View Full Version : The Sports Guy write-up on game 1 & game 2

06-06-2008, 02:27 PM
I enjoyed reading this, but then again I'm rooting for the Celtics. I especially like the middle section where he's talking about the typical fans that goes to the game


There isn't even officially a name for it. Frankly, it's too ghastly to have a name. For the purposes of this column, we'll call it the Horrible Sound.

You only hear the Horrible Sound during especially big games, and only if something unthinkable happens to a good player on the home team. If you think of noise being measured from 1 to 10, an especially big game carries a particular buzz that never seems to fade. It's like the last few seconds before a concert when they shut the lights out, only the band hasn't emerged yet. That's just how it sounds for two and a half hours. If something unthinkable happens to one of the home players, that ongoing, this-game-is-bigger-than-all-of-us buzz doesn't screech to a stop like a record being halted. Rather, it fades over the course of a few seconds -- like someone is slowly turning down a knob that controls the crowd volume from 8 to 7 to 6 ... until finally, you're at 1 and everyone in the building is standing in shock. It's awful. It's one of the worst experiences you can have at a sporting event.

As Paul Pierce was carried from the court, the air was immediately sucked out of the Garden.
But that's not even the Horrible Sound. That's just the chain of events needed to get there. During Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night, when Paul Pierce was clutching his right leg in agony, the Boston crowd was rocking minus-4 on the volume knob within a few seconds. He slumped into a heap a few feet in front of the Celtics' bench, with teammates and coaches quickly surrounding him so the fans couldn't see anything. Two agonizing minutes passed. If you placed thought balloons over everyone's heads in the Whatever The Hell The Garden Is Called, each one would have looked the same:

"I knew this Finals was too good to be true."

See, fans are selfish that way. Pierce might have blown out a knee or broken a leg, but we were thinking about our improbable, once-in-a-generation Lakers-Celtics Finals going down the tubes. Watching from 40 feet away with my father, Dad just kept muttering, "no ... no ... no ... no ..." We all felt that way. That's what made it so painful when it seemed like Pierce was finally standing up (volume going back up to 2, then 3, then 4 ...), only we realized he wasn't actually standing but being carried off the court by two teammates. Brian Scalabrine had one of his legs, Tony Allen had the other. Pierce's arms were draped around their necks. They hurriedly schlepped him off like a wounded soldier on a battlefield.

That's when the Horrible Sound happened. It's like a groan crossed with a gasp crossed with an exhale (only if 18,000 people are making it at the same time), quickly followed by somebody pressing "MUTE" on the entire crowd. I'm telling you, it's the worst noise in sports -- maybe a one-second blip followed by dead silence that conveys three emotions and only three:


I can't believe it.

We are f-----.

When I was 6 years old, Freddie Lynn crashed into the outfield wall at Fenway during Game 6 of the '75 World Series and slumped into a heap like he had been taken out by a sniper. That was the all-time Horrible Sound in Boston sports history. This was second. For Pierce's mysterious injury to happen during Game 1 of the Finals, right after he had caught fire in the third quarter, right as everyone was beginning to embrace the full power of this Celtics-Lakers renaissance, was simply incomprehensible. We had the same look on our faces as the castaways in "Lost" when they thought they were getting rescued, only it starts dawning on them that the "rescuers" in the helicopter might not be there for the right reasons.

Really? I'm not getting off the island? I'm stuck here?

That was us.

For all the hype that comes with a throwback Celtics-Lakers series, you couldn't fully grasp its significance unless you were in Boston on Thursday. Walking around Causeway before the game, the street was effectively covered in green -- just guys in their teens and 20s happily walking around in green T-shirts and jerseys, randomly chanting "Beat L.A!" and "Let's go Celtics!" The bars were teeming with locals, many of them distracted by a timely Red Sox-Rays brawl that put everyone in the right mind-set for seven games against Kobe and the Kobettes. At the intersection in front of Causeway and Canal, there was a 25-foot replica of the NBA's golden championship trophy, with about 25 crazed Celtics fans flanking it and starting various cheers. Six especially creative Boston fans were walking around dressed like members of the '86 team -- Bird, McHale, Parish, DJ, Walton and Ainge -- wearing especially tight jerseys and shorts and corresponding wigs for each player. You always hear the phrase "happy to be here" about teams, but this might have been the first "happy to be here" fan base.

