Friday, June 06, 2008
So much to write about, but so little time today. I have a couple of interesting personal stories to tell, but they'll have to wait until Monday.
Meanwhile, Paul Pierce cemented his Celtic legacy last night. No matter what he does from now on - if he never scores another point - he has secured a spot in the rafters for his retired uniform number.
The Celtics BEAT L. A., 98 - 88, to take a 1 - 0 lead in the NBA championship finals. A smothering defensive effort in the second half should have everybody on the team feeling mighty proud. Kobe Bryant was 9 for 26, and the C's turned a 5-point halftime deficit into a 10-point win.
You have no idea how much joy is in my heart right now. The Green Team passed their first test with flying colors. Everybody who played contributed something significant to this victory. From Rajon Rondo's aggressive directing of the offense, to Kevin Garnett's awesome first half production - and an utterly amazing play wherein he saved a backcourt violation by going airborne on one side of the halfcourt stripe, caught the ball in mid-air, and directed it back onto his side of the court, into the hands of James Posey, who then hit Sam Cassell for an open 18-foot jumper - to the intense rebounding and defense of P. J. Brown and Leon Powe, this was a thing of beauty.
(Does that sentence read? I have a feeling it might not, but it says what it needed to say, so it stays.)
Oh, yes. Paul Pierce. He was nothing short of heroic. He had a game that will be talked about by Celtics fans for many years to come, and rightly so.
Pierce was in foul trouble in the first half, having picked up three personals, and so played sparingly, scoring just three points. He came out in the third quarter as though someone had lit his face on fire. He scored 8 points in the first minute-and-a-half, including a four-point play (he was fouled while hitting a three-point shot, and sunk the subsequent free throw.) Then, the amazing stuff happened.
Underneath the Laker's basket, in the midst of some rebounding action, Kendrick Perkins came down on the back of Pierce's leg. Pierce crumpled to the floor, rolling out of bounds and clutching his right leg. There was obviously something very wrong with him. He writhed in pain, and Celtic's trainer Eddie Lacerte ran onto the court to check him out. ABC cut to commercial as every Boston fan watching at home wondered if Paul Pierce was done for the series, after waiting 10 long years to get to The Finals.
Back from commercial, they showed Pierce being carried off the court by his teammates, and then being wheeled (in a wheelchair) back to the locker room. It was heartbreaking to think of how long this guy had worked to get to this spot, apparently to be denied more than a few minutes of playing time in it.
(He tore his meniscus, or strained his meniscus, or his meniscus decided it wanted time-and-a-half and dental coverage, so it went on strike. I've torn my meniscus - which is cartilage in the knee - and I couldn't play softball for five weeks. Basketball? Not a chance in hell.)
Back to the game: The Celtics played hard, keeping L. A. at bay. Ray Allen hit a big three from the corner. Then, Kendrick Perkins had his ankle rolled, and HE headed back to the locker room. It looked like, for all the hard work that was needed to get to The Finals, the Celtics were being snakebit in game one.
And then here comes Paul Pierce, walking back through the tunnel and onto the court, to the sound of one of the loudest ovations ever heard in The Garden. He's wearing some sort of compression sleeve on his right knee, but he's ready to play. He takes himself to the scorer's table to check in, with Doc Rivers trying to grab him and get the story before he allows him to do so.
The building is going berserk. Phil Jackson (L. A. coach) does the smart thing and calls a timeout. He can't let this much emotion run rampant on his team.
Didn't matter. After the timeout, Pierce hit the floor and did the kind of stuff that gets your credentials into the mail to the Hall Of Fame. Rondo hit him with a pass and he drained a three-pointer. Next trip down, same thing. Rondo to Pierce: Bang! Another three. Not settling for the obvious stuff of legends, he also hustled back to play defense, made a steal (unfortunately, the resulting break became a turnover back to L. A.), rebounded, was fouled in ways that hurt his body in other places (great camera work by ABC to show the scratches on his chest), hit his free throws, dove for loose balls, and then I think he went up into the stands to sell some popcorn, and maybe he rescued a baby from a burning building.
Final score: Heart - 1, Meniscus - 0.
It remains to be seen whether he'll be around Sunday. He was playing on full-out adrenalin last night. His knee must be killing him today.
(I don't say prayers for athletes. That is, I don't pray for an athlete to do something well, or to win. That's a selfish prayer. It's for the benefit of the prayer, not the fellow being prayed for, so I find it not quite morally correct. Last night, however, I said a prayer when Paul Pierce was on the floor rolling around in pain. It was for him, not me. I felt so tremendously bad that he might have seen his last playing time after ten years hard work. It came from the heart and was not selfishly motivated, so... Anyway, he returned, and thank you, Jesus. Your mileage on such things may vary - but it shouldn't.)
For our contest, the Celtics have now scored 647 total points. The average is 92.43 a game. With the certainty of 3 more games, and the possibility of 6 (and if the average holds) the low winning total would now be 924, while the high winning total would be 1201. That would make Tickled Pink or Burning Sky the winner. All guesses around those numbers and in-between are still very much alive, of course.
See you Monday with some non-basketball stuff, as well as a report on game two. GO CELTICS!