Sweet Seventeen

By Tom Donelson
Updated: June 22, 2008

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Boston Celtics have always been one of my favorite franchises, ever since I read Bill Russell’s autobiography, Up From Glory as a young boy.

Watching the 2008 NBA Finals, I was more amused by the conventional wisdom. First, there is Donelson rule number one; never disappoint the media.Kobe Bryant did not replace Michael Jordan nor did he dominate the suffocating Celtic defense.

Instead, the suffocating Celtic defense kept Bryant off balanced and more importantly, theirinner defense controlled the Lakers’ offense.The same pundits who declared the Laker front court soft in the final; previously declared what a great asset Pau Gasol wasafter the Utah and San Antonio series.

The Boston front line of Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett proved better than Lamar Odom andGasol.KG was a rebounding machine and in game six, his defense along with his rebounding was aided by his scoring as he spend much time in the paint.

Bryant could not lead his team to victory and showed that in a NBA final; one superstar does not often overcome three stars and in the case of the Celtics, two superstars in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnet plus another All-Star, Ray Allen.

Kobe played with Shaq when they overwhelmed the Allen Iverson-led Philly team and Bryant found himself in Iverson’s position of being the one superstar playing an entire team.

Bryant led a young Laker team to the final and much of that was forgotten. And next year, injured center Andrew Bynum will be back and combined with Bryant and Gasol, we’re talking a second shot at a NBA title.

Most superstars win title with other superstars or great players involved. Magic Johnson had Kareem Abdul Jabber and James Worthy where as Larry Bird had Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson and Robert Parish.Even Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippin.

Bryant took a young and raw Laker Team that added Pau Gasol midseason to the NBA final. The problem for Bryant was that the media picked histeam to win and when they failed to overcome the Celtics; they simply turned on the Lakers and Byrant.

Kevin Garnett, like his side kicks Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, were often derided as a player who could never lead his team to a championship As one ESPN pundit would often say, it wasn’t Kevin Garnett but Kevin Gar-not.

KG, like Paul Pierce, often played with inferior talent and both men found themselves in their only conference final opposing better teams. When Garnett led his Timberwolves to the Western Conference finals, he faced a Laker that included the combined the talent of Shaq and Kobe.

As for Pierce, his conference final saw his Celtics facing a Jason Kidd-ledNets team that would make two straight NBA finals. Pierce was labeled an all offense guy where defense was an afterthought but throughout his career, he often was his team leader in both assists and rebounding.

The conventional wisdom was that Pierce learned defense while playing with Garnett, but he has already been a good defensive player but when your team wins only 24 games, your defensive skills don’t often get noticed.

As Pierce showed in game four, he can play defense.AsBoston won their 17th title, defense was decisive and all of the Celtics showed that defense is a team effort.

Danny Ainge showed himself to be a brilliant General Manager, at least for one year.After the 2006-07 season, the Celtics had team of young talent that included Al Jefferson and Rajan Rondo.

With only 24 wins and a ton of ping pong balls for the draft lottery, the Celtics appeared on the threshold of gaining a first or second draft pick that would have meant either Greg Odom or Kevin Durant in Celtic green.

Instead, they ended up with the fifth round draft pick and the curse of past drafts came crashing through.Ainge did something that great managers do; adapt to the situation and move to plan B.– trading thepick for Ray Allen andhe began a total reshuffling of his roster.

Using his young players including Al Jefferson as bait, he obtainedGarnett.Ainge also signed James Posey and Eddie House, adding veterans to a youthful bench. Throughout the season and the playoffs, these veterans provided needed boost in key moments.

And it wasn’t just the veterans who shined, for young players like Leon Powe had their moments as well. Ainge built a bench that supplemented the big three. After the disappointment of the draft, Ainge ended the youth movement to a win now mentality.

The Celtics may yet implode in three or four years when the big three entered the downside of their career. Ainge needs to find a way to find young talented players to replace the big three; not an easy task for a team that will be drafting low for the next few years.

Finally, forget the nonsense that the Celtics provided a mechanism for building a winner.The Ainge gamble succeeded simply because he had the right three players; players hungry for a title and willing to sacrifice to get one.

Pierce, Garnett and Allen were still in their prime and KG has already been one of the NBA’s better team players.He showed this year a player that made others around him better –the true definition of a superstar.

Most General Managers who have tried the Ainge method often find themselves in the lottery in quick order with no titles to show for it.Often superstars don’t jell or they are past their prime.

Ainge left his team with enough young talents like Rondo to compliment the veterans.The Ainge gamble succeeded simply because he combined two superstars willing to sacrifice their numbers to win.

That is why the Celtics won their 17th title.