Originally written on Celtics Green ...a boston celtics blog.  |  Last updated 8/8/13
Of the 15 man playoff roster taken into the 2008 Finals by the Boston Celtics only Rajon Rondo and Tony Allen were above average NBA athletes.  Now “average” NBA athlete is a pretty awesome superlative; but think about it, this Championship team ran slower and jumped lower than most of the teams they decimated in April, May, and June.  So just how did they beat the snot out of those young high-flying whipper-snappers? Now I don’t expect you to just blindly take my word for the athleticism slam, but take a look at the actual 2008 roster (http://basketball.realgm.com/nba/teams/Boston-Celtics/2/Rosters/Playoff/2008).  The Big Three were all in their thirties and already on the downside of their careers.  The other two starters were a rail-thin second-year Rondo and the scowling Perkins (whose athleticism might best be compared to a rock).  The backups on this group that terrorized the league were Tony Allen, P.J. Brown, Sam Cassell, rookies Glen Davis and Leon Powe, and James Posey.  Now Tony Allen was indeed an athlete in his prime (although already having suffered a devastating knee injury); but P.J. and Sam were deep into their thirties and neither House or Posey had ever played (or been dealt) the athleticism card.  As for the rookies Big Baby and Powe—one was a Pillsbury doughboy and the other left his athleticism behind with multiple knee surgeries before even reaching the pros.  Also it is not like the Celtics were hiding an uber-athlete on the bench—Gabe Pruitt was a fringe second-rounder and Scot Pollard and Scalabrine are giggle-worthy when placed in a sentence with athleticism.  So once again, how did this group of aging stars, callow youth, and role players lay waste to the best basketball league in the world? The short, and long answer come to think of it, is The Celtic Way.  Doc Rivers had trotted it out that year in a new coat of paint with an African flavor—Ubuntu!  It seems that every summer I end up writing a piece about this most fundamental Celtics’ aspect.  I suppose that is not surprising since its beginnings, along with my nascent Green fanaticism, emerged in the 50’s.  Of all the great things that Red Auerbach accomplished, and there were a multitude, the greatest was instilling this into the Celtics core values.  Over the years whether watching, playing, or coaching this game I love, never far from my consciousness were the basic tenants of The Celtic Way. It’s really very simple—shoot the shot with the best chance of going in, know what you can and can’t do and play within yourself, never lose sight of the big picture, and always be aware of and ready to help a teammate.  Sadly none of those are high on the list of sport imperatives of today’s modern athletes.  To be perfectly fair to this generation’s youth, those principles never were predominant.  Basketball, certainly more than any other team sport, lends itself (sadly) to the mano-a-mano confrontation.  A testosterone-laden contest of one-upmanship that threatens to turn everyone else, including teammates (maybe especially teammates), into bystanders and observers. Over the years I have thrilled to my Green warriors vanquishing “better” foes.  Whether bigger and stronger (Wilt, Chocolate Thunder, Jabbar, Dwight Howard, Shaq), given the gift of flight (Jordan, Josh Smith, LeBron, Elgin Baylor, Dr J., Dominique Wilkins), or master of the degree-of-difficulty shot (Andrew Toney, Kobe, Carmelo, Iverson, George Gervin)—the Celtics, more often than not, sent them home waving their gaudy stat-line score-sheet but without a win.  Watching Toney sinking turn-around fall-away 30-foot jumpers and Darryl Dawkins break backboards in defeat was a special treat.   The Celtics just kept making open jumpers and layups (that their smarts and ball movement created) and forcing their opponents to take more difficult and contested shots, and making a drive to the bucket a gauntlet of help defenders.  Make the game easy, not hard; deny your opponents’ favorite options, while taking what is given; force while avoiding being forced; and leverage understanding and awareness to thwart the bad guys and grease the way for the home team. Playing The Celtic Way, what I believe to be the right way, makes the game a limited-contact ballet rather than a series of individual duels.  As I wrote this article I recalled an excellent book (A Sense of Where You Are by John Mcphee) which is about Bill Bradley (one of my all-time should-have-been-a-Celtic’s) but reminds me of Cousey, Rondo, and Bird.  Which brings me to the current Celtics who have a number of high BBIQ, coach-on-the-floor, see the whole court guys; but this has run on long enough and I’ll save that discussion for another day. [Discuss on CG Forums!]
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