The 2010 NBA Finals loss to the selfish Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers was the first ever heartbreak I experienced as a sports fan. I didn’t become integrated into the New England Patriots until 2011 – Just in time for the equally dreadful Super Bowl XLVI defeat. I HATED the Patriots before 2011. But I was always a Celtics fan. A young, pessimistic me didn’t take a seat on my cozy living room chair to watch, what I didn’t know then was the swan song for the era of Lakers dominance.
Ask anyone heading into the finals, even Bostonians would tell you the 2010 matchup meant so much more to Bryant than to the Celtics. In someways the loss in 2010 was a precursor to the Patriots loss to the Eagles in the 2018 Super Bowl. We entered the final dance calm and collected, “if we win: great! If we don’t, eh. Always next year,” little did we know there wasn’t to be a next year. It’s been nearly a decade since the Celtics made it to the final round. After 2008, the Lakers returned to being the Celtics bitch like in the days of Bill Russell and Tom Heinsohn. The best high-volume shooter the game’s ever seen bulldozed his way to a redemption championship the next year, then repeated himself the season after. At age 33, and with LeBron James looming in the shadows, in hindsight we were stupid for not seeing this as Kobe’s last dance, as well.
The old man Celtics that punched their way back to the finals, through an eastern conference that wasn’t deluded as it was two-years ago. The Miami Heat was the first casualty. Dwyane Wade was still in his prime, one year removed from averaging 30.2 points in the 2008-09 season off of 49.6% shooting. The Celtics took care of them in five. LeBron’s Cleveland squad was next. Many pegged the Cavaliers to stroll through the C’s en route to the much anticipated rematch of the east-finals a year ago against Orlando. After three games things were going as planned, Cavs lead Boston 2-1 and just took Game 3 at the Garden 95-124. Then something snapped in a bad way for LeBron; he shot just 34% in the final three-games as the Cavs dropped all of them, Brian Windhorst alluded to the organization is worried the pills Bron took to deal with his elbow pain was giving him depression. Things got messed up real fast is what I was saying. The improbable run bulldozed through the Magic Kingdom. Pierce shot 51.2%, averaged 24.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in possibly the best series of his career. Suddenly, the Celtics were back when nobody thought this unlikeable bunch of overpaid, aging, slow guys had a snow balls chance in Hell.
It wasn’t just “The Truth,” The 2010 playoffs birthed us “National TV Rondo.” The typical spunky little brother on the 2008 squad grew into arguably the best player on the AARP Celtics, getting the best of LeBron in a playoff series when things looked bleak during the semi-finals.
The decline of Garnett after his knee injury before the 2009 playoffs ended the hopes of repeating as champions. Garnett just wasn’t the same athlete after February of ‘09. The best player on the championship team fell to the third spot behind Pierce and Rondo. His offensive game dwindled, legs lacking the bounce that nearly won him the MVP despite being in his early-30s.
The alternate outcomes that could have lead to Banner 18 basically go like this:
1. Ray Allen Doesn’t Croak in Game Three:
Yes. Perhaps the second greatest jump shooting guard of all-time, fresh off an 11 of 20 outing, including a record breaking 8 three-pointers, Ray-Ray followed that all-time virtuoso performance with the greatest dud of his storied career. 0-of-13. Zero shots made. In the crucial Game 4 Boston lost by just seven-points. The Celtics went on to win the next two to take a 3-2 lead, before, of course losing the final two games in Los Angeles.
Say, instead of the pendulum swinging all the way to the other side for Ray-Ray, he duplicates his outing from Game 2 making shot after shot. Alternate Reality Ray Allen shoots six-of-13, 3-of-8 from three and two free throws culminate to 27 points as the Celtics defeat Los Angeles 107-91. The Celtics go on to close the series in five-games.
2. Kendrick Perkins Doesn’t Get Hurt:
Okay. This is pretty played out, so lemme just set up the scenario. Celtics walk into the Staples Center, needing just one victory to sow this bad boy up. Things start off fine enough, then our lone reliable rebounder tears his ACL in the opening quarter then the game goes into the shitter REAL fast.
In the first six-games L.A snagged 244 rebounds to Boston’s 225; Perkins ranked first in the series (excluding Game 7) in the finals in TRB% at 15.7. In the ensuing decisive Game 7 L.A out-rebounded Boston 53-40. 8 Celtics offensive rebounds to Los Angeles’ 23.
Safe to assume the Celtics squeak out a victory, an extra title and save me a lot of misery if Perk is 100%.
