Friday, June 13, 2008
The word comes from the Bantu languages of Africa. It is what the Celtics chant every time they break a huddle. Part of the definition, as given by Desmond Tutu (with emphasis mine): "It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours... A person with Ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people... do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole."
In other words, there's no "I" in "team".
The Celtics, as a team, pulled off what may have been the greatest comeback ever in an NBA Finals game. Trailing by 21 after the first period, by as many as 24 in the second quarter, and by 20 with four minutes gone in the third, they rallied to beat the Los Angeles Lakers, 97 - 91, in Los Angeles, to move within one win of capturing their 17th world championship.
It was as amazing a display of team basketball as I've ever witnessed. And I almost missed it.
There are a whole bunch of Celtics fans who woke up today to find that, while they got a good night of sleep, they missed history. Not too many will cop to it. Most will say, "Of course I saw it! Wow! What a game!" The way to tell if they're lying is to look for the bloodshot eyes and the dark circles under them. Those of us who stayed up for it got about four - maybe five - hours of sleep. If he or she looks bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, they went to sleep at halftime.
The Celtics trailed by 18 at the half. In the third quarter, they came out strong and cut it to 12. But, the Lakers went on a mini-run and pushed it back to 20. At that point, I decided to have a cigarette. I stepped outside and lit up. I decided that if, when I returned to my TV, the Celtics still trailed by 20 or more, I would go to bed. I finished my smoke and went back in.
O, me of little faith!
When I got back, they had cut it to 14. And, from that point, they just ripped out the Laker's hearts and showed them to them while they were still beating. They cut the deficit to TWO by the start of the fourth quarter. And then, they just showed themselves to be the superior team. Every player on the floor contributed towards the greater good. While the Lakers fell into total dissarray, the Celtics coalesced as a unit.
Paul Pierce was named player of the game, and he deserved it, but a case could be made for others. James Posey was huge, nailing threes from the corner with defender's hands in his face. Ray Allen drove the lane and rebounded. Eddie House directed the offense and contributed 10 clutch points. Kevin Garnett dropped a couple of big shots and kept the pressure on by going to the paint more often than he usually does. Pierce, for his part, brought his usual arsenal of jumpers and twisting, turning moves in the lane, but his biggest contribution came from defending Kobe Bryant about as well as it is possible to defend him.
At halftime - as Doc Rivers related during his press conference - Pierce went to the coach and asked to be given Bryant as his defensive assignment in the second half. He manned up and volunteered to take on the biggest job available. And not only did he take it on, he kicked butt. Kobe was on his heels for much of the final 24 minutes. Pierce even came up with a block on a fall-away jumper. On a fall-away jumper! The whole idea of taking a fall-away is to create space between yourself and the defender, giving up some accuracy to make it nigh impossible to block your shot. Pierce blocked it, on Kobe. Amazing.
There are hardly enough superlatives available for this squad. Let's start with Doc Rivers and his coaching.
Rondo saw his minutes diminished. Much of this was a result of his ankle sprain, which took away his prime weapons - speed and cuts. So, Doc goes with Eddie House, rather than Sam Cassell, to replace Rondo. Great move. Perkins was injured (again.) To go along with his bum ankle, he appeared to dislocate his shoulder. Doc decides to NOT go with Leon Powe or P. J. Brown or Glen Davis, but instead drops James Posey into the lineup, going small. Perfect move. With both he and House in the game, the Lakers had to spread the defense, allowing less doubling and more open looks. Coaching? Doc outdid The Zenmaster again.
I could go on for days. It's not easy to see things in a cold reality this morning, so I'll resist the temptation to call this the greatest Celtic victory in their long and storied history. It may very well end up being viewed that way, by some, later on. For now, I'll just bask in the knowledge that The Green are one win away from hanging banner number seventeen.
Total for the contest = 933, with the easy math of ten games giving us an average of 93.3 per game. There is from one to three games remaining - but I'm tempted to say "one."
(I won't. I refuse to jinx this team.)
Anyway, the likely winning totals are as follows:
One game = 1026
Two games = 1120
Three games = 1213
Enjoy the weekend. I'm cautiously optimistic that the only folks who will enjoy it more than me are 12 guys in green out in Los Angeles. We'll see.