6.18.2008

1984 Purple v. Green: Reality and Rhetoric

Two weeks of soaring slams, sweeping sky hooks, arching jumpers, savage boardwork, crisp passing and just plain passion have resulted in a deadlock. The Celtics and Lakers, burdened with the public pressure to entertain us with professional basketball at its best, have often done just that.

But amid the obvious basketball issues in this series there have been needless diversions. Let us set the record straight by identifying the two biggest nonissues in the Celtics -Lakers series.

1. Pat Riley Calls The Celtics Thugs'

It was just a standard playoff bit designed to attract the attention of the two officials who were working the next game. Who are the Celtic ruffians? Robert Parish? He sure leaves bruises. Cedric (I'm A Lover, Not A Fighter) Maxwell? Kevin McHale (one regrettable foul does not a bully make)? Larry Bird? No Steeler linebackers in that corps.

M.L. Carr aside, the Celtics have no players on the roster to rival the recent likes of Dave Cowens, Paul Silas and Rick Robey. I've got too much respect for Pat Riley's intelligence and class to take seriously anything he said about the Celtics being a rough team. The Celtics rough? That snicker you hear over there in the corner belongs to Rick Mahorn.

Good try, Pat. Shows you have a sense of history.

2. The Celtics Band Together To Show Up The Media

After Game 4 you kept hearing the media this and the media that coming out of Celtics' mouths. The inference was that the Boston press (and public) had questioned the team's integrity following the Game 3 rout. That is not what happened.

Leaving aside whatever Tom Heinsohn said or did not say about Dennis Johnson on the telly, and therefore sticking to the printed ac-counts, the truth is that people questioned Boston's ability to compete with Los Angeles on a talent basis. To hear the Celtics tell it, they were accused of burning orphanages in their spare time. The worst part was that certain irresponsible local scribes printed their inane statements without qualification.

Now let's talk about the real issues in this series.

1. Double-Teaming

There may never have been a series like it. Both the Celtics and Lakers have a star player of such magnitude that full-time double-teaming has been deemed necessary. The Celtics are doing what teams generally do by double- teaming Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But by insisting that Larry Bird cannot be handled by one man, the Lakers are paying him a tribute accorded few, if any, forwards, in history.

Suffice it to say that what each of these great players has achieved in light of the attention lavished upon him by their opponents is astonishing.

2. Conditions

Somebody Up There likes the Celtics. The visiting Lakers first spent four days in a hotel plagued by incessant nocturnal fire alarms. They spent their second trip moping around in a heat wave. They simply could not adapt to the playing conditions inside the Boston Garden, where the game-time temperature was 97 degrees. Backed by their fans, the Celtics were able to turn the adverse Garden situation into an asset.

3. Crowds

This was thought to be a major Boston advantage, and indeed it was until the third quarter of Game 6. There was a Boston timeout with the score Boston 84, LA 81, during which the normally somnolent Forum gathering transformed itself into a maniacal mob that the Palestra would have embraced as its own. The Celtics, of course, are assuming that tonight their backers will be in a mood to wake the dead in every Southern California cemetery.

4. Magic vs. Larry vs. Ziegfeld

We wanted a seven-game series in order to observe the two best all-around players in the game. What have we learned? We've learned that Magic is a wondrous full-court player. We've learned that Magic will stand out there and knock in 20-foot set shots as long as you'll let him. We learned that Bird will always find a way to score, that he is a phenomenal rebounder and that he eagerly embraces the concept that he is the team leader.

However, this being basketball, we have also been reminded that there is no more effective weapon than a big scoring center. The Bird-Magic argument is mainly artistic. The fact remains that if the 22-year-old Larry Bird, the 22- year-old Magic Johnson and the 22-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were all available in a given college draft, that the first pick would be Kareem.

5. It Has All Been Worth It

Some might argue that we would probably need a great game tonight to officially label the series a certified classic, but we have all basically gotten what we wished for. Each team has demonstrated that it has the heart and intelligence to match its talent. The runnerup will be disappointed, but surely not embarrassed.

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