2009, May 4; Celtics-Bulls Wasn’t Best Series Ever
May 8, 2009
— The 1981 Eastern Conference finals between the Celtics and 76ers that produced five games decided by one or two points, including the Celtics' three consecutive wins after coming from a three-games-to-one deficit to win the series. The Celtics, led by Larry Bird's late bank shot, won Game 7 by a single point.
— The 1987 Eastern Conference finals between the Celtics and Pistons when "Bird stole the ball" from Isiah Thomas to win Game 5 in a series Boston won in seven.
— The 1984 NBA Finals made famous by Kevin McHale's horse-collar tackle of the Lakers' Kurt Rambis.
— The 1970 NBA Finals between the Knicks and Lakers that included Jerry West's half-court shot that sent Game 3 into overtime. Game 4 also went into overtime. And of course there was Willis Reed dragging himself out of the locker room to hit the first two baskets of Game 7, which might just be the most revered game and inspirational story in league history.
The Lakers were also involved in the most riveting series I've ever covered: the Western Conference finals in 2002 between the Kings and Lakers, the one that produced Robert Horry's prayer of a shot to win Game 4 that prevented the Lakers from going down 3-1, and ended in a Lakers overtime victory in Game 7 in Sacramento. The officiating was so controversial in that game that it was in the news again last summer when disgraced ref Tim Donaghy offered it up as evidence of impropriety in an effort to help himself in his defense against gambling charges.
Wherever you place Bulls-Celtics on the greatness spectrum, it's surely at the opposite end of the Hawks-Heat series, which produced the least entertaining seven-game series in modern times. Each of the seven games was decided by 10 points or more, including Atlanta's blowout victory in Game 7. The average margin in the series was 19 points. And worst of all, it doesn't appear that the Hawks will do anything to slow LeBron James and the Cavaliers, even though Cleveland figures to be rusty after nine days off. Even so, the Hawks will be counted out about as quickly as Ricky Hatton.
Boston's problem will be just the opposite Monday night when the Celtics play Orlando in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Rivers not only has to coach the champs differently than he did last year, when defense was the team's calling card. Injuries to Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe have made that mandatory, and now Rivers has to base most of his rotation pattern on offensive planning, meaning more of Eddie House and Brian Scalabrine, two guys who led the way Saturday night against the Bulls.
That won't necessarily help the Celtics figure out what to do against Dwight Howard down low, or Rashard Lewis, who will be a matchup nightmare for Glen Davis. On the other hand, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce know they're going to get an Orlando back court light on pressure.
The Nuggets and Lakers are on a collision course in the west, and the biggest suspense of the rest of the playoffs might be whether Shane Battier and Ron Artest can push Kobe Bryant to such a degree that the Rockets can make it difficult on the Lakers. But even those of us who think the Rockets, now that they're past the pressure of getting out of the first round, can annoy Kobe and Phil Jackson more than any remaining team, don't see four overtimes, seven overtime periods and six tight games in a seven-game series. We'll have to settle for great performances, like the one Nene turned in Sunday in Denver's Game 1 victory over Dallas, and recalibrate what constitutes high basketball drama.