June 18, 2008
“I can be better. I will be better.”
- Kevin Garnett
Congratulations are in order for everyone in the Celtics organization. Everyone in the rotation, coaching staff and front office. We knew you had it in you.
Without question, the Boston Celtics were the most complete team in the NBA this season.
There’s no way Boston wins this title without contributions from key free-agent acquisitions like James Posey, P.J. Brown, Eddie House and Sam Cassell. There’s no way they win this without the strong play from homegrown Celtics like Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins. And there’s certainly no way they win this NBA Championship without the brilliant trades for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. The stars and the role players have earned this title.
Kudos to all of those players, and kudos to Danny Ainge and the front office for assembling these players. Kudos to Doc Rivers for assimilating all of the talent and managing the minutes and egos with aplomb. Kudos to Tom Thibodeau for spearheading the defensive strategy from the bench for one of the best team defenses in NBA history, and kudos to the rest of the assistant coaches. They all deserve this title as well.
But the person Empty the Bench is most pleased to see win the 2008 Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy is one Kevin Maurice Garnett. The Big Ticket. Da Kid. The Franchise. KG. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year and, in the interest of full disclosure, my favorite professional athlete in all of sport. After futilely working his ass of night in and night out, season after season for 12 years for an inert, inept and incompetent franchise Mr. Garnett finally won the ring and recognition he so richly deserves.
Sure, Paul Pierce is the better scorer, Ray Allen is the better outside shooter and Rajon Rondo is the better passer. But Garnett has been the proverbial fire under the Celtics collective asses since the moment he arrived in Boston. He’s been their soul. Kevin put together a stellar, efficient season as the unquestioned emotional and defensive leader of this squad. And after a mediocre series KG finally came up huge in this decisive Game 6.
Setting aside the dramatic comebacks that we’ve seen in the last week, this game and this series was over at halftime as the Celtics went into the locker room with a 58-35 advantage. Boston never looked back after taking that commanding lead into the half, a lead that was largely built by the strong play of Garnett. In nearly 19 minutes of first-half action KG was 8-12 from the field for 17 points, 6 boards and 3 assists. The Los Angeles Lakers managed just 8 field goals as a team in the first half while Garnett put in that many himself — including a dramatic three-point play in which he seemed to hover in the air, waiting as gravity and the temptation to foul took hold of lesser men, before kissing it off the glass.
Hell, he only had 1 offensive rebound at the half and that was more than the overmatched Lakers front line could muster. Garnett has never been and will never be an elite scorer, but his defense and hustle are legendary. It was that defense that held Lakers big men Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol to just 10 points on 2-9 shooting with 5 TOs in the first half.
Kevin Garnett finished with 26 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 1 block and 0 turnovers on 10-18 FGs and 6-7 FTs.
Oh, and add one ring and one Larry O’Brien Trophy to those stats.
As confetti fell from the rafters and Queen blasted over the PA system the insipid Michelle Tafoya tried to interview the biggest little kid in the world. But NBA’s resident bundle of energy and most compelling psychology wasn’t exactly ready to put himself into words as he spewed a stream of incoherent nonsense and profanity. It was just sinking in that he had really earned an NBA title after a sisyphusian career of hard work and futility. The most conscientious and emotional athlete I have ever had the pleasure of following had finally proven to the world he wasn’t a loser.
“This is for everybody in ‘Sota [Minnesota], this is for everybody in Chicago… and my Momma. I made it Ma, top ‘o the world!”