Monday, February 14, 2011

Boston teaching Miami championship lessons: "Y'all taught me. Get there early"

Snoop Pearson took Michael Lee for a ride, and her ultimate objective was to kill the youngster, to kill the boy -- he'd like to consider himself a man -- who she had mentored in her own murderous ways. But Michael was smart, so he asked her to pull over the car and let him take a piss.

Instead of urinating, Michael pulled out a gun and aimed it at Snoop's head. She asked how he had known her intent.

"Y'all taught me," he responded. "Get there early."

Snoop and her partner, Chris, had turned Michael into a lethal weapon. They took him to some vacant buildings (Snoop and Chris knew those well), played paintball with him, and told him where and how to shoot someone dead. More importantly, they explained the value of preparation. Always scout a scene before stepping into it, they told Michael. Always scout each and every person you'll be doing business with.

By teaching Michael so well, Snoop had inadvertently given him the key that would end her life.

If you're a Celtics fan -- and I am, unabashedly -- enjoy yesterday's win against the Miami Heat. Enjoy Rajon Rondo somehow (and successfully) defending a man who outweighs him by 100 pounds, yet still runs a 40-yard dash just as quickly. Enjoy Von Wafer's sudden explosion onto the scene, a rare Wafer sighting in a season that has seen him register quite a few DNPs. Enjoy Kendrick Perkins' physicality, and Glen Davis' fearlessness, and -- hey, at least the Celtics won -- even enjoy Davis' attempted (and failed) dunk, or Wafer's second-grade-ish double dribble.

But the Celtics better get their shots in now. Because Boston's Big Three -- even if their play this season (Pierce's stat line yesterday notwithstanding) suggests otherwise -- are on their way out, and at some point the Heat will get the proverbial "it." Although Adrian Wojnarowski would like to remind you that the Heat were built to win now, they should still improve every season for the next five or six years. Udonis Haslem will return to health, and he'll provide toughness. Dwyane Wade and Lebron James, with every passing year, will learn to co-exist more peacefully. And the mid-level exception (assuming it still exists in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement) will allow the Heat to beef up its bench with one legitimate talent per season.

At some point, Miami will also start to pay attention to some of Boston's lessons. Inadvertently, while physically and executionally (I made up that word, in case you didn't know) dominating Miami, the Celtics are giving Miami the keys that could end Boston's life. Just like Snoop did with Michael.

Three seasons ago, the Boston Celtics convincingly slapped around the Los Angeles Lakers to win an NBA championship. Kevin Garnett compared the feeling to knocking out a bully, but there was only one problem with that analogy -- the Celtics were the bully. They were the ones who set the tone, the ones who threw elbows in the paint, the ones who boxed out on every possession. They were the ones who used physicality to their advantage, who made Pau Gasol look like a punk, who gave Los Angeles a treatment that could have been administered by Mike Tyson in his prime (and, knowing Kevin Garnett, he might have even bitten someone's ear). Hooks, uppercuts, haymakers -- Boston sent a flurry of punches to stagger Los Angeles, then finally ended them with the knockout blow in Game Six.

Rather than remaining defeated, the Lakers used the beatdown to their advantage. They needed to become more physical, and they did. They needed to heighten their defensive intensity, and they did. They needed to commit themselves in a way the Celtics taught them was necessary, and so the Lakers did. Losing to Boston toughened LA; it taught them there was another level of play they needed to reach. When the two teams again met in the Finals two years later, LA, in KG's words, knocked the bully out. Lessons learned, team improved, championship avenged.

The same process is now happening in Miami, with Chris Bosh starring in Pau Gasol's former "soft big man" role. To paraphrase Dwyane Wade, the Celtics are like the Heat's big brother. They keep dominating them down low. They keep executing them to death with teamwork. They keep loading up on Wade and Lebron's drives, and forcing other players to beat them. To this day, my brother's a miserable video game player because -- when we were young -- my cousins and I wouldn't let him play. He was the youngest, so we forced him to watch instead. The Celtics force the Heat to watch them play video games. The Celtics boss the Heat around in every way possible. The Celtics play physically, with an edge, a cockiness, a defense, and a swagger that are impossible to replicate in practice. Miami hasn't yet learned how to cope.

Maybe I'm being to easy on the Heat; maybe they should already know. After all, Wade and Lebron were both ousted by Boston last season. They know all too well what it feels like to see the Celtics move on, while they went home. Wade and Lebron should have learned the challenges Boston represents -- the size, and the fierceness, and the dedication to doing all the little things correctly. Maybe Miami should already be able to stand up to Boston, to stand up to the team that keeps smacking them around.

But the thing is, I firmly believe the Heat thought this process would be easy. They never expected Boston to provide such a challenge. They thought Boston, and the rest of the NBA, would bow down and kiss their SuperTeam shoes. Wade, Lebron and Bosh thought they'd join forces, strap on their capes, and see championships start to pile up. How many rings did Lebron predict, back at the WWF-style introduction they had? Eight? Eight titles, he predicted. By his side stood Wade and Bosh, the two sidekicks who would help Lebron get those championships. This would be easy, they thought. Alone, they were damn tough to beat. Together? They'd surely prove invincible.

Except they didn't suspect the Celtics to stand in their way, like a road block that's not moving anywhere. Like a basketball-playing road block that's just as skilled, yet deeper, tougher, bigger and more versatile. The Celtics don't cede a thing. They don't back down an inch. Rondo may stand only 6'1" and 170 pounds soaking wet, but there he was, with a forearm on Lebron's back, looking up at Lebron with eyes that screamed focus and intensity. It didn't matter that Pierce was hurt, or that Daniels, West, Shaq, Jermaine, and Semih Erden were all out injured. The Celtics, damn it all, were going to find a way to win. Either that, or they were going to exhaust every avenue while trying.

The Celtics provide challenges no other team does. They sneer, and they throw elbows, and they talk junk, and through it all they play near-perfect team basketball. They test teams mentally as much as physically, and if teams are not ready for their challenge, the Celtics will send them home thinking what Wade did: "Damn, they just treated me like their little brother."

But if the Heat are paying attention, Boston's actually showing them the tools to succeed. The Celtics are inadvertently teaching the Heat everything they need to know about unselfishness, toughness, and the blueprint for three superstars to blend as a unit that's more powerful than its individual pieces. Los Angeles learned those lessons, and learned them to the tune of two straight championships (and, perhaps, counting). Miami has to take the same steps LA did, to rise to Boston's challenge by using many of the same traits Boston exudes on a nightly basis.

Before I end, one piece of advice for Kevin Garnett: If Lebron ever asks you to pull over the car so he can take a piss, I suggest you tell him to hold it. He might have been staking out the scene. He might know that you're planning to kill him ruthlessly. He might use your own lessons against you, and, if you're not careful, you might end up with a bullet in your head.

1 comment: