Did The Boston Celtics Save The NBA On Sunday Night?

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 06: (L-R) Ray Allen #20 and Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics talk during a stop in play against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Two of the 2010 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 6, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

The playoffs have been mediocre, the officiating has been just as bad, and we won't even talk about one particular NBA announcer. The NBA doesn't need saving, but last night, the Celtics helped us avoid the worst case scenario.

Please excuse me while I engage in some serious hyperbole. "Did the Celtics save the NBA last night?" That sounds like the worst, most obvious knee-jerk reaction in history.

The sort of stuff that gets tossed around on that satirical sports show from 30 Rock, "Sports Shouting." Travel with me to a sports purgatory, where this show runs on continuous loop...

Question: Did the Celtics save the NBA by winning Game 2 of the NBA Finals?

Shouting columnist #1: THEY DID!

Shouting columnist #2: THEY DIDN'T!

Shouting columnist #3: IT ALL COMES DOWN TO INTANGIBLES.

Shouting columnist #4: MY JOB IS TO BE ZANY AND CONTROVERSIAL. AFTER LAST NIGHT'S EFFORT, THE LAKERS SHOULD FORFEIT THE SERIES, AND PHIL SHOULD PAY BACK HIS SALARY TO THE CITY OF LOS ANGELES. 

Moderator: Whoa, there. Seriously? +2 for that point. Guys, should the Lakers forfeit the NBA Finals? Does Phil Jackson owe the city of Los Angeles $8 million?

Everybody else: How can one team, and one game, save an entire league? And how could a league that makes billions in revenue possibly need to be "saved"?

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But think about it for a second. Imagine if the Celtics didn't win Sunday night in L.A.

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As the game got close in the fourth quarter, that was my biggest fear. If the Celtics didn't win Game 2, we'd have been looking at a much-anticipated series that's essentially over after two games with horrendous officiating, with only an offseason of LeBron James stories in our future. Awful.

On paper, the NBA's got more superstars than just about any league in pro sports, and yet, the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs have produced more drama, the NFL continues to reign supreme, and the World Cup is looming in a week as the most captivating sporting event in the entire world. Nobody's saying the NBA's not great, but... there are some definite issues to consider.

First, the playoffs have sucked this year. We know this, as basketball fans. We don't want to admit it, but it's true. Two weeks ago, midway through the Conference Finals in the East and West, I wrote this: "Through 79 NBA playoff games, only eight have been decided by three points or less, which means that, in 2010, the chances of getting a playoff game decided on one of the final possessions has been somewhere around 10 percent. Maybe that's an unfair way to judge the competitive balance of a given season, but it's indicative of what we've seen so far. Ninety percent of the time, there's been very little suspense to what's transpired."

"... the margin of victory in the Western Conference playoffs has been 8.1 points, with a whopping 10.8 point-differential back East. So, basically, teams are averaging double-digit victories in the 2010 postseason. Beyond that, we've had four sweeps—including three in the conference semifinals—and there's a good chance that the East could wind up a sweep, with the West ending in five games. And for all the valor of the Celtics' sudden resurgence, there have also been completely inexplicable disappearing acts from the likes of Cleveland, Orlando, Dallas, San Antonio, Atlanta, Utah, and more."

Can we really say that a whole lot changed through the rest of the Conference Finals? Phoenix battled back to make things slightly interesting out West, but not many people ever gave them a real chance at beating the Lakers. And as for the Boston-Orlando series, Boston took a 3-0 series lead, no-showed for two games, and then blew out Orlando in the decisive Game 6. How riveting!

It's not a crisis, or even something that the NBA can control, but it's certainly something that undermines the mystique the NBA has used to market itself the past few years. This year, "Where Amazing Happens" has been "Where Stuff That You Knew Was Going Happen Happens." All the melodramatic piano in the world can't make that sound glamorous.

Then there's the announcing... I like Mark Jackson, and really, as a basketball mind, I'm sure he's one of the best guys out there. But as an announcer, the guy is just a disaster, and it's embarrassing. Especially with the NBA, where the ebb and flow of the game tends to lull casual fans to sleep, announcers take on a pretty huge role in shaping the viewing experience.

And when you wind up spending half the game asking yourself, "what the hell did he just say?" it's not a good sign. It's getting bad. After one play Sunday night, a gorgeous up-and-under reverse lay-up from Pau Gasol, Jackson exclaimed, "In the streets, they call this deliverin' pizza!" And... That can't possibly true. Nobody would ever degrade such a beautiful move with such a corny-ass name. They just wouldn't. Sorry, Mark.

Half the time, his analysis is just complete nonsense. Stuff that you hear and say, how could this guy possibly be the only "expert" ABC could find? SB Nation's Clippers blog, Clips Nation, doesn't even have vested interest in the Finals, but Steve Perrin had to rant after Game 1:

Midway through the second quarter of Game One of the Finals last night, Nate Robinson tied up Pau Gasol and a jump ball was whistled.  Pau controlled the tip to Kobe Bryant, who made a tough jump shot to give the Lakers a three point lead in what had to that point been a very close contest.