The really cool part: You had one generation old enough to remember the significance and awesomeness (for lack of a better word) of the whole Celtics-Lakers thing, as well as another generation of under-25 fans who lived the rivalry secondhand through ESPN Classic, grainy VHS tapes and stories from parents, grandparents and older brothers. The first generation was grateful because they never thought they'd see the rivalry renewed; the second generation was grateful because they had grown up thinking, by sheer luck of the draw, they missed out and that was that. In fact, that's the perfect word. Grateful. If anything, the new generation was more euphoric than the old generation -- imagine hearing those stories and watching those replays for two solid decades, always wondering what it would have been like to be there, never believing it could happen again. And then a window opens and, just like that, you're there.

The whole thing was a little hard to fathom. You'd think Boston fans would have been nervous heading into Game 1 of the series as legitimate underdogs, but you couldn't feel any tension whatsoever. I'd use the word "giddy." Even the normally grouchy media seemed happy to be there. And beyond the rivalry or the nostalgic clash of uniforms, I have to say the night just felt bigger with Kobe involved. He's one of the most recognizable athletes alive, the best basketball player in the league, someone who just seems inherently famous at all times.

(Random tangent: I always break out my Foreigner Test for famous athletes -- namely, if you grabbed someone from Germany or Lithuania or Kenya who knew nothing about basketball, plopped them in the arena, asked them to study the players as they warmed up for a few minutes, then asked them to guess the best player on the court, who would they pick? During any Bulls game in the '90s, they would have picked MJ, which was one of the things that made him so freaking cool -- not his considerable talents as much as the fact he always seemed like he should have been as good as he was. Anyway, the foreigner would have watched the warm-ups Thursday night and picked either Kobe or KG, two larger-than-life guys who carry themselves a certain way and seem totally comfortable with being stared at by thousands of people at all times.)

Since this had been such an impossibly tough ticket, the happy-to-be-there factor was through the roof. For season-ticket holders who shelled out sizable checks annually for a never-ending edition of crappy teams -- like my father, for instance -- you could see the vindication in their eyes. This is why I kept my tickets. For everyone working for the Celtics since the unfathomably cold, clumsy and impersonal Paul Gaston era -- like my buddy Sully, for instance -- you could see the relief in their eyes. This is why I kept working for them. For the fans who kept supporting the Celtics from Reggie Lewis' death through the reprehensible tank job last season -- a 14-year stretch that had fewer highlights than Paulie Shore's IMDB.com profile page -- you could see the collective twinkle in their eyes. This is why I kept watching. And for the wealthy fans who didn't care about the Celtics as much as flexing their financial/social muscles so they could show up to either be seen or tell other people they went -- and there were more than a few of them -- you could see the satisfied look in their eyes. This is why I worked so hard to become successful.

(By the way, I hate those people. Passionately. Thursday night, the guys sitting next to me showed up halfway through the second quarter, spent the rest of the quarter taking pictures and saying things like, "Dude, check out Kobe," disappeared at halftime and re-emerged during the third quarter with bags from the Celtics' gift shop. From there, they proceeded to put on brand-new Celtics jerseys -- one had Garnett, the other had Pierce -- only they reacted happily every time Kobe did something. Thanks for coming, guys. It's also worth mentioning that some soulless Boston fan sold his two courtside seats right next to the Boston bench to two obnoxious L.A. fans who wore yellow Lakers jerseys and were hopefully beaten up after the game. I have stopped trying to figure out professional sports in the 21st century. I give up.)

