June 18, 2010
One and Done: Celtics Know How Patriots Feel
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
LOS ANGELES -- It took six games to reach this point, then it became just like a Super Bowl.
One game for the championship. Do or die. The absolute last game of the season. The winner has distinction and prestige for life, the loser becomes a footnote in league history. It's not living and dying, but the dipolar opposite ends of the human emotion scale are experienced at the finish when one team walks off victorious and the other team walks off defeated.
Three Februaries ago, in Glendale, Arizona, the 18-0 Patriots marched into the University of Phoenix Stadium, brimming with confidence that they could vanquish a foe they beat only a few weeks earlier to make NFL history. No team had ever finished a regular season 16-0 until the Patriots did so in 2007, the 38-35 win at Giants Stadium against the New York Giants the final mountain to climb in achieving that previously unconquered feat. After playoff victories over Jacksonville and San Diego, the Patriots needed to beat the Giants in Super Bowl XLII to finish off the first 19-0 season in NFL history and become the first team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to completely run the table in a season.
But all that came crashing down on the Patriots on that ignominious evening in the Arizona desert.
The Giants avenged the home loss on Week 17 by throttling Tom Brady and the Patriot offense with a defensive intensity not seen since the Patriots were bludgeoned in Super Bowl XX by the Chicago Bears. The Giants themselves only managed 17 points, but that was good enough to ruin the Patriots' perfect season. Eli Manning and the Giants walked off the field at the gleaming new Bidwill Palace with a 17-14 win and the Super Bowl championship, leaving the Patriots with an 18-1 finish and the most excruciating feeling any of those players could have ever felt in their lives.
Thursday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the Celtics experienced much the same thing.
Game seven of the Finals. Boston sports fans have not had to deal with this since the 1986 World Series. The Celtics have not had to deal with this since the 1984 Finals. The Mets finished off a gut-wrenching comeback against the Sox who at one point led the series 2-0 with both wins coming in Shea Stadium. The Celtics had the home court against the Lakers two years prior, and toppled the Lakers 111-102 to win the NBA Championship in the final year of the 2-2-1-1-1 playoff format for the Finals.
Instead of replicating the 1984 Finals, the Celtics replicated the 1986 World Series. The Red Sox led that series, 3-2 with the last two games on the road. In NBA history, since the inception of the 2-3-2 format with the 1985 Finals, three teams have gone into Games 6 and 7 on the road up 3-2, and three teams have lost both road games and the title.
The third of those teams are your 2010 Boston Celtics.
And with that, it's all over. One game, and that's it. The Lakers make more gains in their quest to overtake the Celtics as the best team in league history. The Celtics shed a river of tears in the locker room, and now prepare for the window on their Big Three championship run to begin to close. The sudden finality of it all was too much for all the Celtics to bear. Injured center Kendrick Perkins is already convinced that he will never make it back to a Finals again.
But that's it. Johnny Most, the late and legendary Celtic radio announcer, loved to say "It's all over! It's allllll OVAH!"
David Tyree makes the catch of his life. Derek Fisher nails a three to tie the game in the fourth quarter. It's all over.
Plaxico Burress catches the winning touchdown pass with a half minute to go. Sasha Vujacic sinks two free throws to clinch it. It's all over.
Tom Brady loses his first Super Bowl and hasn't been the same since, in many ways. Kobe Bryant wins his fifth title and now thinks he is the greatest Laker ever. It's all over.
Bill Belichick still can't shake SpyGate and hasn't won a title since Charlie and Romeo left. Phil Jackson now leads Red Auerbach by two in total titles won as a head coach. It's all over.
The Patriots are no longer dynastic. The Lakers are, and the Celtics might not get even a whiff of the Finals for a long time to come. It's all over.
Brady is building a home in California and refuses to be an absentee father. Doc Rivers is probably going to walk away and make up for lost daddy time. It's all over.
Try to find a defensive starter from the 2007 Patriots that is still with the team. You can if you look hard enough. You might have a harder time with next year's Celtics. Ray Allen, Rasheed Wallace, and, gulp, Paul Pierce may have played their last games as Celtics. It's all over.
It's the sudden finality. One game for all the marbles. Both teams saw history in their sights and had it in their grasps. And poof, it's gone. The Celtics were looking to become the first team to actually win a seven-game Finals on the road in the 2-3-2 format. They were also looking to knock out the Lakers in LA just like their 1968 and 1969 brethren did (that Game 7 in 1969 may have been the sweetest win in Celtic history even to this day).
But no. The other team won. The other team gets to party all night long, wear the caps and t-shirts, and eventually the rings. How galling is it to see Michael Strahan flash that ring on the Fox football pregame show. Now you'll have to endure more media love for Bryant and Jackson, as the legacies of Jerry West, Magic Johnson and Auerbach get buried by these two guys who around these parts are more known as a guy who beat a sexual assault rap and a backup forward-center for the Knicks.
Celtic fans will chew on this for a while, spit it out, then get back to the Red Sox and hope that they didn't blow the season in April.
And then come the Patriots, and the hope that they didn't blow the season in June when they didn't sign Brady and torqued off Logan Mankins.
As for the Celtics, it was a great three-year run. The Big Three are in our hearts forever. Rivers is in the top three among best coaches in Celtic history. You won't see this edition of the Celtics ever again. But they are true Celtics, with their own unique legacy that no one can take away from them.
But that's how it ends. One and done. Just like a Super Bowl.
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