Well, the great Basketbawful is indisposed, so it is up to me, Evil Ted, to give you a morsel of basketball thought today.
I got a chance to check out my Celtics this weekend against the Bulls. I wanted to get a sense of what is making Kevin Garnett such an overwhelming positive presence for the Celtics. Is it his size? His intensity? His desire? His maturity and sincerity that commands automatic respect? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
But there's more...
Now he's wearing Celtic green. It’s as if he can feel the spirit of Russell and Bird in those 16 banners, wafting through the rafters of the building they still call the "Garden."
Is there any other explanation? I mean, yes, Pierce and Allen are talented, but without Garnett, this is not a good Celtics team; this is the same 24-58 team plus a former All-Star in Ray Allen. Watching Garnett work the floor against the Bulls, I was reminded of the way Bill Russell puppeteered games later in his career. Russell – no longer the dominant physical presence – would direct and oversee all facets of the game, both offensively and defensively. He was a big man who set himself up at the top of the key with his back to the basket and essentially played point guard, distributing the ball exactly where it needed to go for his cutting teammates. Garnett is performing similar game-direction, but he IS still the dominant physical presence, so when a perfect, brick wall pick needs to be made he makes it, when a teammate’s drive to the basket goes wrong, he is immediately above the rim to slam it home, when an easy basket is lacking, he is there to fire a turnaround jumper as ridiculously accurate as the Jabbar sky hook and as undefendable as the Karate Kid crane kick (later, sadly, shown to be defendable in “Karate Kid II”). In the Bulls game alone KG popped three immaculate and critical jumpers over a leaping, fully-extended Ben Wallace. Each shot was no small feat, but he made each look effortless.
The Big Three...in One.
Speaking of last year’s 24-58 record, the Celtics are on pace to match, if not better, the Bulls 72-10 record (ok, so are the Spurs - it's early in the season yet). But it begs the question: is KG on his way to bettering Bird on the list of greatest all-time Celtics? One of the first "notable" highlights about Bird is that he was responsible for what was then the greatest single season turnaround in NBA history (from 20 to 61 wins). Last year's Celtics won 24 games. This year, is it not very possible they could win...70? (I'm knocking on wood, thereby negating any stat curse
That would be a 46-game turnaround. Now, KG has some championships to win yet, but Bird won his three with perennial all-stars Kevin McHale and Robert Parish flanking him. If KG can win even a single NBA championship with this particular team, it would be Bird-comparison worthy - and this comes from a man with a Larry Bird shrine in his basement. Beyond the record itself, the Celts are not just winning games; they are annihilating opponents in surgical and embarrassing fashion, much like their New England area football counterparts.
Despite the early Celtics success, there are still questions:Question #1:
Is this a legitimate Big Three? No. Not even close. This is a Big One and Two Halves, which in a league of watered down mediocre talent, has proven dominating.Question #2:
Does this group have staying power, or is this a Miami Heat-style one-hit-wonder? The Miami Heat’s success relied on a heavy, aging Shaq past his prime to dominate the post. KG is young enough, and physically at the top of his game. He is the piece – far more than Allen or Pierce – that must last, and he will. Further, there is enough new youth in players like Davis and Rondo to give Garnett his needed role players. There is a legitimate chance for the Celtics to maintain “team to beat” status for multiple seasons. Four years? Nope. Three tops.
I asked my dad what he thought of the Garnett signing before the season started, and he not only answered my question, he coined a new term. “If Ainge pulls off a championship, it would be Auerbachian.” Amen, dad. Yes it would be a trade about as amazing as one made by the late, great Red.
It pays to be a competant GM, but if that isn't in the cards, it pays more to be buddies with Kevin McHale. It pays even more
to be sexually harassed by Isaiah Thomas
- but I digress.
A great number of factors are all coming together for the Celtics at the right time, but make no mistake, Garnett and Garnett alone makes it all happen. Why are young players fully accepting their “role player” status? Garnett. Why is Danny Ainge suddenly potentially “Auerbachian”? Garnett. Why is Doc Rivers suddenly not a completely incompetant coach? Garnett. Why are Paul Pierce and Ray Allen suddenly (and undeservedly) being referred to as 2/3rds of the "Big Three"? Garnett. Hell, even when Garnett is on the bench, you can sense him there, presiding over all that transpires like the Eye of Sauron
. Did this happen in Minnesota? No. Is there anything but the aura of Celtic Green to explain it? Not really. Garnett has always been this smart, this good, this motivated. The only difference is he's now surrounded by a ring of singing, dancing leprechauns.
Garnett, unlike so many of today's players, deserves his success. He has integrity and class, and even if he can’t (and never will) compete with Bill Russell in championship prowess, he can most certainly compete on the respect-o-meter. Yes, Garnett has a lot more winning to do before he can be mentioned in the same breath as Russell, or even Bird, but he has the character and talent to be as great as his promise, and perhaps to one day be selling us a new long-distance provider…
And if KG brings the Green a championship, I'll gladly switch.
Labels: Bill Russell, Keven Garnett, Larry Bird