Mark Jackson proceeded to spend most of Boston's next possession, as well as the replays shown during a subsequent Andrew Bynum free throw, to effuse about how the play demonstrated Kobe's off the charts basketball IQ.  According to Jackson, Kobe's awareness of the 24 second clock in that situation was worthy of undying admiration and praise.

Excuse me?

The jump ball occurred with 5 seconds showing on the shot clock.  The shot clock is of course part of every NBA possession, and awareness of it is hardly limited to Mensa members.  But during a jump ball, there's a stoppage in play and pretty much everyone on the court has plenty of time to take a quick gander above the basket and, you know, check it out.  That, plus a rudimentary understanding of the rule book, enough to understand that the clock does not reset on a jump ball if the original team retains possession, is pretty much all you need to know.  Yet somehow to Jackson, this was completely uncanny, an act of pure genius. 

There was also this, as we closed in on crunch time last night: "I like what both coaches are doing right now. Closing out the ball game with their closers." If this was football, that might be passable, but ideally, the NBA should appeal to an audience that's less... brain-dead, I guess? And fair or not, Jackson seems brain-dead half the time.

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It's hilarious, sure, but the NBA and ABC should do better.

"Closing out the game with their closers." ... ANALYSIS!

And let's not forget the officiating. If you think the NBA doesn't have a problem with its current officiating model, you either don't watch the games, or you work for the NBA.

It's not a matter of the NBA fixing games or anything, but through the first two games of the NBA Finals, the refs have just been bad. Too many fouls, fouls on the wrong people, blowing easy calls, and last night, in a particularly dreadful sequence, blowing the replay on a call late in the game Sunday night. It hurt the Celtics, like this "foul" on Kendrick Perkins. And it happened to L.A., too. From SB Nation's Lakers blog:

What's a bit harder to stomach was an out-of-bounds call that awarded possession to Boston with 1:59 to play and the Lakers down three. Replays showed unambiguously that Garnett last touched the ball, but the refs failed to reverse the initial call despite consulting those exact replays. I honestly have no idea what they thought they were seeing.

And they're right. It was almost surreal. Like, "Don't the refs look at the same replays as us?"

(Yes. Yes they do.)

"How could they possibly miss that call then?"

(Well it happens, you know? Part of the game.)

"..."

That's where we are with the NBA officiating right now. It's just assumed that about 30% of the time, the refs will get it wrong. Part of the game, you know? But it shouldn't be part of the game.

This is the NBA Finals. We're watching the best refs the NBA has to offer. I mean, imagine if the Super Bowl had a blown call every five minutes. Imagine if the Stanley Cup refs reviewed a goal late in the game, and just flat out got it wrong. This can't keep happening if the NBA expects to be taken seriously. It's probably requires a longer discussion if we're going to fix it, but come on.

Anytime both teams can make legitimate claims that the refs screwed them throughout the game, it's a problem. And in Game 2, the Lakers and Celtics got screwed over and over again by the refs.

And there's more. If the Lakers had won last night, they're up 2-0, and for yet another series, we pretty much know what's going to happen by the second game of the series. That's nobody's fault, but it wouldn't be great for the league. Throw in the increasingly unsavory underpinnings of the LeBron free agency sweepstakes, and between the New York Yankees Los Angles Lakers running through the NBA with ease and LeBron's whole sideshow, we could have been looking at a solid three months of storylines that make the NBA look like one, big mess—a league full of greed and backroom deals, where the favorites always win, and a bunch of billion dollar sports franchises are playing favorites based on the whims of a 25-year-old kid.

To review, here's what we'd be talking about if the Lakers won Sunday night:

  1. A disappointing playoffs.
  2. Dumb announcing.
  3. Dreadful officiating.
  4. The Lakers mini-dynasty, and whether they can sweep Boston.
  5. LeBron James, and the chaos accompanying his impending free agency.

Instead, the Celtics won.

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Now, we can ignore all that other stuff for at least the next week. Not because those other problems don't matter, but because, when the games are good, all that other drama recedes to the background. What are you going to remember about last night? Rajon Rondo calmly stepping into a 20-foot jumpshot to put the Celtics up five and give them control of the game, or the crappy out-of-bounds call referenced above, that set up the Rondo shot later in the possession?

You'll remember Rondo. Because he made the shot. And because, with the Celtics on the brink of becoming irrelevant in these NBA Finals, he and Ray Allen stepped up and made things interesting. For the first time since 2004, the NBA Finals is tied at 1-1. After a back-and-forth second half last night that really could have either way, the Celtics stepped up, and now we get to marvel at this series for the next ten days, rather than focus on what we're NOT getting from the NBA.

The league needed this series to be great after the last few months of hollow drama—and before the next few months of free agency hysteria. And it looks like this dream series might live up to the billing. Thank God.