3. Doc Rivers Manages His Rotations Better
Ah. This is truly the unsung reason for the Celtics crushing defeat: as the old Celtics legs waned as the game became a rock fight, the importance of young legs should have been prioritized. Glen Davis started off hot in the first quarter, knocking in six-points in the opening period. Doc went away from Davis in favor of the veteran Rasheed Wallace, who caused an awful lot of distress that season even though it didn’t look like that given his personable nature. Wallace turned back the clock slightly, finishing 5-of-11, 11 points and 8 rebounds, but fouled out with 25.7 seconds left intentionally sending Bryant to the line.
The minutes tally went like this:
Rasheed Wallace: 35:36
Glen Davis: 20:50
If the workload was split up more evenly:
An extra Davis basket changes the game dramatically. Sheed doesn’t need to internally foul Bryant if the Celtics lead L.A 79-80, as opposed to down 78-76. Davis finished the series with the best rebounding rate on the Celtics. The inability for Doc to see that playing Wallace 35-minutes wasn’t going to cut it against the younger Gasol will always perplex me. Big Baby Davis’ frame and patented strong finishes at the basket would have made the likes of Andrew Bynum pay in the post.
Now, let’s have some fun with a bonus rotational decision that surely would have won the game for Boston: Nate Robinson. Yes. Little Nate Robinson. He’s like a very poor man’s Isaiah Thomas. Robinson acted as a spark plug off the bench, doing so in Game 6 of the Orlando series and Game 4 of the Lakers series. Doc gave the three-time Slam Dunk champion just three-in-a-half minutes of Game 7, taking just 1 shots, missing it.
Robinson put up 12 solid points in Game 4, then followed that up with 4 assists off the bench in Game 5. There was something to be unlocked within the tiny leaping point guard. A jolt of life to a dying light begging to shine just once more.
Say, if Robinson takes five of Ray Allen’s 45 minutes and knocks in a couple jump shots in the third quarter (Hell, just one would have done the trick) and the Celtics win Game 7 by the score of 85-83. Is that feasible? I don’t see why not, and you better not try to convince me otherwise.
In the end: the Celtics lost out on a chance to cement themselves as the dominate team of the era. After the ‘04 Pistons crashed and won the finals, a new era of rough and tumble ball seeped all the way to the 2010s before being chased away by pace and space basketball. Throughout those six-seasons following the last Kobe/Shaq season there have been only one team to have won more than one title in that span: the San Antonio Spurs, and that’s it.
The Lakers added to themselves to that list, even with Kobe’s 6-of-24 shooting night that would have ruined his legacy if Gasol didn’t save his ass.
An extra title for the Pierce/K.G Celtics means Garnett probably has enough juice to pass Karl Malone on the list of greatest power forwards ever, behind only Duncan and McHale. Perhaps he’d be the series MVP, despite his age he was still able to garner 4 blocks in Game 7 and be the Celtics best option on offense finishing 8-of-13 for 17 points.
If Pierce bagged the extra chip it’s likely in Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball makes an argument for him being the best player from the 1998 draft, not Dirk Nowitzki. Let’s see the argument:
Dirk versus Pierce, up until 2010:
Dirk: 21,111 points, 10 All-NBA selections, 9 All-Star appearances, 1 MVP, 1-Finals Runner-up
Pierce: 19,899 points, 4 All-NBA selections, 8 All-Star appearances, 2 championships, 1 Finals MVP
Hmmm… the only way someone could make this argument is if they were unabashed homers.
In all seriousness, maybe Pierce soars above Drexler, Payton, Thurmond and Kidd to just outside of the top-40. The Artist Formally Known as Ron Artest ate Pierce’s lunch on defense the entire series. Pierce countered by locking Bryant up for the most part. However, Pierce let Meta World Peace fire off the three-pointer that ultimately served as the dagger.
If Rondo gets the Finals MVP it only further highlight his fall from grace. But he shot 45.4%, averaged 13.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 7.6 assists, was the most consistent Celtic of the series. After the 2010 run the media would attach Rondo to the C’s Big 3 core, naming it “The Big Three… AND Rondo.” Maybe the shine of Rondo would consume even Paul Pierce and things would get toxic real fast. On the flip side, maybe the New Orleans Hornets are seduced by the mystic of Playoff Rondo and wish to trade Chris Paul for him.
Either way, we’ll never know. We didn’t know then, but that was the last time the Celtics have appeared in the finals. Maybe 2018-19 will end the drought?