Lasting memories of the '08 Finals
BOSTON -- The Celtics-Lakers NBA Finals did not lack for drama. Even the series-clinching rout in Game 6 on Tuesday featured a huge bounce-back performance by a much-maligned player (Rajon Rondo) and another in-game return from injury (Ray Allen). While the action on the court wasn't always pretty, the championship round was full of storylines and images worthy of the great Celtics-Lakers rivalry.
Here are five things we'll remember most from the series:
1. Captain Courageous
When Paul Pierce tumbled down along the baseline with an apparent knee injury midway through Game 1, a hush fell over the TD Banknorth Garden crowd. Just like that, Boston's title hopes were in serious jeopardy. The fans murmured as Pierce was carried off the court, grimacing in pain, and plopped into a wheelchair in the tunnel.
Minutes later, though, the Celtics' captain was bounding onto the court to the theme from Rocky. Pierce would go on to nail two big three-pointers as Boston claimed a 98-88 victory. Lakers coach Phil Jackson joked that Oral Roberts must have been back in the Boston locker room, but there was no doubt it was great theater -- and the signature moment of the 2008 Finals.
2. The comeback
Trailing by 24 points in the first half and 20 midway through the third quarter, the Celtics mounted the greatest comeback in Finals history to steal Game 4 in Los Angeles and take a 3-1 series lead. Buoyed by the contributions of reserves James Posey and Eddie House, the Celtics used a 23-5 run to close out the third quarter and pull within two going into the fourth. They then put the clamps on Kobe Bryant in the fourth to take the lead for good late in the game, sealing it when Ray Allen blew past Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic for a lefty layup in the final seconds.
The incredible victory put Boston one win away from its 17th title and dealt a devastating blow to the Lakers after they had put together a sensational first-half performance. "They had their heart ripped out," Jackson said of his players. When asked how he would get over it, Bryant said: "A lot of wine, a lot of beer, a couple shots ... maybe like 20 of them."
3. Donaghy redux
Hell hath no fury like a zebra scorned. The NBA learned this when disgraced referee Tim Donaghy chose the morning of Game 3 to allege that past playoff games -- including one from the epic Lakers-Kings series in 2002 -- had been rigged. NBA commissioner David Stern forcefully denied the charges -- pointing out that Donaghy was a convicted felon seeking to earn a lighter sentence for his crimes -- but the ensuing firestorm dominated the news cycle for 24 hours and partly overshadowed the Lakers' 87-81 victory later that night.
4. Kobe's Boston blanket
Going into the Finals, many expected Bryant to make the series his personal showcase. But the MVP never could sustain anything against Boston's league-leading defense. Facing a wall of defenders every time he tried to get into the lane, Bryant averaged just 25.7 points on 40.5 percent shooting. Boston's defense was especially good late in games, never allowing the NBA's best closer to work his magic in crunch time of Games 1, 2 and 4.
Allen, Pierce and Kevin Garnett led a teamwide approach in slowing Bryant, but Boston assistant coach Tom Thibodeau also played a part. He devised a scheme that put those players in the right spots and kept Bryant out of the lane and off the free-throw line.
"He has an unfair advantage," Bryant joked of the longtime assistant, who worked for the Sixers when Bryant was playing high school ball in the Philadelphia area. "He started drilling me, NBA basketball drills, when I was 14. So he kind of has inside information on what I like to do because he taught me most of the stuff."
5. Doc and his dad
It was by far the most poignant moment in the Finals. Celtics coach Doc Rivers, whose father died unexpectedly during the season, became choked up when asked about the significance of Father's Day between Games 4 and 5. Rivers sat at the podium, unable to speak and tears welling in his eyes, for a full 40 seconds as a room full of reporters sat silent.
Grady Rivers, a policeman, died last November at age 76, one game into Boston's dream season. Rivers had always been close to his father, who coached him in Little League and served as his mentor and role model. Rivers said his father had helped console him during last season's 24-win campaign.
"To go back to my dad, he's just very important in my life," Rivers said after collecting his emotions. "It's still very difficult for me to talk about because I haven't had a lot of time, really, to reflect on it. You know, it happened during the season unexpectedly. It's very difficult. But I do think about it. I think about it a lot."
The fact that Rivers beat out Jackson, thereby denying the Zen Master a chance to surpass Red Auerbach for a record 10th title, only adds to the story. Meanwhile, Grady Rivers would have celebrated his birthday Wednesday. Does it get any better than that?