The ache is still there as I ponder what might have been while watching the surreal conference finals that see stunning upsets. Memphis and Boston both down Dallas and Indiana in six games, the Grizzlies victory all the more impressive as they fought back from a 2-0 hole.
And so we have the most unlikeliest of NBA Finals; the restored-to-glory Celtics and the newly arisen Grizz.
Chris Gearheart has turned these playoffs into his coming out party. After three regular seasons of 15-16 points a game average, he's broken out and led the Grizzlies with 18.2 points and 7.6 assists in the playoffs and are a major reason why Memphis is in the Finals. He may not have the glitzy numbers of some of the league's other young stars, but he's only 21.
Delonte West has been the C's starting PG for as long as I've been in the league, even though he's really not that good, very ordinary in all areas in fact.. He's averaging 13.8 points and 6.6 assists in the playoffs and I have a feeling Gearheart is going to eat him alive.
Durko Jagr made noticeable strides in his offensive game in this, his third season, and the Croatian still has some potential to develop into a sharpshooter. Good all-around numbers in the playoffs as well, with 13.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.7 assists.
Raise your hand if you thought Jamal Crawford would end up the starting SG on an NBA Finals team. I didn't think so. Still, for the past 3 seasons, he's been Boston's starting SG, consistently averaging between 12-13 points a game. He's averaging 12.4 in the playoffs so far, but has no other noteworthy statistics.
Rudy Gay is an excellent defender with considerable scoring touch (18 points a game in the regular season, 17 in the playoffs). He's also averaging just shy of 7 rebounds in the postseason and while by no means an elite-level player, he's the kind of very good all-around second-tier star type of player that no one team with championship aspirations can do without.
Gerald Green just keeps getting better and better at shooting as the years go by. He averaged a career high 17 points in the regular season and with his 21.2 points per game last playoffs and 17.9 this postseason, he's developing a reputation as a clutch scorer. That being said, he doesn't offer anywhere close to the rebounding or defensive talents that Gay does.
Pau Gasol is having the worst statistical season of his career. He averaged just 16.3 points a game in the regular season and just 16.7 points in the playoffs. However he's made up for his postseason scoring lack with a career high 8.8 rebounds a game in this playoffs. While he may have lost of some of his shooting touch, he's still a terrific rebounder and his size creates mismatch problems.
There's no question that the heart and soul of the Celtics is Al Jefferson, who has averaged just shy of 20 points, 8-9 rebounds and 2 blocks a game the last three years. He's been dominant in the playoffs, with impressive numbers of 23.3 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks. He's the complete player, who can score, rebound, block, play very good defense and is one of the most underrated, intelligent players in the league. Last year was his first All-NBA appearance (3rd Team) and he's made the All-Star game the past three seasons. Despite these accolades, the mainstream press doesn't seem to tab him as one of the NBA's top-flight players, which he is.
Jokes about Narcyz Malinomowski's porous defense, such as my own nicknaming of him as the Great Polish Sieve are like the wisecracks in the late 90's and early '00s about Shaquille O'Neal's free-throwing shooting: Valid to a point, but only to a point. It's particularly true in Narcyz's case, as he's been working hard to merely be supbar, rather than a cardboard cutout on defense. In spite of his shortcomings on defense, he's the most beloved Grizzly of them all, probably because he's averaged around 15 points and 10 rebounds the last three seasons and has been Memphis's starting C since he was drafted with the 2nd overall pick in 2009. He'll get his points, he'll get his rebounds and he'll definitely get his blocks, having worked his tail off to improve in that area, to the point where he's averaged 2.7 and 2.6 rejections the past two regular seasons. For the postseason, he's averaging 2.8, to go with his 15.3 points and 9.1 rebounds.
Ben Searcy is not normally the C's starting center. He's only there because Spencer Hawes is battling a twisted ankle. Searcy's not very good at anything, whereas Hawes does a lot of things pretty well, but isn't exceptional at anything. No question which team has the advantage here.
Marvin Williams has really earned his paycheck since signing in free agency last season. A part-time starter in 2012, he's been the team's 6th man in 2013, averaging 9.5 points and 4.7 rebounds off the bench in the regular season, 9.7 points and 6.4 rebounds in the playoffs. He plays all 5 positions and like, Hawes, is a jack-of-all-trades, master of none, only Williams is the absolute maestro at the concept. There's also former Nugget Chauncey Billups, who at 37 doesn't get many minutes after signing a min-sal deal with Memphis, but he's still quite capable of running an NBA offense.
