Playoffs ’08: Dreaming of the Future
As he sat in seclusion in the depths of the TD Banknorth Garden’s locker room, Kevin Maurice Garnett found a brief moment of solitude. Having been bombarded with well wishes and champagne from jovial teammates and media members alike, Garnett needed a moment to himself to reflect on what had transpired over the last month and a half.
It was June 15, 2008, and the 2007-2008 NBA season, the most important and successful season for the league in over 15 years, had just culminated with his Boston Celtics winning their first title in 22 years. The win brought the franchise its 17th championship and individually it cemented Garnett’s place in the history of the game’s true elite. No longer would he be badgered about having never seized greatness on the highest stage. No longer would he have to defend himself for a career of personal accolades without playoff success.
When the buzzer sounded at the end of Game Six and David Stern handed him that Finals MVP trophy, the heaviness he had carried for the previous 12 years was lifted from his 6’11″ frame.
Now, finally alone with his thoughts, the pride of Mauldin, South Carolina contemplated how this had come to pass. His journey started long before April 19th, but his thoughts were drawn to that day because it was when the greatest playoffs the NBA had ever seen began and when the Celtics’ march towards the Larry O’Brien took form.
For Boston, their path got underway rather easily, as they easily swept the bashful Atlanta Hawks, despite Josh Smith’s triple-double in Game Three. Boston keenly watched as Philadelphia put a slight scare into the Pistons over five exceedingly close games. Elsewhere in the East, King James averaged 34 points en route to winning another hard-fought battle with Washington, 4-2, and Toronto shocked everyone by overcoming late season struggles to upset Orlando in a Game Sevent overtime classic.
As Danny Ainge came over to congratulate him, Garnett remembered how all eyes were out West early on. The incredibly competitive regular season carried over and the first round match-ups provided must-see-TV every night, starting with the breakneck speed of the Hornets-Warriors series. Despite Baron Davis’ game-winner in Game Four, Chris Paul’s squad triumphed in six games. Kobe Bryant, the man who topped Paul in MVP voting after the Lakers beat the Hornets and Spurs late in the regular season, had his Lakers rolling in Round One, defeating Dallas 4-2 and successfully working Andrew Bynum into the rotation over the series’ last five games. San Antonio easily handled the Rockets in five games, denying Tracy McGrady his first playoffs series win. All of this paled in Garnett’s mind to the Suns-Jazz epic seven-game clash. With Utah unable to secure home court due to winning percentage, Game Seven was in Phoenix and Garnett’s close friend Steve Nash had a legendary 36 point, 17 assist game to secure the Suns win.
Thoughts of the second round brought a smile to Garnett’s face, for he recalled how the Celtics overcame two separate triple-doubles and a 47-point game from LeBron to knock Cleveland out in six. Boston’s chief rival, Detroit, had easily put away an over-matched Raptors team in five games, which set up the series every fan had awaited since the previous August.
All of this was happening while there were two remarkable series’ taking place on the Left Coast. Spurred by a massive Game Five from Shaquille O’Neal and a gaudy overall performance from Amare Stoudamire, the Suns vanquished the Hornets in seven unbelievably entertaining games. Such dramatics were topped only by Kobe’s 44 points in a Game Seven victory over the Spurs that completed the most evenly-fought series the NBA had seen since Sacramento and Los Angeles years earlier.
Ray Allen soon joined Garnett in the back corner of the locker room to reminisce over the season that was, and the 32-year-old All-Star quickly brought up Boston’s incredible victory in six games over Detroit and how Garnett essentially shut down Rasheed Wallace during the series, holding him to a mere 11 points per game. Garnett was quick to point out that it was Allen’s three-pointer with eight seconds left that had secured a critical Game Four win, and that they both owed their first Finals appearances to Rajon Rondo’s ability to match Chauncey Billups’ effectiveness for six straight games. Bill Russell had visited with Garnett after the win, providing suggestions on how to slow the younger and faster Amare, for the Suns had reached the Finals by defeating Kobe’s Lakers in six games, during which Los Angeles’ youth and inexperience had begun to show.
Joined by Allen and Paul Pierce, who had freed himself from ABC’s reporters long enough to sit with his teammates, Garnett recalled how they had jumped to a 2-0 lead in the series before dropping two games in a row in the desert, leading to the game that would come to define Garnett’s career. Down by nine with just under five minutes to play in Game Five, the Big Ticket had thrown his teammates and his city on his back, scoring ten unanswered points to take the lead for the first time in the game. Then, with the game clock at twelve seconds and facing a double-team from Nash, Garnett found Eddie House for a game-sealing three.
Back in Boston tonight, the 48 minutes had played out more like a coronation than a competition, and the Celtics were champions again.
Surrounded by his teammates, Garnett was overcome: all those winters in Minnesota, fighting the good fight, leaving his heart and soul on the court every game as though it were his last, had led him to the pinnacle of his sport. He clutched the O’Brien trophy as if he would never let go and savored this transient moment of perfection.
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The preceding is, of course, a work of fiction. Despite my best efforts, I was unable to gain access to a Flux Capacitor nor the mind of “Doc” Emmett Brown, which is to say that I have not come back from the future. What will occur over the next month and a half of basketball is for anyone to hypothesize; surely a better prognosticator than I will envision the NBA’s immediate future more accurately.
All that is for certain about the postseason before us is that there has not been one worth being more excited and feverish about for well over a decade. We are each about to be reminded why we love this game as intensely as we do.
The wait has been long, NBA fans, but the payoff is coming, one game at a time.