It has all come down to this: the Los Angeles Lakers vs the Phoenix Suns and the Orlando Magic vs the Boston Celtics. Only one potentially huge participant in the vaunted Summer of 2010 remains: Amare Stoudemire. He’s not who or what I want to talk about now though. Even though Queen James will make sure the rest of the Playoffs are overshadowed by him and his "team," this year’s Larry O’Brien Trophy is very much up in the air. Think not? Read on.
The last two Champions and the three most recent participants in the NBA Finals are still in the mix. The questions out West are: Can the Lakers assert their will on the Suns? Can Steve Nash and Amare continue to orchestrate the phenomenal run they’ve been on? Will any current or unforeseeable injuries shift the series in either team’s favor? If the Suns don’t make it to the Finals, is it worth it to keep Stoudemire around to take another shot at it?
In the East, Orlando is likely the favorite, but can they knock off what has turned out to be a rather resilient Celtic bunch? Can Rajon Rondo be stopped? Will the Magic shooters ever turn cold? If the Cs can make Dwight Howard a nonfactor (as the Charlotte Bobcats did when the kept him in foul trouble in the First Round), can they beat the Magic even then?
As Miami Heat fans, it truly doesn’t matter to us who wins what at this point. But as fans of the NBA and basketball in general, the remainder of these Playoffs will pack quite a punch. Plus, we might as well watch because what else are we going to do to pass the time until July 1? Phoenix could breakthrough and prove a running team could win it with the right mix of run-and-gun and defense. The Lakers could repeat. The Celtics could win their second Title in three years. The Magic could breakthrough and prove a team that has made a record amount of triples in the smallest possible amount of games can win it all. I personally would love to see Stan Van Gundy win his first Ring (as long as it’s not at our expense, so get it done this year StanVan!). There’s another team to pull for—purely for historical reasons.
That team is the Boston Celtics. I’ll get to the history in a moment. First, consider the following. The Celtics, as presently constituted, are doing this dance for the last time. Ray Allen will likely be gone. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are getting old. Reports from just a few weeks ago widely speculated Doc Rivers would likely take some time away from coaching after this season. Could they really "win one for the Gipper" and ride off into the sunset? Okay, enough of that sob story. Back to the historical implications of a Boston Celtic Title in 2010.
If the Celtics are able to pull of this rather unlikely feat, they will (likely) have knocked off four of the Top 5 players in the League. They already ousted Dwyane Wade and our Heat. They just disposed of Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. They now face Dwight Howard and the Magic. If they’re able to get past them, they’ll likely face Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. Has a team ever beaten top level talent like that en route to an NBA Title? I say no—at least not in recent memory. The closest case I can make is the never "underestimate the heart of a Champion" Houston Rockets of 1994-1995 when they took down (in order) Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, David Robinson, and Shaquille O’Neal—all arguably among the Top 5 guys in the League at the time. Throw in John Stockton, Kevin Johnson, and Penny Hardaway to boot, and those Rockets turned the basketball world on its ear. They made history that year as the only team ever to knock off four teams seeded higher than them on the way to a Title.
What does that mean for this year’s Celtics? They’re not a sixth seed like Houston was. They actually had the home court advantage in the First Round, whereas those Rockets did not, but there is one thing about the current Celtic team that might make them even more impressive if they’re able to win eight more games in these Playoffs. In 1995, the Rockets had the luxury of having one of the Top 5 players in the NBA at the time on their squad. This is an arguable point of course, but he was the League MVP the previous year and he was still putting up 27 and 10 on the regular. Depending on how high you rate Rondo currently, you could possibly be outside the Top 20 before you named a current Celtic.
As bad as I would hate to see the Boston Celtics win the 2010 NBA Title, it would be rather remarkable.