I've already noted Spencer Hawes, who's the 6th man while he deals with the twisted ankle. 25 year old Argentinian Federico Gomez is a terrific defensive player at all aspects of the game and a good rebounder. Rodney Stuckey has been a colossal bust since being taken 3rd overall by the Bobcats in 2007, but he provides some scoring punch off the bench. There's another pair of ex-Denver players, Marcus Camby and Nene Hilario on the Celtics bench, but Camby's 39 and Nene has long since proven that he's nothing more than a roster filler player. Good thing I traded him.
On paper, Memphis is going to absolutely clobber Boston. But the Celtics do have a better bench and Al Jefferson is going to shut down Pau Gasol in my opinion. The problem for Boston is the Grizzlies' offense is too balanced to focus on shutting down any one player and Marvin Williams's versatility is going to give the Celtics coaching staff headaches. I just can't see my favorite team (that's not the Nuggets in this universe, I hasten to add), pulling it out. Memphis has just done too good a job in building this team.
Prediction: Memphis in 6
Things open up in Boston and Al Jefferson takes all his frustrations at being underrated out on the Grizzlies, devastating Memphis for 26 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks. Gerald Green just misses 20 points with 19 and Jerrance Newman scores 10 points in 8 minutes off the bench for Boston. It's enough to get the Celtics the opening win, as only Narcyz Malinomowski comes to play for Memphis, finishing with 18 points, 18 rebounds and 3 blocks. So much for the vaunted Grizzly balance, at least for tonight. Spencer Hawes, by the way, is fully recovered from his twisted ankle and is starting again.
Final - Memphis 75 Boston 106
Rudy Gay was on a mission to lead Memphis to a series evening and played brilliantly with 27 points, but once again, the Grizzlies lacked offense outside of one player and Boston responded more than adequately, as Delonte West surprised with 20 points, Al Jefferson doubled with 11 points and 13 rebounds and another unsung Celtics reserve stepped up, Ben Searcy the hero this time with an astonishing 17 points and 11 rebounds. It all adds up to a 2-0 Celtics lead and a suddenly impotent looking Grizzlies offense.
Final - Memphis 78 Boston 98
None of the games so far in this Finals have been close and tonight's isnt either as the Grizzlies finally wake up from their hibernation in their home cave. Durko Jagr just misses a triple-double with 26 points, 8 assists, 9 rebounds and a steal, Narcyz Malinomowski and Paul Gasol double with 23 points and 14 rebounds and 14 points and 14 rebounds respectively and Rudy Gay scores 21. For Boston, Gerald Green scores 23 and that's it in a complete reversal of fortune in team play.
Final - Boston 87 Memphis 105
At long last, a close game! Narcyz Malinomowski puts on arguably the most brilliant performance of this Finals with 27 points, 11 rebounds, an assist and 6 blocks (Durko Jagr might disagree with the most brilliant and point to his Game 3 showing), Pau Gasol does well with 14 points and 12 rebounds and Marvin Williams scores 11 off the bench. The Celtics counter with 26 points and 10 rebounds from Al Jefferson, 19 points and 10 assists from Delonte West and astounding bench play from Ben Searcy with 13 rebounds. But the real heroic Celtic warrior was Rodney Stuckey, who banished all the memories and struggles with 15 bench points, every one of which was needed as Boston prevailed by 3 points over the Grizzlies and seized a commanding 3-1 series lead.
Final - Boston 99 Memphis 96
Frenzied crowd in Boston as the Celtics seek their first NBA championship since 1986. The fans witness Al Jefferson putting on a virtuoso performance of 34 points and 12 rebounds, 11 points and 14 rebounds from Spencer Hawes and 14 bench points from Ben Searcy, who has really established himself as a hot commodity in just his second season. (The Celtics hold his salary for the next year at least, though). Rudy Gay tries to lead the Grizzlies back to a fighting chance with 21 points and Chris Gearheart, who's been asleep all series, finally has a good game with 16 points and 10 assists, but even that and even Kendrick Perkins's 10 bench points aren't enough to prevent the fourth blowout in five games and at long last, after a 27 year drought, another championship banner to hang from the rafters in Boston.
Final - Memphis 93 Boston 113
Al Jefferson's contract expires after this season and should this be his last year in a Celtics uniform, he's gone out with a ring and with one of the greatest Finals series since I've been in the league. Interest in him is going to be running and Boston's front office would be stupid not to throw all the money it can at him.
It's nice to see the Celtics win, even nicer that they did it in an underdog role.
Still, I can't help but feel that this should've been our year, our turn to win another title.
But there's always next year....
2006 Golden Scribe Nominee
2006 Golden Scribe Winner
Best Non-Sport Dynasty: May Our Reign Be Green and Golden (CK Dynasty)
Rookie Writer of the Year
Dynasty of the Year: May Our Reign Be Green and Golden (CK Dynasty)