We're looking at every NBA Playoff series through the eyes of both Free Darko. Here's Free Darko's look at the Boston Celtics-Detroit Pistons series. Your author is Bethlehem Shoals.
Ring the alarm and call in the ponies: Starting now, these Celtics are no longer playoff disappointments. They've spent long enough confounding and outraging us — from this moment on, they're underdogs.
See, that's one advantage of this damn near eternal postseason. It doesn't matter if you start it off as most likely to fo, fo, fo, fo. Enough turmoil, and rounds distended by a series that refuses to die, and there's plenty of room for narrative revision. You can change your face. You can change your whole fucking life.
Remember when this historic lineup saw its first game together? It was supposed to bring about 82 gargantuan nights of smart, sleek basketball that showed off these three stars in all their glory. They were instantly put on television more times than Portland and Seattle combined. Then the season started, and it became clear that toughness and discipline were the intended consequence. Still, a team for the ages. Then the playoffs, where this proud bunch was hapless away from home. Against the Cavs, they got nothing from Ray Allen, less than they would've liked from Garnett, and only advanced by imitating Cleveland's groundbreaking offense — with Paul Pierce playing the King James role.
(Sidenote: After this series, I can say for certain that Doc Rivers isn't letting Ray Allen be the Ray Ray we all knew and loved. That might be part of the problem. It's like, in the interest of streamlining the offense, he decided he had Steve Kerr, not an honest to God shooting guard. If I sound bitter, I am. That's exactly the kind of decision that got us so far from the Celtics team I once imagined seeing out there).
We've come a long way from those dreams of eye-popping play and non-stop, full-body sentimental orgasm. Here's the new party line: These guys were older than we thought. Mavs redux? Nah son, Garnett, Pierce and Allen gave it their all throughout the season because they couldn't help it, and now it's caught up with them. Lack of poise, or chemistry, or old postseason ghosts come back? Of course not. These are craggy warriors who refuse to quit. It's all about resolve once the wheels fall off, when regrouping has long ago disappeared in the rear view.
Look what's happening around them. The bench is uncertain. The role players are yanked quick, not nurtured. Doc Rivers, once the guru of unity, now has to improvise a rotation each game. These are times for real heroism. Anyone can win 60 when things click. Adversity, though, is what brings out the best in people. A little desperation makes you reach way deep down and flourish. This isn't a well-oiled march toward the championship these players deserve, it's the fight of their lives. Ironically, these scrappers and survivors, veterans of meaningless excellence and long springs of envy, are now being asked to conjure up their former selves. It's their only hope.
Or maybe they've just become Detroit. Balanced, grouchy, and always hovering somewhere between underachieving and surprising. The Pistons get here like clockwork. They always have some ups and some downs, some moments of arrogance and those of gut-wrenching humility. Sometimes they coast, others they work like hell. It's a mishmash of moods and styles that doesn't lend itself to easy characterization, and in part accounts for the indifference about them.
But the Pistons are here every year, while the Celtics, they've had to fight back from the depths of hell to get here. This has been in the making since they lost Bias and then Lewis. They're imperfect, but on a mission. The Pistons are the regulars who just fuck around every year and make it deep into the playoffs. They're an institution today, while the Celtics are struggling to live up to the weight of their own monumental past. Detroit has nothing to lose; they already got their ring. These Celtics, they need one to justify this team's existence. And yes, these are the times when knowing you're Hall of Fame-bound can keep you up nights.
Celtics, I believe in you. And when you lose to Los Angeles in the Finals, I'll be the first to jump on the message boards and say THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS SEASON IT'S SO AMAZING WE EVEN GOT BACK IN THE FINALS AGAIN.