So that's where we were heading into Game 1: Relieved, giddy, happy, excited. During the first half, Boston's obvious advantages in this series surfaced (homecourt, rebounding, L.A.'s lack of anyone who can defend Garnett), as well as the disadvantages (the Celtics don't have plays, no transition baskets, no backup point guard, Doc Rivers). At halftime, despite a putrid first half from Kobe, the Lakers were leading by five. Not a good sign. Then Pierce came out firing, scoring eight quick points to reclaim the lead. Just when it looked like we were headed for a potential "Hardwood Classic," the Horrible Sound happened and Pierce got carried off. After that, there were about five minutes when my father and I were staring on the court, absorbing everything, trying to digest the thought of a Pierce-less Celtics for the rest of the Finals, attempting to find an adequate reaction, and just repeatedly locking eyes and shaking our heads grimly.

Then, something great happened ...

At the five-minute mark of the third quarter, as the game was happening, a fantastic sound happened -- the crowd inexplicably started to cheer -- and when you're there in person, there's always that split-second when you go from, "Wait, why are people cheering?" to "Wait, maybe I should glance at the tunnel just to make sure Pierce isn't jogging back out like Willis Reed."

After Pierce's heroics, it's clear the 2008 Finals will definitely be a series.
Quick impersonation of the thought balloon that came next: "THERE HE IS! AND HE'S NOT LIMPING! WE'RE ALIVE! WE'RE ALIVE! WE'RE ALIVE!"

Unfortunately, the Celtics botched the timing of Pierce's dramatic re-entrance, having him return right before an extended TV timeout. (Note to ESPN Classic: When you show this baby, edit it so it seems like Pierce came out and went right back into the game.) No matter. We were alive. And when Pierce nailed consecutive 3-pointers later in the quarter, the roof practically blew off.

(Tangent: If you're a Lakers fan, I fully support your right to be cynical about Pierce's injury and return. If the roles were reversed, and this were Kobe, I would have taken 35 "He was playing the injury up just for the Willis comeback!" potshots at him by now. All I can tell you is this: Pierce has been a warrior for 10 years, he has never been seriously injured, and he's not the type of player who would just randomly crumple into a heap like that as some sort of strategic ploy. After the game, he said he heard his knee pop, so maybe he was more scared than anything. Only a fool would compare the significance of the moment to Willis Reed, or even Larry Bird's comeback in the '91 Indiana series, for that matter. At the same time, the crowd went from "My God, we are completely screwed!" to "My God, we are back in this series!" in the span of 10 minutes. So it WAS a significant moment, whether you like it or not.)

Unfortunately, the fourth quarter didn't live up to the promise of the first three: The Lakers went ice cold and the Celtics couldn't get a decent shot. I can't tell you if it was great defense or incompetent offense; maybe it was both. There was one excruciating stretch with Boston leading 86-78 when Sam Cassell decided to remind us why he shouldn't be playing in this series, taking a couple of truly horrific shots and prompting a chorus of "Ronnnnnnn-do!" yells while a standing Doc Rivers flatlined on the sidelines for about two minutes. This has been a Doc staple over the past four years -- a Celtics player submitting an absolutely catastrophic stretch of play as Rivers leaves him in for about 90 seconds too long, then suddenly realizes, "Wait, I'm the coach, I have the power to remove this guy from the game!" By the time Sam finally got pulled, we were up only four points with six minutes to go.

(Note: The good news was that Rondo -- playing a solid game before he departed -- was able to rest for three and a half hours in the second half. So we had that going for us.)

(Follow-up note: When the home crowd is cheering because you just made a substitution, it's probably a sign you should have made the sub a little sooner. I'm just thinking out loud here.)

(Sorry, one more note: Shortly after Sam got pulled, there was a timeout and everyone was standing. I was watching the huddle and realized out of the corner of my eye that my dad was inexplicably holding a small wad of bills in his hands and shuffling through them. There were a couple of 20s, a 10 and some ones. It's not like he had $700 on him. He couldn't have been counting them. I don't know what was going on. When I asked him why he was shuffling through his cash, he simply shrugged and said, "I don't know." By the way, I am bringing defibrillator paddles to Game 2.)

Just when it seemed like Kobe and the Kobettes might steal the game, they started throwing up brick after brick. I have to be honest: The Lakers looked nervous to me. Odom looked nervous. Radmanovic looked nervous. Farmar looked like he might throw up on the court. Gasol didn't look nervous, but he allowed himself to get taken out of the game because of a few calls. (By the way, kudos to Gasol for being the first professional basketball player in the history of mankind who has never committed a personal foul. What an amazing achievement.) And Kobe looked like -- I gotta say it -- he was pressing. The Celtics were throwing multiple guys at him, bumping him, jumping out at him and contesting every jumper, and once he realized he wasn't getting charity calls, he stopped driving to the basket completely.

Meanwhile, the clock kept ticking and ticking. Suddenly, there were four minutes left, then three, then two and a half, and when Garnett (nine straight misses in the second half) rammed home a vicious follow-up dunk at the two-minute mark, everyone realized that ...

A. The Lakers weren't stealing Game 1.

B. We might have a series on our hands.

And we do. The Lakers might be a wonderful offensive team, and they might have the best player in the league, but they have legitimate rebounding/size issues that didn't totally surface until Thursday night, when they were outrebounded by 13 and never seemed to get any tip-ins or follow-up shots. It's also a team with only one penetrator/creator (hint: it's the guy who was being serenaded with "No means no!" chants Thursday night), and if you can keep him out of the paint and hope the officials don't save him with charity calls, and if you can keep throwing effective double teams at Gasol on the low block, then the Lakers have to live and die by jumpers. At home, you can survive that way. On the road? No. That's why they lost Game 1.

Heading into the series, I thought Boston could win for three reasons: Size, defense and homecourt. That's really it. All of those factors were on display Thursday in a nerve-racking game Boston never totally put away. If there's a quality unique to this Celtics team, it's its lack of exclamation-point sequences. Usually a great team will have those little 8-0 or 12-2 runs capped off by a steal, a fast break and either a dunk, a layup or a 3-pointer, followed by an opposing timeout and the crowd going absolutely ballistic. (Bird's Celtics teams were defined by those exclamation-point sequences.) These particular Celtics never seem to have them; instead of knocking someone down with a haymaker, they just throw a ton of punches and hope the sheer volume will take the scorecards. If they were a boxer, they'd be Joe Calzaghe and not Kelly Pavlik. It's a little unorthodox, and it takes some time to get used to, but ultimately you get used to it. That's just who they are.

Of course, they're nothing without Paul Pierce. He's the most clutch guy on the team, its best all-around player and one of its two emotional leaders, as well as the one current Celtic who belongs to the fans and bridges Before and After, the guy who survived Rick Pitino, Chris Wallace, Vin Baker, Ricky Davis, Theo Ratliff's Expiring Contract and everything else. For Pierce to get knocked out of this series within three quarters -- the guy who understands the L.A.-Boston thing better than anyone, the truest of true Celtics, the guy who sacrificed the most to get here and appreciates what's happening the most -- would have been an especially cruel turn of events.

Maybe that's why, as everyone was leaving the Whatever The Hell The Garden Is Called on Thursday night, there wasn't the usual sense of jubilation after a Finals win. You could feel the collective relief emanating from the exit tunnels, a few scattered whoops, some murmuring and that was that. Pierce was OK. The Finals hadn't fallen apart before it even really started. We had survived the Horrible Sound and lived to fight another day. Time to exhale and keep breathing.

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. For every Simmons column, as well as podcasts, videos, favorite links and more, check out the revamped Sports Guy's World.

duke dynamite
06-06-2008, 02:32 PM
Double post?

06-06-2008, 04:28 PM
The diss on Pauley Shore is funny.

06-06-2008, 08:44 PM
Let's see how healthy Paul is on Sunday evening before we declare the series OK or DOA.

06-06-2008, 09:46 PM
Well, at least this series is streatched out long enough to get him healthy. After the sprint last round this one is dragging. Why couldn't it be 2-2-1-1-1 if there is this much time between games?

06-06-2008, 11:10 PM
Well, at least this series is streatched out long enough to get him healthy. After the sprint last round this one is dragging. Why couldn't it be 2-2-1-1-1 if there is this much time between games?

There has always been an extra day between NBA Finals games either between Thursday and Sunday (CBS or ABC) or between Sunday and Wednesday (NBC). This series is no different than any of the other Finals series

Trader Joe
06-06-2008, 11:38 PM
They should have done Game 1 Friday, 2 on Sunday, 3 on Wednesday, 4 on Friday, 5 on Sunday, 6 on Wednesday, 7 on Friday.

06-07-2008, 12:16 AM
Good read. I didn't really catch the game but only the box score and reading the article seemed to give me a good idea about what happened in the game.

Why can't Indy have a writer like Simmons write for them about the Pacers?

06-07-2008, 12:17 AM
Why can't Indy have a writer like Simmons write for them about the Pacers?

We have :kravitz:

06-07-2008, 03:36 AM
I guess Bill has been holding this in for about 10+ years... :laugh:

Good article...

06-07-2008, 09:59 AM
They should have done Game 1 Friday, 2 on Sunday, 3 on Wednesday, 4 on Friday, 5 on Sunday, 6 on Wednesday, 7 on Friday.

Yes. It's ridiculous that they say they need to go 2-3-2 to accommodate the media, yet they have the two days off in city and one day off for travel.

06-07-2008, 10:08 AM
They should have done Game 1 Friday, 2 on Sunday, 3 on Wednesday, 4 on Friday, 5 on Sunday, 6 on Wednesday, 7 on Friday.

Friday night games get lower ratings than any other night of the week besdies Saturday. But it does make sense to travel when there are two of days between games

06-07-2008, 10:10 AM
"Since this had been such an impossibly tough ticket, the happy-to-be-there factor was through the roof. For season-ticket holders who shelled out sizable checks annually for a never-ending edition of crappy teams -- like my father, for instance -- you could see the vindication in their eyes. This is why I kept my tickets. For everyone working for the Celtics since the unfathomably cold, clumsy and impersonal Paul Gaston era -- like my buddy Sully, for instance -- you could see the relief in their eyes. This is why I kept working for them. For the fans who kept supporting the Celtics from Reggie Lewis' death through the reprehensible tank job last season -- a 14-year stretch that had fewer highlights than Pauly Shore's IMDB.com profile page -- you could see the collective twinkle in their eyes. This is why I kept watching."

That part really stood out to me. Our time will come again.

06-08-2008, 09:56 PM
Some of you guys will complain about anything.

The longer the season goes on, the better, IMO. In fact, I wish they played one game every three weeks so that a seven-game Finals would be wrapping up just as pre-season is starting back up.

06-09-2008, 12:52 PM
This is a little interesting.

Stern says Auerbach helped come up with 2-3-2 Finals format

Associated Press


06-09-2008, 01:35 PM
OK, here is game 2


C's and the city: Both looking very good

By Bill Simmons
Page 2

BOSTON -- For all intent and purpose, the Celtics played a perfect Game 2. They shot 53 percent from the field and made nine of 14 3-pointers. They had 31 assists on 36 field goals. They outrebounded the Lakers and shot a whopping 28 more free throws. They were given an ongoing boost by favorable officiating (that's an understatement) and a lively, joyous crowd that brought back memories of the old Garden and the Bird era. They even submitted an Exclamation Point sequence that stretched through the end of the third quarter to the beginning of the fourth, when their lead swelled into the 20s and everyone started thinking, "Holy crap, these guys might not even come back for a Game 6."

So you can understand our confusion. Within something like 15 seconds, Boston's 24-point lead was whittled down to … (clearing my throat) … (slapping myself in the face a couple of times) … (peeing a little bit in my pants) … two.

I wish I could explain what happened, but L.A.'s comeback defied explanation. The Celtics relaxed, the Lakers made a couple 3s, the Celtics missed a couple shots, Kobe shifted into 17th gear, the Lakers made a couple more 3s, and somewhere during this stretch, everyone went into "Oh no!" mode and my buddy Hench texted me, "Will this be the worst loss in Boston sports history?" (Yes, actually. And NBA history. And sports history.) Once Kobe willed himself to the line for two freebies with 38 seconds left, the Celtics were suddenly leading 104-102 with 38.7 seconds left, and my frozen father was only missing a coffin and a touch-up makeup job from a mortician.

That's when Paul Pierce (28 points, eight assists) saved us, barreling to the basket with one of his patented old-school, herky-jerky, zig-zag drives, drawing a foul and nailing both free throws with 22 seconds left. The Lakers called timeout and set up a new play called "Let'shandbostonthegame," ignoring Kobe in lieu of an unspeakably atrocious Sasha Vujacic 3-pointer that Pierce blocked with his left hand. Game over. Even when the buzzer sounded and Gino started dancing, the fans filed out of the Whatever The Hell The Garden's Called Now the same way somebody would leave a police station after they had been falsely imprisoned for a few hours -- happy to be out, but racking their brains trying to figure out what just happened.

I was more relieved than anyone. Why? Because the two Lakers fans sitting to my left apparently had this conversation in California on Friday night.

Fan No. 1: "Dude, I got us tickets for Round 2. Wanna fly to Boston with me?"

Fan No. 2: "Dude, I'm in!"

Fan No. 1: "Let's wear Kobe jerseys, get drunk during the game, argue with people in our section and see if somebody will take a swing at us."

Fan No. 2: "Dude, I said I'm in. You bringing your designer man-purse?"

Fan No. 1: "Absolutely! Are you going to trim your beard so you look like Crockett during the first season of 'Miami Vice'?"

Fan No. 2: "You betcha!"

Look, every fan base has a worst-case scenario stereotype -- for Boston fans, it's someone with a shortened Irish name (Murph, Sully or Fitzy) who looks like a 295-pound Mike O'Malley, only with a shaved head, a comically ridiculous Baaaaa-stan accent, a T-shirt that's two sizes too small and a blood-alcohol level of 0.27 at all times. Few Boston fans are actually like that, just like few Lakers fans resemble the guys sitting next to me Sunday night. I'm just telling you, what would have been the worst collapse in Finals history nearly happened as I sat next to two drunken douche bags in Kobe jerseys, one with a man purse (the exact same color of my mother's Louis Vuitton purse, by the way), the other with a Crockett beard. I feel like you need to know these things.

(Here's an idea before Game 6, should it happen: The Celtics send out a news release that, if they see anyone sitting in a season-ticket seat for Games 6 or 7 wearing a Lakers jersey, a Lakers T-shirt or a Lakers hat, then the person who owns those season tickets will lose them next season. Period. End of story. It's not technically legal, but then again, a franchise should have the right to control who owns their season tickets, right? I like this idea.)

The Truth answered any questions about his knee in Game 2.
>Fortunately, there weren't that many Lakers fans in the crowd, nor were there many suits or pseudo-fans. This was a different crowd from Game 1 -- almost entirely Boston diehards, all of them wearing green or white -- which pushed the atmosphere to old-school Garden heights and unquestionably affected the officiating. There were also an unfathomable number of current Boston stars and former stars spread throughout the building, including Bill Russell, Doug Flutie, Curt Schilling, John Havlicek, David Ortiz, Kevin Millar, Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett, Wes Welker, Vince Wilfork, Adalius Thomas, Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, Coco Crisp, Antoine Walker, Cedric Maxwell, Jon Lester, the Red Sox owners (John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino), Tim Wakefield, Jacoby Ellsbury, Tedy Bruschi, Jo-Jo White, Ty Law, M.L. Carr, Tommy Heinsohn and many more.

For God's sake, look at that list again. It's like the Ghosts of Boston Sports Past and Present. That's a phenomenon unique to this particular city -- an unusually high level of fraternizing between the Red Sox, Celtics and Patriots that started a few years ago and eventually reached the point that players show up to support the other teams. Basically, the Boston sports scene has turned into a giant college campus.

