"Good job, good effort."
Those words greeted the Miami Heat as they walked off their home floor in June after Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Celtics
The Celtics left South Florida that hot and humid night with their series against the Heat packed neatly in a suitcase. For the next 40 or so hours, we were inundated with talk about how the Heatles were going to be broken up in the offseason, how LeBron James may never win a championship, never mind the hearts and minds of a nation, and how the Celtics had defied conventional wisdom by eliminating their much-younger and more talented counterparts. The Heat, thanks in large part to that viral video and its endless offshoots on social media and the sports blogosphere, were a laughingstock. "Good job, good effort" still turns up more than 320,000,000 results on Google.
Then LeBron took little Jack Meyer's words to heart and lived up to a lifetime's worth of hype, starting in Games 6 and 7. The Heat rolled Boston in the final two games of their series and LeBron began a rampage that claimed the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA finals and the best that the world had to offer during the Olympics. He got his NBA title and added a second gold medal for good measure. Tuesday night, the nation will bear witness on TNT as LeBron officially gets his ring.
Then, the Celtics and Heat will play a basketball game.
The Celtics had the Heat beaten last spring until they allowed James to enter the Garden for Game 6. He scored 30 of his 45 points in the first half on that Thursday night. Just 24 minutes in, it was glaringly evident that the Celtics possessed no one who could stop James. The Paul Pierce that had held his own against LeBron back in the day when the Celtics owned him and the Cavaliers in the post-season was not walking through any door on Causeway Street. Brandon Bass tried his best but eventually floundered.
LeBron was on his way to a championship and the Celtics were going to watch and wave as he left them behind. LeBron finished with 76 points in those final two games against the Celtics. Game 7 was a mere ceremonial formality.
Much like the formal ceremony the Celtics will intentionally miss on Tuesday, as James and the Cavaliers chose to do in 2008 when they opened the season in Boston on Banner 17 night. The Celtics are sitting out Tuesday's festivities - choosing to wait it out in the locker room. It can be argued that the Celtics sat out Games 6 and 7 of the playoffs against Miami as well. But they were simply overwhelmed and outplayed.
Younger, stronger, faster and somewhat more talented opponents - and all that.
The Celtics only have four players on their roster (Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Pierce and Bass) from the squad that last exited American Airlines Arena on June 9. This is a good thing.
Let's get this Ray Allen drama out the way. This is where we're supposed to be all ticked off because Allen left the Celtics for less money and was, from what Doc Rivers said last week, pretty much a crybaby and a royal princess pain when it came to his free-agency this past summer. Until further notice, "No. 20" is dead to us. He's Johnny Damon with a great three-point shot. He'll be in the Garden doghouse until he either leaves the Hear or retires. Expect a resounding round of boss when the Heat come to town on Jan. 27. Then, someday, perhaps in 2018 when the Banner 17 team has its 10-year reunion, Allen will return as a civilian and be greeted with a standing ovation in recognition for his role on that championship team and his efforts elsewhere in Celtic green.
But trashing Allen really doesn't fit here. His exit will likely benefit this particular Celtics team because the remaining Big Three won't have the luxury of trying to fine-tune each particular possession for Allen to be wide-open in his exact spot at the exact right time to shoot a three from the corner. Allen operates much like any other fine piece of machinery - when he's 100 percent healthy and all the tiny parts are moving correctly, he's unstoppable. But just one tiny issue with an ankle or one ill-timed pass, and he misses 64 of the 92 threes (30.4 percent) attempted in the postseason. Jason Terry is certainly more durable than Allen, if not quite as accurate. And Terry wants to be here. We're not even sure how much Allen wants to be Miami as much as he wants the best possible shot at another ring and down time on South Beach. He was probably kicking himself after watching the Lakers pick up SI coverboys Dwight Howard and Steve Nash as Kobe solidified his shot at title No. 6. Can't wait for that post-game celebration against the Heat next June: "Hey, Shaq. Smoke this in your Buick, fat man." Kobe's hatred of the Big Aristotle can be easily debunked using the Socratic Method. "Did he help you win three titles? Yes." Case closed.
Back to Allen - or more precisely the absence of Allen. Without him, there will be a lot more improvisation this season with the Celtics' offense once Rondo gets the ball to Garnett or Pierce upcourt. For one thing, Jeff Green will be looking to shoot early and often - as he should given his the size and length of his contract (4 years, $36 million). His story is inspiring - especially to someone like this correspondent who has overcome some significant health issues in life - but Green was simply paid too much because the Celtics had no other choice. Now that the money's been spent, it's all upside. He must develop as a viable scoring threat or all that talk of another trip deep into the Eastern Conference finals will lead to more disappointment. The Celtics will actually use rookie big man Jared Sullinger this season. His potential impact cannot be understated.
The Celtics did the best they could this off season - treading water as the superpowers in Miami and Los Angeles loaded up for their inevitable showdown next June. It was interesting to see the Thunder continue to tinker on the margins by unloading James Harden the other night, a clear sign that just making the Finals isn't good enough for those spoiled fans in Oklahoma City and $60 million isn't so bad even when you're playing in Houston. Linsanity meets Boomer Sooner. Clearly, the rest of the league is playing in Kobe and LeBron's sandbox.
Instead of writing off the Celtics' chances for Banner 18 even before the Heat raise Banner 2, it's better to just enjoy this year's ride. First off, it's not like the Bruins are keeping us occupied. Claude Julien helped the Winthrop squirts hold on against Watertown Sunday. Surely, those kids never changed lines so many times in their lives. Lucky for Claude none of the kids asked him to explain why Tim Thomas is loading up on seeds, gold and bullets in his Colorado bunker just in case Mitt Romney doesn't carry Ohio or Florida. And we can all use a nice distraction from every election campaign ad and the ongoing meteorologic destruction of the Northeast. This NBA season affords Celtics fans the luxury of lowered expectations when it comes to their chances of ever getting back to the finals as long the Heat are this hot. It also offers the hope of a surprising upside, just like Boston delivered last spring until the aforementioned Game 6.
One thing is certain with this team, as long as Rivers is coaching, Garnett and Pierce can still walk and Rondo is mad about something, we'll never have to worry about them delivering a "good job" or "good effort."
Until further notice, that might have to suffice.
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