Sunday, June 22, 2008

Here's To Ubuntu

The best team won the NBA Finals.

The Boston Celtics exhibited time-tested, winning qualities in their defense, rebounding, clutch shooting, hustle - and above all, playing together, and winning together, as a team.

Kevin Garnett proved he was a champion all along - he just needed a supporting cast. He now squarely belongs in the Greatest Power Forward Of All-Time conversation along with Tim Duncan.

Paul Pierce went from potentially the Greatest Celtic Never to Win a Championship, to simply a Great Celtic. When the number 34 hangs from the Garden rafters, it will belong.

Ray Allen might have had his worst season statistically since his rookie year, but never have shots been more meaningful. His Hall Of Fame career is complete.

James Posey hit clutch 3's and played gritty defense - he is the new Bruce Bowen. Kendrick Perkins, P.J. Brown, and Leon Powe brought toughness to the frontcourt. Rajon Rondo set up his teammates for easy baskets time and time again.

But in the truest definition of Ubuntu, every one of these players contributions were essential to their championship season. Pierce's 41 points in Game 7 vs. the Cavs. Allen's rediscovering of his shooting touch vs. the Pistons, and continuing through the Finals. Posey's crucial 3 at the end of Game 4 vs. the Lakers. Perkins' dominating Game 5 against the Pistons. Brown's patented line-drive jumper going in vs. the Cavs in Game 7. Powe's unlikely and inspiring big Game 2 against the Lakers. Rondo's steals setting the tone for the championship-clinching rout of Game 6. And, of course, Garnett's intensity and will, exerted over a grueling 108-game season, 48 minutes at a time.

Doc Rivers deserves credit as well. X's and O's may not be his strength; keeping his players motivated and happy is. In the NBA, the latter is much more important. His in-game lineups and playing-time allocations may have be questionable, but only to a point - he didn't mess with the Big 3, and the bench players were always ready when their name was called. Most importantly, a team that was assembled in July hit the ground running from their first practice, and played like they've been together for years. The players made it happen, but the coach sets the tone and the expectations.

Finally, Danny Ainge has faced criticism for doing nothing his first 4 years on the job, and being the beneficiary of two rebuilding jobs in Seattle and Minnesota. However, he was savvy enough to draft Rondo, Perkins, and Powe, as well as Al Jefferson and Ryan Gomes, the primary assets in the Garnett trade. He signed Posey to one of the best bargain contracts in the league, and signed Brown when he could have easily stood pat. But most importantly, his trades for Allen and Garnett showed courage rare for NBA GM's - he changed gears from "building for the future", to "winning in the now", at precisely the right moment.