The Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of the Parts

. . . ours or yours, even if you have a really, really good part. Somehow the Celtics’ victory Sunday afternoon was made even more satisfying by both Kobe’s assault and by the fact that it was, as it often is, difficult to single out a particular Celtic as most valuable. I love good basketball. I love great basketball even better. My favorite times are those when a superlative opposing player (or team for that matter) are vanquished by The Celtic Way. Yes, this victory was ultimately a triumph of Celtic Ubuntu, which has been (with a few lapses) a defining quality of the Celtics since the magical marriage of Boston, Red, Russell, and the Sixth Man. It wasn’t called Ubuntu in the 20th Century but Doc Rivers was shrewd to return to the Celtics’ roots; and plucking an African term put a new twist on an old, and sadly, misplaced if not lost, tradition was inspired.

Sure the Extra-sensationalized Sports Promoting Network will trumpet this as a duel between Kobe’s 41 points and Pierce’s 32. But this sad sound-bite simplification will gloss over the true phenomenon. The other-worldly performance of Bryant canning just over half of his 29 mind boggling degree-of-difficulty shots was a wonder to behold. But on the other side Pierce notched three-quarters as many points on two-thirds of the attempts; and his two over-the-hill gang teammates (Allen and Garnett) each dropped in nearly half as many points as Kobe on just over a third the number of Bryant’s shots taken. And that’s just looking slightly deeper into the points scored aspect.

Not that Paul’s MVP credentials rested solely on his scoring. The Celtics captain
had more rebounds than any Laker other than the center tandem of Gasol and Bynum. He had more assists than anyone decked out in gold and purple. When he wasn’t guarding Artest (who shot a woeful one for ten), he helped harry Kobe, who returned the favor—although truth be told neither had much luck containing the other, it was a game of good offense beating good defense.

But this was about the whole so let’s take another look at Paul’s contributions. More rebounds than all but the Laker centers--but only tied for fourth leading Celtic rebounder with his own point guard; and Garnett ruled the roost with nearly twice as many as anyone else on the court. More assists than any Laker, but only tied for third on his own team and less than a fifth of the 16 racked up by Rondo. And it’s not like those were the only high points for his teammates as Garnett had the second most assists and Rondo had as many rebounds as Pierce. In fact Paul Pierce posted a plus/minus of only +5, a mark exceeded by six of his teammates led by Ray Allen and Kendrick Perkins with +13. Paul played a masterful game but it was within the Celtics’ framework that demanded, allowed, and received significant contributions from every player that touched the floor. O.K. maybe not Von Wafer in his two seconds of play; but even Shaq, Daniels, and Perkins who combined for a total of four points made valuable contributions. Daniels rode in to the defensive rescue when Ray Allen made an early exit after picking up two quick fouls covering the do-not-touch Bryant. Shaq’s frightening line of zero points, two turnovers, and five fouls doesn’t negate the impact of his six rebounds (none of which were cheap), bruising paint play, and blitzkrieg rotations in thirteen wearing minutes. Perkins logged nearly 28 minutes as he “eases” back into the rotation, made his only field goal attempt, and pulled in six rebounds while grinding away on the beleaguered Laker front line.

However this isn’t all about the numbers. The national commentators keep making comments about how many easy or good shots the Celtics get. I don’t disagree but they seem proud of themselves for “discovering” this fact, even though it has been the hallmark of the Green Machine since November 2007—well better a late understanding than none at all. I feel sure that anyone who has ever coached basketball, at any level, finds the Celtic Way a blast of refreshing air. Whether it is the extra pass, help rotation, unselfish assist, anticipated movement, box on the block, or crisp outlet, watching the Celtics is a joy. It is an indictment of the times that playing “the right way” is such an anomaly, and so frequently baffles opponents. The Celtics’ system gets my MVP vote.