By: Alex Reimer
There wasn’t a bigger doubter than I. The Celtics had failed to establish themselves throughout the regular season, as they looked disinterested, old, and just not that good.
They couldn’t hold down their home court, and could not protect big leads. They shriveled against elite competition, and suffered embarrassing losses against the likes of the New Jersey Nets.
We kept hearing that they were going to “flip the switch” come the playoffs. But that seemed hard to believe. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen still did not appear to be completely healthy, the bench rarely produced, the defense faltered, and questions lingered about the state of the locker room and overall team character. Oh yeah, and Rasheed Wallace often accumulated more technical fouls per night than rebounds.
The Celtics promptly beat the Heat in 5 games to open up the postseason. They played the best defense they had played all season, showed passion, the “big 3” appeared healthier than ever, and Rajon Rondo established himself as the focal point of the Boston offense. But after all, that was against the Heat. The Heat stink. It was against Dwyane Wade, and a supporting cast including a weathered Jermaine O’Neal, an instable Michael Beasley, and simply an untalented backcourt.
The Cavaliers were the best team in the Eastern Conference. They won 61 games in the regular season, and had the supposed best player in basketball.
However, the best player in basketball was not the best player in the series. LeBron James took over game 3, scoring 38 points, but virtually disappeared in game 5. James went 3-14 from the floor in that game. A player of his caliber does not get shut down like that unless he plays a significant role in it, no matter how good the defense is.
But that’s not to discredit the Celtics’ defense. It was incredible. The physical play by Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett shut down Antawn Jamison. Paul Pierce struggled offensively throughout the series, but that could be because he committed himself to stopping James. The Celtics have enough options to deploy responsibility like that. They were simply the more complete team than the Cavs.
In game 6, it was a struggle for LeBron early on. Pierce, Tony Allen (who played a great series off the bench), and Ray Allen made life difficult for him in the 1st half. The shots weren’t falling. In the 2nd half, James eventually made his way to a triple-double (27 points 19 rebounds 10 assists), but at times was passive. He turned the ball over 9 times, and only went 8-21 from the field. He had more turnovers than shots made.
The 25 year-old who has been anointed “the king,” even though he has yet to win anything, had to work for everything he got in the series. That is a tremendous testament to the Celtics’ defense. “The king” hasn’t had to work for anything in his life. The calls have always gone his way, and teams are usually more than happy to let him play his game, get the highlight reel dunk, and throw his powder in the air.
Not the Celtics. The Celtics are a championship-experienced team. They are a team in the truest sense. 5 players had double-figures in points in game 6. Ray Allen only had 8 points and Pierce only had 13. But that’s okay. Because Garnett had 22, Rondo had 21, and Wallace had 12 off the bench. Other guys picked up the slack.
The same can’t be said for LeBron James. But there is no sympathy for him here. “Iconic” players have to carry their teams through rough stretches. If you can’t take the heat, get out the kitchen. Don’t make excuses about your elbow, or conjure up a way to blame your supporting cast.
LeBron James could not carry his team to a game 6 victory, and could not carry his team to a series win. The reasons for this are unknown. Does he want out of Cleveland? Does he just not play well under pressure? Does he not respond well to great defense? All of that could be true. But one thing is absolutely for certain. It’s a bit too early to call “the king” “iconic” just yet.
Alex Reimer is the host of the Red Sox podcast, “Without a Curse.” “Without a Curse” is available on both www.thesportsstuff.com and in the iTunes store. Alex is also the host of “The Alex Reimer Show,” which airs every Saturday from 4-6 PM EST on 1120 AM WBNW Boston and www.moneymattersradio.net. Alex can be reached at, Alexredsox076@aol.com.