I got to thinking on Tuesday, just following the huge victory against the Magic — how did the Celtics get here? How did the team that played .500 ball for more than half the season morph into the team that we see today? Obviously they are now healthy (thanks to Doc resting them) and they have had some good contributions off the bench, but I think it was something else. Obviously all those things have spearheaded this run, but KG and his actions have changed the mindset of this team… and changed their play… and changed their effort level.
In game 1 of the Miami series, the Celts started this playoff run on their home floor. I was at attending a wedding so I missed much of the first half, but by the time I had made it to a bar to catch the rest of the game, I was not surprised. The Celts were down by 14 in the 3rd quarter, and it was all too familiar that they would play down to their competition and be looking at an uphill battle with an inferior opponent (something they are used to over the last couple playoff runs). We obviously know what happened next — the Celts went on a run, got the lead back and got a tough win to start the series. Before that game finished, though, a funny thing happened — with about 2 minutes left in the game Paul Pierce knocked down hard in front of the Miami bench, there was a bit of a skirmish. Quentin Richardson started yapping at Pierce right in front of the bench, and things escalated. In something we haven’t seen for most of the season, KG came to the defense of his captain, elbowing Richardson in the jaw. The elbow costed KG a game’s suspension, but was also the season’s turning point.
Following that elbow jab by KG, the Green ran off a blowout win versus the heat. From there they dominated the series against Miami, and ultimately against the top seeded Cavs as well. I know it sounds stupid that a quick elbow in defense of a teammate can turn around a season, but it has for the Celtics. Since then they have looked like the Celts of 2008 – suffocating defense, timely offense and execution, and an us against the world mentality. You saw none of that fierce attitude from the Cavs (could’ve been because Delonte may or may not have been porking his teammate’s mom), and to this point we haven’t seen it from Orlando either.
If you notice now, whenever the a member of the green hits the floor hard, four green jerseys sprint over the pick them up off the floor. That is high school and college basketball shit, but you have to love it; it’s teamwork and camaraderie at its finest. For example, when Pierce was smashed to the face from Howard, not only was he helped up by four teamates, but he glared right at the crowd in Orlando and you could read his lips: “Keep booing.” How do you not get goosebumps on that shit? I literally jumped out of my seat and started screaming at my television.
If you notice, KG has had a more calm demeanor on the bench. You don’t see the same KG of a few years back that is screaming and losing his mind on the sidelines the entire game, but I don’t neccesarily think its a bad thing. He is quiet, focussed and just straight wants to take it to whomever he faces. You even caught a glimpse of the old school last night with a couple goaltends on Orlando shots, just so that they remember he is there. This team is feeding off his example and completely focussed on making this run. If they stay focussed and keep executing the way they have been, the Celtics will be on their way to banner number 18. And while he is no longer the MVP candidate he used to be, KG is still leading this team in other ways.