Holy Havlicek. This is Game number 116!
Eight exhibitions. Eighty-two regular season games. A record 26 playoff games after tonight. This is a season that began before the Red Sox had beaten Colorado and will end (God and Kevin Garnett-willing) on the night when the Red Sox hit the 70-game mark in the following season.
I wrote this morning in that funny print thing we call an actual newspaper that I'm still waiting for a truly great game worthy of an NBA Finals -- especially one between the teams with the two best records -- but what I neglected to say is something I've talked about, but not written, which is that perhaps it's unrealistic to think we could have a great demonstration of the product this late in such an endless season.
During these playoffs, while all those Clippers, Knicks and Bucks have been Cancuning, the Celtics have played another full third of a regular season. How could they not be worn out? Playoff games come with an inherent intensity dwarfing that of an average regular season game. Can you imagine what's going on in the minds of the Celtics and Lakers today? So that third of a season is probably closer to half, in real life terms.
We could start by lopping off an exhibition or two, but that's like tossing a few deck chairs off the Titanic. The real problem is the games in April, May and June.
Until 2002, first-round series were three out of five. So you could save two games by going back to that. But the real problem is that there are 16 teams in the tournament, and there is no way that number is going to be reduced, nor is there any chance of having anything other than seven-games series, so we're stuck with the current system.
In addition to the sheer number of games, the sad reality is that we are past the middle of June and that just isn't basketball season. It's fine for the two teams involved, but for everyone else there has to be a real good reason to be watching NBA basketball on June 17. Check the TV ratings in Boston for the last 21 Finals before this one and get back to me.
This game (and, if necessary, Game 7) is a Final Exam for Kevin Garnett. It's one thing to accept paychecks from your owners for your work in 2007-2008 totaling $23,756,134.00 (give or take a few cents), and it's another to earn it. Paul Pierce has been playing at the highest level of late, Garnett has not. He should be of a mindset to do Whatever It Takes tonight, and if that means he must become a center on offense more often, that's what he must do. Dammit, he is 7 feet tall.
The Celtics are wheezing to the finish line; there is no doubt about that. The Kendrick Perkins shoulder thing is a real issue. You saw how easily Pau Gasol bulled his way in for easy jump hooks on Sunday night. That doesn't happen with Perk around. Ray Allen has had a lot of stuff swirling around away from the game. He needs to get this thing done so he can tend to his personal life. Rajon Rondo had gotten to a point where he was confident and almost cocky. He needs to get that mojo back before the home fans. Really, the last thing Doc wants is to be spinning the mental roulette wheel about which point guard to use. Rajon? Sam? Eddie? If Rajon plays the way he has in so many previous home playoff games, Doc won't have any worries.
(Just a thought: Does Sam have one great last three-point arrow in his quiver? I wouldn't put it past him).
It's a long day, but it's a great day because we all have something to look forward to. For about the zillionth time, I pose the great rhetorical question: what do people who aren't sports fans do to replicate this feeling? Truly, I have no idea.
But this is season Game 116 and playoff day number 68. We don't need any more of this. There's an AL East pennant race to monitor. I mean, Holy Hondo, it is June 17!
P.S. -- I just found out the referees for tonight's game will be Joey Crawford, Bennett Salvatore, and Ed F. Rush. Joey's the best. Great to have him. Bennett's a nice guy who owns a restaurant in Connecticut. Doesn't he have better things to do? Ed F. Rush? The same Ed F. Rush of whom Tom Heinsohn once famously said on the air, "Ed F. Rush? The 'F' stands for fool."
Hey, commissioner: No complaints here if Joey works the game alone.