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Crosstown classics

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff June 6, 2008 08:46 AM

It is on mornings like this, when the lingering precipitation still yet promises to give way to a pre-solstice weekend boil, following an evening of such palatable sporting affairs that it takes profound words to aggregate exactly what took place over a one-quarter stretch of our routine, daily cycle.

Holy [bleep].

Heading into last night’s slate of cross-town action, it wasn’t exactly a stretch to proclaim it the most anticipated athletic night of the calendar year. It’s just that suddenly we should all be OK with that two-day layover in the NBA Finals, not because it gives Paul Pierce more time to heal his knee, although there is that too. But it’s going to take well into Sunday before we’re able to digest all the happenings of June 5, 2008.

So, where would you like to start? The MLB draft, perhaps?

To recap, we had an out-and-out brawl at Fenway Park between the Rays and Red Sox to kick off events. Mind you, we're not talking one of those baseball fights where everybody just sort of stands around the mound and compares wallet photos of their kids and/or mistresses, but a punch-throwing, tackling, bad-blooded throwdown sparked by Coco Crisp, who it appeared would have been intent on charging James Shields if the Rays pitcher merely looked at him funny.

That preceded some old-school memories of inner strife when Manny Ramirez and right fielder Kevin Youkilis did their best impression of Joe Morgan and Jim Rice in the Red Sox dugout. According to manager Terry Francona, they were "exchanging some views on things." If exchanging views involves your All-Star slugger taking a noticeable swing at a teammate, then, well, yes, Terry. Exchange away, everybody.

As the kids over at Surviving Grady ask, "Dude, did David Lynch script that %$#king Sox game? Because that was one of the weirdest things I've seen in a long, long time." Stephen King, by the way, in the building.
We also watched Jacoby Ellsbury injure his wrist, Jon Lester toss a gem, Chris Carter pick up his first two major league hits, yada, yada.

Meanwhile, across town, the Celtics took care of business in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, downing the Lakers, 99-88, in a game that has everybody beneath the Hollywood hills ready to award Oscar to Pierce for his miraculous return from a knee injury. This was his Bird/Larusso "moment" quite literally, replaying Larry Bird's goose bump return against the Pacers in 1991, summoning the ghost of Ralph Macchio.

But this one came with plenty of doubt from anyone not wearing green.

Here's the LA Times' Bill Plaschke on Pierce's return:

Paul Pierce, the Boston Celtics captain, was carried from the opening game of the NBA Finals in the third quarter Thursday with an apparent serious knee injury that momentarily deadened and distracted the Lakers.

At which point, Pierce came running back to finish them off.

To nearly 50 years of delicious Celtics-Lakers lore, add a new apparent bit of chicanery.

Call it the Fake N'Shake.

Now, not to turn this into a benefit of web vs. newspaper reporting, which could take well into 2011, but it's quite evident Plaschke among others, couldn't - and didn't - stick around backstage to the extent that ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan did. That pesky web. When will it phase itself out?

Here's Sheridan's online take on Pierce's injury, well after most of his colleagues had already rushed back to their press areas to beat newspaper deadlines.

After the game, Pierce was walking with a pronounced limp as he exited the postgame interview room and headed back to the locker room, but some 45 minutes later the injury was clearly bothering him more.

As he walked to his car, Pierce was still wearing his warm-ups. The snaps along the right side were hanging open, revealing a wrapping of several ace bandages from the bottom of his calf to the top of his thigh, an additional layer of white tape wrapped around the lower half of his hamstring, ending just above his knee.

Pierce's feet moved no more than 12 inches with each step, and as you watched him begin to navigate the four flights of stairs from the locker room level to the players' parking lot, you couldn't help but wonder exactly how much adrenalin had fueled his comeback. The knee injury could also keep him out of Game 2 or, at the very least, reduce his effectiveness…

Because ambulance or no ambulance, the truth was The Truth could barely walk by the time the night was over.

Now, if you're a Celtics fan ... well, you sort of wish he were faking instead, don't you?

That description doesn't sound like a guy who'll be ready to go Sunday in Game 2, or at the very least like a guy who's going to be anywhere close to 100 percent Sunday night.

As Sports Illustrated's Ian Thompsen sums up Pierce's evening: "This might turn out to be the greatest night of his career. It was horrible."

It's far too early to count Pierce out for anything, of course. But the mere possibility that this injury could be as bad as it initially looked isn't anything good for the Celtics in their title quest.

Still, it also raises the larger point of whether we have become a bit jaded over the years. Here's Thompsen's take on Bird's return that Sunday afternoon in '91: "These are the kinds of stories they tell about Larry Bird in Boston, the kind that drove Rick Pitino to distraction. There was the time in the 1991 playoffs against the Indiana Pacers when Bird hit the floor face-first. He lay still for a dreadful time and was taken to the locker room as the Celtics looked dead. A long while later, but just in time, he came running back onto the floor as if to the theme of an Indiana Jones movie. The Celtics won that Game 5 and the series, but it was the drama that defined Bird."

