At the start of this 2007-08 season, Doc Rivers uttered the phrase “Ubuntu” to any and everyone that would listen. The phrase comes from the Bantu language in Southern Africa, and it means “I am because of you” or unity. Rivers wanted this to be the overall theme for his team, because there were so many new faces on the team, and the expectations were so high. Ubuntu was meant to unify and strengthen the team going into the season and the team rode that, the Big Three of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, and great defense to the best record in the NBA at 66-16.
Once the playoffs started, the excellence that they had established during the regular season took a serious hit. Yes they were winning games and series, but in no way was it as easy as it had been during the regular season. The team that had looked so smooth and played so well together during the regular season, now looked tentative at times, and they mainly relied on one or two players at a time to get them through. Against Cleveland, Paul Pierce had to bail them out. Against Detroit, each of the Big Three took turns playing well, but there was never a game when the Ubuntu philosophy rang true.
Even at the start of this NBA Finals series versus the Los Angeles Lakers, the Celtics were not able to put together a complete game on both ends of the floor. Defensively, they never missed a beat, but on the offensive end of the floor, a different player would lead the way every night. In Game 1, it was a hobbled Paul Pierce; in Game 2, it was unheralded Leon Powe. They showed flashes of that togetherness in Game 4 of the series, when they methodically erased a 24-point lead in Los Angeles to go up three games to one; however, in Game 5, the only Celtics player to show up and play with urgency was eventual series MVP Paul Pierce who scored 38 points. All of that changed in Game 6.
In their 131-92 championship victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6, the Celtics finally lived up to that Ubuntu concept, as ten players played a major role in the victory. The Big Three led the way as they had all season. Pierce “only” scored 17 points, but dished out 10 assists. Garnett bounced back from a sub par Game 5 by scoring 26 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. Allen 7-9 from three-point range, and scored 26 points as well. But they didn’t stop there.
Rondo was arguably the MVP of the game, by filling up the stat sheet in a way that would make Oscar Robertson jealous. He scored 21 points, dished out eight assists, grabbed seven rebounds and most importantly, disrupted the Lakers’ offense by grabbing six steals. All of the questions about whether he could effectively lead the point were answered.
James Posey was perfect from three-point range, and more importantly, played stifling defense on Kobe Bryant. An injured Kendrick Perkins, an ancient P.J. Brown, and the rookie Glen Davis did not score very much, but their interior defense did not allow the Lakers’ front line to establish any type of rhythm. Even Powe was able to get in on the action by scoring eight points in just nine minutes.
In the first game of this NBA season, the Celtics won a blowout at home versus the Washington Wizards, 103-83, and it was a total team effort. It’s very fitting that to end their season, the Celtics won by 39 over the Lakers to give the franchise their 17th title. Some call it Celtic Pride, some would say they won because of the Big Three, but that hoarse voice of Doc Rivers would politely interrupt and tell everyone who would listen, that it was nothing but Ubuntu.