If you're scoring at home, suddenly Pierce, Rondo AND Garnett were playing their best basketball again. But this still-creaky Celtics team wouldn't have morphed into a contender without three other developments.

1. Simmons wearing his lucky Welker jersey during every game
2. The Ewing theory, somehow

1. The league's six best perimeter defenders right now, in some order, are LeBron, Tony Allen, Andre Iguodala, Shawn Marion, Iman Shumpert and … (drumroll please) … Avery Bradley. You might remember me writing on February 10 that "I watched Trick or Treat Tony for the first five years of his career. I watched [Bruce] Bowen for the first three years of his career. Bradley is just as good of a one-on-one defender as they were at the same point in their careers. All Bradley needs to do is learn how to shoot corner 3s and he'll have a 15-year NBA career and play a significant role for at least one contender. I swear, I'm not going Heinsohn on you."

"Also, fuck the fucking Celtics! I never liked them anyways! Pitchers and catchers report next week!"

So the defense wasn't a shock.But when those jumpers started going in? That was a shock. Doc started playing him. Everything snowballed. Avery started driving to the basket and making plays. Celtics diehards started glancing at each other and saying, "Wait a second, is Avery Bradley good or am I crazy?"

Then they collectively willed the Celtics to home victory after home victory by being the most smartest and knowledgeable fans in the whole BOOOOO KOBE BOOOOO YOU FACKIN' [horribleness]

Near the end of March, Allen missed a few games and inadvertently transformed Bradley's career; with the kid playing 40 minutes a game, suddenly the Celtics were causing turnovers, getting easy fast-break points, locking dudes down and basically wreaking havoc. They haven't played defense like that in three years. And it's contagious. People were taking charges, switching at the perfect time, flying from the weak side to block shots … everything just snowballed.

Teams played during this stretch: Washington, Charlotte, slowly fading Utah, already completely faded Minnesota.

And it happened because of Garnett and Avery Bradley. He's for real. Do I trust the kid defending Rose or Wade in a playoff series? Yes. Yes I do. So there.

/gets bowl of popcorn, waits for Rose or Wade to drop 40 on the Celtics

2. Bradley's coming-out party can be explained — it came down to confidence and minutes. But Stiemsanity? I have no answers.


Greg Stiemsma never averaged more than 12 minutes per game in any of his four Big Ten seasons. (Seriously. Look it up.) He bounced around for four solid years after college. He looked decent in the preseason, earned the Tommy Heinsohn Seal of Approval (getting compared to Bill Russell), quickly lost his mojo and seemed headed for a low spot in the All-Time White Celtics Rankings right between Andrew DeClercq and Brett Szabo. Then, Jermaine O'Neal went down, and so did Chris Wilcox … and just like that, the Stiemer was playing 19 minutes a game, blocking shots (he's averaging two a game since the All-Star break), running the floor, making open 15-footers, taking charges, banging bodies and doing everything you'd ever want from a backup center, with the added bonus that Boston fans loved him more than horny middle-aged housewives love Fifty Shades of Grey.

Not really something to hang your hat on.

Does any of this make sense? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! It makes no sense whatsoever!

Except for the fact that every year there are guys who come out of nowhere and become decent contributors in the right role on the right team! I think some guy who plays for the Knicks kind of also did it this year. J.J. Barea did it a few years back. If you need to compare Stiemsma to another ugly white guy, Chris Andersen.

Again, he's playing 19 minutes a game in the NBA when he never played more than 12 minutes a game in college. Did I mention that he's doing this with a badly sprained foot? And that he can't practice? And that he was wearing a walking boot for a couple of weeks? Let's just move on before we jinx Stiemsanity.

But even if something went wrong and you DID jinx him, which of course can happen, you could always do a double reverse jinx in a podcast with Seth Meyers, and then a triple security jinx via Twitter just to lock it down.

3. I already made Doc Rivers's case as "Coach of the Year" in last week's column, a moment that gave the Mayans extra conviction that 2012 is going to be their year. But you know what's been even more incredible than Bradley morphing into a young Joe Dumars,


Rondo shrugging over trade rumors and somehow raising his game,

A world class athlete felt his greatness questioned, so he elevated his level of play in response? TRULY FLABBERGASTING.