Seventeen years later, it is doubt that is more prevalent that drama.

It was a great game, a great win. But l'affair Pierce overshadowed what was an otherwise complete effort by the Celtics in taking the series lead. Ray Allen showed up, Kevin Garnett finally took over a playoff game (for one half, at least), and Rajon Rondo sparkled in his first Finals appearance. Kendrick Perkins, well, not so much. However, if that was Kobe Bryant's "off-game" then this will indeed be a long road, with or without Pierce.

Back to Fenway for a moment, if we may, since the sheer ludicrous nature of everything that unfolded there is going to take a back seat after the goings-on in the Garden. So many questions, so little time. Why would Joe Maddon encourage his starting pitcher to throw at Crisp in the second inning? Did the 'pen really need that much work? (Yet to be fair, it wasn't exactly like Shields tossed at Crisp's head either.)

On the flip side, why wouldn't Francona, already expecting such shenanigans, implore Coco not to retaliate? Why wouldn't the umpires? Don and Jerry were in the booth previewing the brawl to such great lengths, you figured the only person in the park that had any doubt about its inevitability was ... well, maybe Ramirez.

Was Ramirez's tardiness to the brawl indeed, as speculated, what the "view exchange" was over? If that's the case, how much more respect do you think Youkilis has from his teammates today? The guy has about as much fear of confrontation as windshield to bug.

And, not that this is the ideal day to bring this up, but if Ellsbury is gone for any extended period of time, isn't it good to still have Coco around? Hey, what about that Bonds fella?

First-place fightin' Sox and the one-game-up Celtics, both shining in dramatic fashion on a not-so-typical June evening in Boston, both quite possibly at crossroads in their chemistry and short-term prognosis, respectively.

Holy [bleep].

8 comments so far...
  1. While there was a lot of anticipation about last night's games, and it was more than answered -- are you serious about calling it "the most anticipated athletic night of the calendar year"? Look up "February 3" on your calendar and tell me if you can still make the claim about last night.

    EW says: Sure, there was that too....

    Posted by Mike B June 6, 08 10:55 AM
  1. Funny how a team's losing the Superbowl clouds one's memory of anticipated sports calendar dates. Things that make you go Hmmmmmm...

    Posted by Mercury Morris June 6, 08 11:48 AM
  1. What's your point, Mercury?

    Posted by Dogg June 6, 08 12:07 PM
  1. Did you stay up for the whole Celtics game? I didn't. I also made the point to change stations, less they get credit, somehow, for my viewing even after I left the game around 10:30pm. Of course, that'll be harder to do on Sunday, after what I missed.

    Posted by Jeff June 6, 08 12:08 PM
  1. Jeff, do you have a Nielson ratings collector on your box? Because if you don't, you're silly to think they're paying attention to what you watch.

    Eric, it's not that we're jaded, it's that Platschke's an awful journalist.

    As much as I loved that game last night and hope the Celtics win, to me, Game 1 meant absolutely nothing. There was no way the C's were going to lose the first game in that atmosphere with everything surrounding the game. The real test begins Sunday.

    Posted by J-Bone June 6, 08 01:32 PM
  1. J-Bone.....a game 1 win mean that the Celtics have one less game to win than do the Lakers to win a championship. That hardly qualifies as "absolutely nothing".

    Posted by Gary June 6, 08 02:12 PM
  1. eric.have you seen this. people are now saying pierce faked it?you have got to be kidding me http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-plaschke6-2008jun06,0,5079539.column?page=1

    Posted by lenny p June 6, 08 02:25 PM
  1. [The following is what I wrote to Gordon Edes yesterday. If anyone out there has an explanation, I'd like to hear it. I don't see how Maddon gets away without a fine and suspension.]

    I don't get it at all: why was Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon not suspended and why [didn't] somebody on the Globe staff write about it? I mean, Maddon clearly, unequivocably, vocally, and as reported incited the brawl. He called for it; he urged his players to act just as they acted. If you yell "fire" in a theater you break a law and are subject to arrest. There are laws now about "hate speech", etc, etc. Sooooooo??????? Write about it, please. Bob Watson (I believe he's the one who makes the judgments) should be asked to address this issue.

    Also, Coco Crisp's actions ended by hurting the ball club--it was in substance a selfish act. I am well aware that he acted under the rubric of one of the "laws of the game" but that doesn't make it a sensible or mature act. Perhaps it is time for the Globe to do an article on the "unwritten laws" or codes of the game. Codes of behavior DO get changed on occasion.

    Robert Kelley

    Posted by Robert Kelley June 8, 08 11:57 AM
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