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Celtics win a victory for the game

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  May 14, 2010 01:15 PM

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300gasperceltics.jpgThere is a sign underneath the clock in the Celtics locker room that reads, "Individuals win games, but teams win titles."

With all due respect to Paul Pierce, that is The Truth. Just ask Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, two of the game's best players who are watching the playoffs at home because the Green Machine kicked into gear and kicked their superstar derriere, D-Wade disposed of in five games and LeBron and Cleveland leaving in six.

The Celtics put the kibosh on Cleveland's season and possibly LeBron's Cavaliers career with a satisfying, series-clinching 94-85 win at the Garden. It was a team-effort and the better team won for the second series in a row.

I submit as evidence for the team theory the fact that the Celtics' best scorer and brightest star, Pierce, shot 34.5 percent in the series, only topping 20 points once in six games, and that Ray Allen was 0 for 5 from 3-point range last night and had 8 points. Either of those scenarios would be doomsday for most NBA clubs, yet the Celtics dominated this series, winning all four of their games by at least nine points.

They won with the Core Four -- Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Allen and Rajon Rondo -- clicking, and Tony Allen, Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Rasheed Wallace, who came up with hustle plays and hit huge threes in the second half last night, contributing.

This wasn't just a victory for the Celtics, it was a win for the sport of basketball. It sends the message that while individual excellence is celebrated, collective and cohesive greatness is rewarded. That's a message that seems to get lost often times in the NBA, where the Cavaliers don't play the Lakers, but LeBron goes against Kobe.

Part of that is a convenient marketing message for the league because it's easier to relate to a person -- or more accurately a persona -- than a piece of laundry. But you get the sense that over the years, it has seeped down into the core of the game in this country, turning basketball into one big isolation play, on and off the court. The soul of the sport debased in the process, opening the door for its cacophony of critics.

Contrary to what the NBA would have you believe at times, basketball is not an individual sport. It is about the beauty of selfless play, not self-promotion or self-aggrandizement. Team basketball played at basketball's highest level is a sight to behold.

It's good to know that old-fashioned basketball, the kind that Red Auerbach would have signed off on, still counts for something in the NBA when the games really count.

"We talked about throughout the series individually we're not going to beat them; we can't," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "But team-wise, together, if we're all on the same page ... you know running the same formula, then we had a chance. I thought overall we stayed in that, and that's why we won the series."

Isolated is how James must have felt last night as he realized his one-man show was closing (although it could end up on Broadway). LeBron had a triple-double, but was a singular presence for the Cavs, who folded up faster than a lawn chair.

Mo Williams dropped 20 points in the first half, then had one hoop the rest of the way and went scoreless in the fourth quarter. Antawn Jamison, the Cavaliers' big mid-season acquisition, was supposed to be the missing piece. Instead, he was just plain missing. Jamison melted like a Popsicle on a warm summer day in this series, leaving a puddle on the parquet. He was abused by KG all series long (Garnett averaged 18.8 points per game in the series) and never found any rhythm on offense, as evidenced by his 2-for-10, 5-point performance with the Cavs' season on the line.

The Cavaliers concept was all wrong. They put too much on LeBron. He's their best passer, their best scorer, their best defender.

It was interesting that after the game, LeBron referenced his "team" when talking about his free agency decision. He didn't mean the Cavaliers franchise or teammates like Williams or Jamario Moon. No, he meant his agent, his family, his sycophant friends, his marketing mavens, his personal handlers. That's the only team that James feels he can count on.

He's right. That's the biggest reason the Summer of LeBron started in the spring.

The Celtics, meanwhile, move on to face the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals. Orlando hasn't dropped a game yet in the playoffs, pulling off a pair of sweeps over Charlotte and Atlanta.

This one is going to be a little different for the Celtics. Yes, the Magic have Superman, Dwight Howard, who like Wade and James is a larger-than-life NBA character, but they're far from a one-man operation.

This will be the first time in the playoffs that the Celtics are confronted with a bona fide T-E-A-M. The Magic have five players averaging in double figures this postseason -- one more than the Celtics -- and Howard is only the team's fourth-leading scorer in the playoffs at 15.4 points per game, trailing Jameer Nelson (20.5), Vince Carter (16.9) and Rashard Lewis (16.4).

The Celtics went 1-3 against Orlando in the regular season, with the lone win coming on Christmas Day, sans Pierce. For all the talk about the Celtics not having KG when they were eliminated by the Magic last season, it's easy to forget that the Magic didn't have Nelson at point guard. He will not shrink from Rondo, who was sublime against Cleveland, averaging a team-high 20.7 points per game, while dishing out 11.8 assists per game.

Now, both teams are at full strength and it should be a heck of a series.

One thing is for sure -- the best team is going to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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