Pierce and Garnett playing like they just flew to Germany with Kobe,

THERE'S your steroids dig. Right team, wrong target.

or Stiemsanity sweeping the nation?

Just like ubuntu swept the nation in 2008! Who could forget?

What about Doc finally (and belatedly, but whatever) figuring out the value of a locked-in playing rotation? Even when they won the 2008 title, Doc was routinely playing 11 guys in one half — he just couldn't grasp the concept of "stick to eight or nine guys, make sure everyone knows their minutes, don't deviate from this" (or as Vinny Del Negro calls it, "The Opposite of What I Do"). Now, you might say Doc didn't have a choice this year — after a few putrid Danny signings,

Ainge on Jeff Green: "Come on! What could go wrong? He's Jeff Green. No, I'm not worried that he failed his physical. I'm a winner."

the Celtics have seven reliable players (Rondo, Pierce, Garnett, Allen, Bradley, Stiemsma and Brandon Bass), with three key bench guys (Jeff Green, Chris Wilcox and Jermaine O'Neal's Corpse) missing and Mickael Pietrus still recuperating from a scary concussion last month. You can't play fewer than eight guys, so Sasha Pavlovic has gotten Pietrus's "Backup Perimeter Guy" minutes by default. But here's the thing about the NBA … you only need eight guys every night.

Everyone take notes, Red Auerbach is giving a free clinic. Christ, I wouldn't trust Simmons to run a hot dog stand.

Just look at how Doc handled Tuesday night's Miami game. Pierce and Rondo played 40 minutes each; Bass played 39; the old guys (Allen and KG) played 35 and 33, respectively; Bradley played 25; Stiemsanity played 20; and Pavlovic played eight. Nobody else played. Doc never had fewer than two of the Pierce/Rondo/Allen/Garnett quartet out there at all times. With Rondo and Pierce sitting in the fourth quarter, Miami made a charge as I was muttering, "Uh-oh … Doc's going to wait two minutes too long … we're about to give this game away … " when BOOM! Doc felt the game slipping and brought back the starters at the 9:30 mark.

Really a questionable onomatopoeia choice for the act of changing your basketball team's lineup.

Allen made a backbreaking three, then Garnett headed down to Bosh's Pit and started swishing old-school KG jumpers — not one, not two, not three (copyright: LeBron), but four in a row! — and before you knew it, the Celtics were ahead by double digits again.

All Doc had to do was tell them to score on every possession! 2012 NBA Title: theirs to lose.

They never really looked back. How are they playing defense this well? Why aren't their jumpers flat anymore? Why is Rondo clicking so well with the vets again? Can they really be peaking during the most brutal part of their schedule (11 games in 15 nights)?

I'm not really sure about those answers...

Are they evolving into this year's version of the '99 Knicks, the late bloomer who meshed at the perfect time and sneaked into the Finals?

But I am about this one: NO, YOU FUCKING IDIOT! The whole reason the 1999 Knicks made the Finals was that the Eastern Conference was a joke that year! The Heat and the Bulls are abundantly better than the Celtics, regardless of how the Celtics have played the Heat this month. The only way a Heat/Celtics playoff series gets to game 6 is if Wade and LeBron forget to show up for games 4 and 5.

I'm prepared for anything.

He's not at all prepared for disappointment, but you could already tell that.

The players looked like they were drifting apart in January and February; in Miami, they were hugging and slapping palms like a team that (a) totally believed in themselves, and (b) absolutely, unequivocally believed that they were winning that game.


Now, if you're a Miami fan, you come away from that game thinking, That's a fluke loss, there's no way they can shoot 61 percent against us four times in a playoff series. And you'd be right.
There's no way the Celtics can shoot 50 percent against the Heat four times in a playoff series, so yeah, you'd be really right.

But that wasn't the lesson from that game.

Go on...

The Celtics know who they are. It's Year 5. They trust each other. They trust their coach. They trust the three newer guys, and when Pietrus comes back, they'll trust him again, too. They know where to go and what to do. They can score and get stops. They will fight. They will keep coming.

The lesson was apparently "Derpa derp derp Celtics cliche cliche derp." Got it.

What does Miami know about itself? Let's start backward. LeBron and Wade are having superb individual seasons. In the open floor, they rank among the most breathtaking combinations ever (if not no. 1 all-time), but in the half court? It's still "Dueling Banjos," something that hasn't changed since day one.

