The Fourth Man
In the next paragraph, there will be much humiliating disclosure and rehashing of matters no one's interested in rehashing. As everyone who has followed these pages faithfully, through riches and through death, knows, I have never been a Celtics fan.
I can now hold my head high and admit that, had I really done my homework on the Russell teams at that point, my stance might have been somewhat mitigated. My dislike for the city of Boston, where I've spent time, has something to do with it, but really has no place in the discussion—a team is not its fans, and the sixties Celts knew this. Much of the "Celtic Pride" that galls me so starts with the Cowens teams; it's somewhat perfunctory on my part, and I've always been quick to defend the genius of Larry Bird.
Yet when Garnett and Allen joined forces with Pierce in Boston, I was skeptical, in large part because of my feelings for the franchise. I also wasn't into the purely mercenary nature of this alliance, though now it seems like a foretelling of the league's player-power future rather than a new low in ring-chasing. That was in part because the legend of KG in Minny had taken on such amplitude (one that, on Thursday, Garnett himself has said he regretted), but also because of my questions over how this could ever feel natural, as opposed to manufactured. Again, I am a Romantic clinging to an era that about to die forever.
It might also have had quite a bit to do with the fact that KG was always one of my favorites, Ray Ray, too. Pierce, I somehow grew to dislike over the years, and there was the small matter of FD sun-god Rajon Rondo lurking in the mix. Briefly, I thought that maybe they would all work together in a way that made the most of their former selves, but instead, sublimation was the name of the game—in terms of both style and personality—and it worked like a charm.
Factor in the team's tough guy-posturing, the stupid Lakers-Celtics binary that forced me to spend weeks explaining why the Lakers had value, and how much I hated myself for not feeling good Garnett got his title, and I came to resent this team. Mightily. Really mature, I know.
As we all know, though, the dynamic has shifted in Beantown over the last two seasons. The ascendancy of Rondo has now put him front and center, with the three vets essentially backing him up (maybe "providing the foundation" makes more sense, except Paul Pierce should never be equated with stability). It started when a KG-less team, with Rondo doing it all, made a respectable playoff run. This season was a learning process; they started out crazy, but Rondo receded. Then injuries hit hard, and Rondo failed to, as they say, step up and carry the team. Now everyone's back and healthy, Rondo's the strongest player, and all is right in the Land of the Green. A Suns-Celtics Finals would essentially be a battle of momentum, if not luck.
In 2008, I had to watch Allen being used ineffectively, and Garnett eschew much of his multi-facetedness in favor of defensive ... enthusiasm? Pierce, whose team it somehow remained, had gone from endearingly awkward to just plain awkward, and somehow gotten even cockier in the process. Rondo was the respectful understudy, or maybe the caddy who advises on putts. Right now, in 2010, the question isn't whether Rondo is one of the league's elite point guards, but whether anyone feels like calling him better than Paul or Williams. Garnett looks healthier, more kinetic, than at any time since he got to Boston, and maybe it's me, but Rondo's progress allows him to more seamlessly fit into an offensive flow. He is right now the veteran version of the long, leaping high school prospect he first entered the league as.
Pierce has his nights, but it's no longer "his team." And, most importantly, Ray Allen is positively tearing it up, also looking better than at any point since he left Seattle in a trade. Allen needs the ball in his hands some, isn't constantly in motion off of screens, and doesn't excel as a stop-and-pop guy in games. A weird combination of strengths and limitations that I often get tripped up trying to describe, and explains some of the ups and downs he's experienced in Boston. If Garnett was trying to prove a point, Allen often simply seemed thwarted, flustered.
In these playoffs, though, Allen is back, even closer to his pre-Celts self than Garnett (who has, in truth, undergone a metamorphosis). It's then that I realize what an innocent bystander he's been in my dislike of this team. You can't really level the "what became of you" accusations against him like your Garnett (if you've got a stomach for that), since Allen has been, in some sense, the forgotten star. In some ways, both KG and Pierce lend themselves to situational play better than Allen. Garnett's found a niche, and Pierce is there to create if he can. Allen should be in the game forever, bouncing around and getting his shot off. He's LIKE A FINE FUCKING WINE, in that he's always already been kind of old, or waiting to age, and now is simply loping along on that continuum. Or maybe he's gracefully inverted it. I'm not sure.
So officially, this Celtics team—with Rondo in charge, Garnett reinventing himself without too many ugly rough edges (yes, I recall round one), Ray Allen set free, and even Tony Allen getting to do his thing—has my vote. Can I say I'd pull for them over the Suns or Lakers? Probably not. However, the hatred is gone. Not only for the team, but for the players on its. I don't feel anymore like we've lost them forever. Big fucking deal, you say. Well, it is to me. Things are starting to feel whole again.