Instead of talking about the NBA's horrid officiating or focusing on the crappy announcers. Instead of talking about this year's terrible playoffs or watching James' every move. We can just talk about basketball. For the fans that love the game, the Celtics gave us a gift Sunday night.

Now, over the next few days, it's all about whether the Lakers can find a way to stop Ray Allen. Whether the Lakers' big men will continue dominating the Celtics inside. Whether Kobe's going to come back to make a statement in Game 3. Whether Kevin Garnett can come back to make one last stand as a great player.

But most important, we can talk about basketball.

We're excited about the NBA, not worried about it.

We still need to deal with the officiating crisis, someone needs to fire Jackson, and James is a complete ass, but hey, relax. Life is good. The Celtics and Lakers are putting on a show, and we might be in for one of the better NBA Finals in a long time. Nothing else matters right now.

With that in mind, some other quick notes from Game 2 of the Finals...

What The Hell Happened To Lamar Odom?

He scored three points on Sunday night and played just 15 minutes. I know that "disappearing in big games" is sort of his schtick these days, but he only played 20 minutes in Game 1, scoring just six points. Mind you, this from a guy that signed $32 million contract this season, and is widely considered a member of the Lakers' "Big Four," and the anchor of their second unit.

When he's good, he makes everyone else on the bench look more attractive. When he's not around to anchor things, who's going to be the star? Shannon Brown? With Odom struggling, the Lakers bench, uh... leaves something to be desired:

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It's still early and Odom has time to turn things around, but if the Lakers lose, "not having a bench" could be a big reason. Something to keep in mind as we head to Boston.

Stats Don't Tell The Whole Story: Paul Pierce Edition

So in Game 1, Paul Pierce had 24 points and nine rebounds in a 13-point Celtics loss. Not Paul's fault, right? Wrong. Pierce racked up a bunch of free throws late in the game, but Ron Artest pretty much shut him down when it mattered. Denied him the ball, forced him into tough shots, and generally threw the Celtics offense completely out of whack.

Then, last night, Pierce came back in a big way had just 10 points on 2-for-11 shooting. So he's officially "struggling" now, right? Again, not that simple. Last night, Pierce was able to get a number of key Lakers into foul trouble, starting with Odom, above. Why did Lamar Odom play just 15 minutes? Well, it didn't help that Pierce drew three fouls from him in the first quarter.

Four of Ron Artest's six fouls came against Pierce, and even though he didn't score much and had an atrocious night shooting the ball, it was Pierce's guile that freed up the court for the rest of the Celtics. People always talk about "intangibles" with veteran teams, but last night, Pierce's presence was completely tangible, and it's a big reason that Celtics offense was able to roll all night long.

Luke Walton's Yellow H2 Hummer

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For real, if you're not reading Doc Funk's Finals captions, you should be

LeBron James Decided Not To Sit Courtside? Too Bad.

Apparently, LeBron James was supposed to be sitting courtside on Sunday Night -- next to the Lakers bench, no less -- but decided against it at the last minute. On behalf of everyone that would have been forced to sit through 8,000 cutaways to James during last night's classic finals game, thank you, LeBron.

On the other hand, wouldn't it have been perfect for him to be there?

Because you know he wanted to be there. It would have made him look terrible, but then, this is who he is, and he's made it clear that he doesn't understand why other people look poorly upon these impulses. He wanted to go to the NBA Finals and be part of the show, not realizing that you have to win to be featured on this stage. Obviously, someone talked him out of it at the last minute, but God, it just would have been such a perfect juxtaposition of him and Kobe, and how far he has to go.

The more I think about it, the more bummed I get.

It's So Cute How Chris Bosh Carries Himself Like A Superstar.

Sort of like LeBron, don't you get the sense that Chris Bosh is milking this free agency thing for all it's worth? Last night, he made an appearance at Game 2.

Black-on-black? Yessir.

Sunglasses and watch to match? Cold.

Dreadlocks? Indeed.

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The Raptors won 40 games this year? Oh.

He's made the playoffs twice in seven years? Damn. Nothing to see here...

ANDY GARCIA'S MUSTACHE

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What will I remember from Game 2 of the Lakers-Celtics series? Allen's ridiculous first half, for one. Rondo's fourth quarter, particularly his jumpshot to seal it for the Celtics. Gasol's early dominance of a Celtics front line that came out determined to stop him. The crappy officiating. But most of all, or at least as much as Ray, I'll remember that mustache. It looks like a thin swatch of perfectly manicured ratskin. Paired with the glasses, he legitimately looks like a character from Clue.

The gauntlet has been thrown down to Boston's smattering of drunk, over-the-hill, C-list Celebrities: Can anybody top Garcia's ratskin 'stache? (Lookin' at you, Donnie Wahlberg).

Having a mustache is all about pride, and not apologizing to anyone for looking ridiculous. To that end, Andy Garcia grades out with flying colors here. Any mustache is a good mustache, but that?

That?

That's a great goddamn mustache. Andy Garcia apologizes to no one. Awesome.

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