So how did that happen? After decades of universally impersonal/enigmatic/unfriendly/anonymous/loathsome Boston sports owners who failed to mine a ravenous sports market, things turned when the Krafts bought the Patriots and proved that a local family could own a Boston-area franchise, interact with the community, listen to fans, build a state-of-the-art stadium and legitimately give a hoot about making everyone happy. A few years later, the Henry/Werner/Lucchino group purchased the Red Sox and shrewdly turned a notoriously fan-unfriendly franchise around, renovating (and even re-inventing) Fenway Park and maximizing every potential penny from that franchise. That was quickly followed by the new Celtics ownership (Wyc Grousbeck, Steve Pagliuca and their minority partners) making a concerted effort to get involved with the community, build relationships with sponsors and heavy hitters and everything else.

Now the three relevant Boston franchises seem like mirror images of each other. They're all winning. They're raking in cash and increasing the value of their respective teams to the point that it's almost absurd. They hired intelligent, successful, innovative executives who keep pushing their teams forward. They have owners who are visible and accountable, owners who proved they will spend the requisite amount of money (and then some) to field winning teams. Beyond that, the top executives for all three franchises know one another, lean on each other for advice and hit up each other for favors; it's a working relationship in the best sense, and it's the kind of thing that just didn't happen 10 years ago. Team A and Team B are always pulling for Team C. Anyway, that's how you end up with a legitimate renaissance for Boston sports, as well as 40-50 stars and former stars at Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

Digging a little deeper, the revival of the Celtics, Red Sox and Patriots mirrors something that's happening to Boston as a whole. Quite simply, the city that I left behind in 2002 doesn't exist anymore.

Once upon a time, Boston was a pretty easy place to understand. Things never changed and, more importantly, we liked it that things never changed. Life revolved around the weather cycles (often brutal), the sports teams (often disappointing) and those occasionally fabulous days in April or October when the sun was shining and there wasn't a prettier place to be. We dealt with traffic, snow, construction, parking problems and sports letdowns year after year, and that's just who we were. Everything was symbolized by the Big Dig, a project that promised to rejuvenate the city and put our highways underground, only it fell years behind schedule and bled billions in cost overruns, rendering Boston impotent for a number of years. I graduated from college in '92 and spent the next decade living in the city (mostly in Charlestown) dealing with jackhammers and detours the entire time. After a while, you stopped thinking about it and assumed that's the way the city would always be -- mangled, ugly and messed up. Nobody could conceive of life after the Big Dig. It just seemed incomprehensible.

Well, the project finally ended two years ago. Remember the reality show "The Swan," in which someone gets an extreme makeover and tons of plastic surgery and family members stare at him or her in complete disbelief? That's how I feel every time I come back to Boston. If there was a defining trait for the Causeway area other than the old Garden, it was the Green Line, which ran above ground (you might recall seeing the shot of the train rumbling toward the Garden before every Celtics game) and right over Causeway Street. Scattered around the area were a number of bars, including some classic ones (Harp, Sullivan's Tap, Four's) and a never-ending group of bars in static locations that always seemed to change names every 18 months. On paper, this seems kind of cool. In reality, it meant the tracks hung over the street, blocked every inch of sunlight and dripped smelly water every time it rained or snowed, and on top of that, you had to hear the deafening screech of the train rumbling by every few minutes.

Even though they're down 0-2, the Black Mamba is far from finished.
Here's why I'm telling you this: The Causeway of 2008 has zero in common with the Causeway of 1998. Once the construction was finished, you could have blindfolded me, spun me around a few times, dropped me in the middle of Causeway and asked me where I was, and I wouldn't have had a clue until I noticed the Harp or Halftime Pizza, and even then, I would have been confused. You wouldn't call the area beautiful or anything, but it's sunny and happy, and in an implausible twist, you can stand at the old North Station stop -- flanked by a ghastly and unsafe I-93 ramp once upon a time -- turn toward Faneuil Hall and actually see Faneuil Hall from a distance. What was once highway ramps, bridges, "T" tracks and construction has been replaced by grass and sidewalks. "Incredible" isn't a strong enough word. In fact, you could walk from Quincy Market to the North End to Causeway Street to the Red Hat to the top of Charles Street and (A) remain in the sun for the entire time and (B) actually enjoy the trip without feeling you might get mugged.

