Golden State's Game 7 pain all too familiar feeling for Celtics fans
Six years later and it still hurts.
LeBron James' triumph in this past Sunday night may be the single greatest individual accomplishment the game has ever seen. The King got his city their long-awaited crown by defeating a team who still deserves recognition as one of the best teams of all-time. The most watched NBA Finals game since 1998 ended with LeBron's sidekick, Kyrie Irving, drilling a Steph Curry-esqe trey over the first-ever unanimous MVP while the aforementioned Curry was locked down on his game-tying three-point attempt by Kevin Love of all people.
But even as all of this transpired, I couldn't get past 2010.
More than 24 hours removed from Warriors disappointment, comparisons are most drawn to the 2007 New England Patriots that went 18 and and eternally-haunting 1. Whether it's because of Spygate or the questions about luck the year before, each team played the entire season in F-U mode. Each team entered the regular season record books without completing the job. Each team had their dream wrecked in the game's final minute.
LeBron's chase down block has to be the Tyree catch. Both plays may go down as the greatest plays ever in their sport.
The Irving game-winner over Curry was Plaxico Burress' double move by the single coverage of Ellis Hobbs. Curry passing on an two to toss up a desperation three-point attempt wasn't unlike the Patriots, despite having all of their timeouts, not playing for the field goal by tossing all or nothing bombs to Randy Moss. Lastly, Kevin Love's stop made for a decent Jay Alford impression.
However, when Golden State's historic season came to a thudding conclusion, memories of the lone Celtic Game 7 failure hit me like a tidal wave. Even prior to tip-off, the parallels struck me.
Going against starting their vaunted "Death Lineup," Golden State decided to start the much maligned Festus Ezeli in place of the injured and underappreciated starting center Andrew Bogut. In 2010, an overweight and largely frustrating Rasheed Wallace started in place of the injured and underappreciated starting center Kendrick Perkins.
When LeBron stared down and jawed with Curry after sending his lay-up attempt into the stands, I couldn't help but laugh at the memory of Paul Pierce and Ron Artest budding heads as Pierce's headband was pulled over his eyes.
The awful Ezeli, Anderson Varejao and Harrison Barnes contributions brought back flashbacks of my lack of the trust in Tony Allen, Glen Davis and Nate Robinson as each Celtic were on the floor during the fourth quarter of a Game 7 on the NBA Finals at Staples Center. What a sentence.
In between pacing around my house, flooding my Facebook and Twitter timelines with pictures of Red, Russell and Bird to pump myself up, and the eventual heartbreak that would come later, twice in 2010 did I allow myself to relax. Boston ended the first quarter up 23-14 and later had much as a 13-point lead in the third quarter. Sunday, Golden State closed the first half on an 8-2 run and took a seven-point lead into halftime. In the third quarter, Curry scored back-to-back baskets, the second of which concluded with a brief pose toward the Cavs bench and a Cleveland timeout. It was just a five-point GSW lead, but it felt like the MVP got his groove back. Until he didn't.
The Splash Brothers shot a mere 12-36 from the field Sunday. In 2010, Pierce and Ray Allen were a combined 8-29 from the field.
Both games felt over after made free throws. Sure, conventional wisdom is that there was enough time to get a quick three and extend the game, but after James and Sasha Vujacic did their damage at the line, each situation felt like you needed a miracle. Reality had set in.
Lastly, after the hugs and tears, ABC television cameras followed LeBron postgame as he took his first steps onto the stage set up on the court. The camera was toward James' back as he faced the Cleveland and Golden State fans clapping from the stands and showing their appreciation. Sound familiar? Well...
2010 was a weird year for me as a Celtic fan. After a 23-5 start that had them with the league's best record at Christmas, Boston ended the season 27-27, capped off with a home loss to the 12-win New Jersey Nets. I despised them as I imagine most did. The KG-Pierce-Allen era felt finished.
2010 was also the first time I ever saw the Celtics play in person. Despite living the first 15 years of my life in Brockton, Ma, I never went to the FleetCenter or the Old Garden to see the Celts play in person. My only in-person experience to that point was when Celtics held a practice at my old high school, as I was lucky enough getting autographs from Antoine Walker and Pierce - who was just a month removed from exiting the hospital following his horrific stabbing. As for my first game, Pierce fittingly hit a game-winner.
The moments rolled in afterward. Boston closed out Miami in five. Highlighted by the one of the greatest games in Celtic history, Rajon Rondo monster Game 4 propelled to the series upset over LeBron and Cavs, changing the landscape. In the Eastern Conference Finals, who could forget Rondo out-hustling Jason Williams and diving on the parquet floor for a loose-ball? Sprinkle in some "Shrek and Donkey," Allen's NBA Finals single game three-point record, more Rondo moments as I think he was on his well to Finals MVP, you have moments that should be replayed for generations. But it was all for naught in the end.
The final parallel is that the Golden State memories felt endless. Curry's 38-footer in OKC. All of the Curry explosions against Washington, Charlotte, Orlando, New Orleans to name a few. Curry's return against Portland. Thompson saving the season in Game Six as part of the 3-1 comeback against the Thunder. But for any Warrior fan, diehard or bandwagon, it's gonna to be a long time before you can find joy in those moments considering the season's ending.
There was 23-win difference between the 2010 Celtics and a 2016 Warriors, but as I reflect on how I experience Sunday's historic game, I realize the two teams are unfortunately far too alike.
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Photo Credit: Wally Skali/Los Angeles Times
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