Miami: 4th in the league in offensive efficiency. Boston: 25th. Either Miami never plays in the halfcourt, or maybe, just maybe, Simmons is talking out of his asshole.

Meanwhile, poor Chris Bosh got eviscerated by Garnett last night, yet another ignominious moment for someone who had already squandered any and all "Big Three" privileges. He's just not that good.

Pierce's 19/5.5/4.5 on 43% shooting: WHAT A WARRIOR! Bosh's 18/8/2 on 49% shooting? TRASH.

Their veterans (Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier) all peaked three to four years ago, especially the 33-year-old Battier (December's most overrated signing), who can't even crack 35 percent from 3 (all of them wide open, by the way).

HOLY SHIT. Three of Boston's four best players peaked five to six years ago. Wow. That is astonishing cognitive dissonance. I don't care how old Garnett is in real life human years, or whatever terminology he used in that radio interview: he's fucking old. You don't want to bet on him in May and June.

Their 2011 point guard situation is just as messy as 2011's situation; sometimes Mario Chalmers shows up, sometimes he doesn't, and their two rookie backups (Norris Cole and Terrel Harris) can't be trusted. And just last week, Erik Spoelstra benched Joel Anthony for Ronny Turiaf. Yeeesh. So if you're scoring at home, we're less than three weeks from the playoffs and Spoelstra has no idea …A. Which six guys he can trust after LeBron, Wade and (by default) Bosh. B. Which five guys should be finishing every game. Seems like two pretty big questions, no?

I suppose the Heat will just have to keep doing whatever it is that has landed them eight games in front of Boston in the standings, then.

The latest media narrative has been, "Maybe Miami should just play LeBron at point guard," something the numbers back up (especially Tuesday night's stats). Really, the narrative should be, "How the heck does this team not have an identity yet?"

A laughable life preserver of a concept for a desperate fan of a good-not-great team to cling to.

Last night, they played their butts off and STILL lost.

Never happened before in NBA history.

I remember thinking that Boston couldn't beat Miami if LeBron had one of those Mega-LeBron games — you know, 36 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, a couple of fast break dunks/blocks, a couple of 3s, some post-up moves, just one of those games when he's involved — and that's exactly what happened last night. Guess what? They still lost. We'll remember it

Good God, stop. No one is going to look back in any fashion on a non-Christmas NBA regular season game between two teams that were going to make the playoffs no matter what.

as one of the single most meaningful victories of the Three-Year Plan That Lasted Five Years:
Wait for it.

the night Boston officially threw its hat into the 2012 title race.

Sorry if Bill just made you LOL at work.

It doesn't totally make sense,

No, it makes no sense, because they didn't, and they won't, and I'll post an apology if they make the conference finals. Hell, I'll post that apology if they take the conference semifinals past game 5. I'll shut the blog down if they make the Finals. I won't even bother coming up with an imaginary thing to do if they win it all. GMAFB.

but then again, none of this makes sense. Rondo could be playing for the Hornets. Pierce could be stuck on the Nets. Doc could be announcing games with Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy. Bradley could still be buried on the bench. Danny could have panicked right before the deadline and had a fire sale for Garnett and Allen. It's a swollen list of "what ifs," and just about every one of them went Boston's way. At least for now. You never know with those creaky but lovable basketball contenders. We've reached this specific point six other times in Celtics history.


Russell's last two squads ('68 and '69) won consecutive titles while running on fumes. The same thing happened with the last good Havlicek-Cowens team ('76). The last two Bird-McHale-Parish efforts ('91 and '92, two severely underrated teams) fell short because the Legend just couldn't stay healthy. More recently, the 2010 squad came within Perkins's knee injury and Artest's improbable no-no-yes 3 from stealing a championship. Now, the fellas from 2012 are making a run. Nobody saw this coming. And really, that's the single best thing about it.

The best thing about it you thinking they're making a run in the first place. Bill Simmons: making the Lakers and their fans seem like a tolerable bunch of people since 2007.


Anonymous said...


Mike Sa said...

1991 and 1992 fell short because Larry Legend couldn't stay healthy? No guy in a 23 jersey was stopping the Celtics those years with Bird getting his minutes!

Mike Sa said...

I see I was ninja'd. Swell job Larry B.