It's just a different city. The Baby Boomer generation keeps drifting from the suburbs into Back Bay, the South End, the North End or Beacon Hill, leading to a peculiar situation in which real estate prices keep climbing in a market in which prices are swooning everywhere else. And thanks to relaxed tax laws, Hollywood has descended on downtown in droves; instead of nonstop construction, you're more prone to see trailers, lights and policemen blocking off a brownstone or a building. On Friday night, I went to pick up my friend Willy at his place on Commonwealth Avenue; across the street, something was happening but I couldn't figure out what.

"That's where they're filming the new Bruce Willis movie," Willy said matter-of-factly.


Living here from day to day, it's probably tougher to realize how much Boston has changed -- how many nice restaurants, clubs and bars are scattered throughout the city, how much easier it is to get around, how much happier and efficient and sleeker things seem -- but it's something I couldn't stop wrapping my head around for six days, from the moment I arrived at Logan Airport (no longer a travesty of a dump, by the way) and found myself in one of those secret handshake tunnels that cab drivers use now to get from Logan into the city. Crazy. The whole thing is crazy.

The dramatic shift in fortunes is symbolized by one piece of turf in Beacon Hill, right next to the Storrow Drive West ramp, about a block from the top of Charles Street, formerly the home of Buzzy's Roast Beef. For the uninitiated, Buzzy's was the 24-hour place you went after a night of drinking for some unhealthy food; if you were lucky, you might run into a couple of girls there and strike up a conversation, only there was nowhere to go because the bars closed at 2 a.m., and besides, both parties were covered in cheese and barbecue sauce, so nothing would have happened, anyway. It was located right next to the Charles Street jail and Mass General Hospital, in a stretch of Beacon Hill that always seemed to have stabbings and muggings. As the old adage went, it was OK to stumble out of the Beacon Hill Pub and walk straight to Buzzy's, as long as you never took a right.

Where's Buzzy's now? It's in Roast Beef Heaven. The jail has been turned into a boutique hotel called The Liberty that happens to have the hottest bar in town, a place called Alibi that's unlike any Boston scene I can remember. There's a doorman, valets, celebrities, $12 drinks and dressed-up women hoping to hook up with rich guys, as well as an extensive line just to get into the hotel to drink upstairs in the Bar That Nobody Really Wants To Be At Because They'd Rather Be At Alibi. Back in the mid-1990s, the hottest place on Wednesday nights was the Warren Tavern in Charlestown -- a relatively dark pub that didn't have one cool thing about it other than that it was built in the 1780s and Paul Revere allegedly drank there. People waited in line for 25-30 minutes just to get inside a hot room to order some draft beer in the same place that Paul Revere allegedly ordered a draft beer. And not to sound like a grumpy old man, but we LOVED IT! Back in 1995, had you shown me a clip of the Liberty Hotel's bar scene 13 years later, I would have kept shaking my head and saying, "No, no, no way … it's impossible … not in Boston … no way …"

Of course, I would have said the same thing about anotherLakers-Celtics Finals. Leading by two games, needing only two more victories to clinch a 17th banner, the Celtics took the same things that worked for them in Game 1 (energy, rebounding, home court, some timely 3s) and pushed it to another level. For three quarters, the team peaked as the Lakers seemed frazzled by lopsided officiating and each other. During the first quarter, there was one sequence when Kobe threw a bullet pass through Gasol's hands for a turnover, then shot Gasol one of his patented Michael Corleone, "You disappointed me, don't be surprised if I have you killed later" glares, only Gasol fired right back and told Kobe that he should have thrown a bounce pass, followed by Kobe staring at Gasol intently and trying to make Gasol's head actually explode on the court.

Yeah, maybe it was a minor moment, and maybe these things happen during a basketball game. But it symbolized what happened with the Lakers in these first two games; they looked rattled, they couldn't get calls, they couldn't protect the rim, they couldn't keep Boston off the boards, they shot way too many jumpers and 3-pointers, and on defense they seemed one step behind except for the fourth quarter in both games. For Game 2, they had a valid excuse … an unspeakable 38-10 free-throw disparity that I won't even attempt to defend. At one point, my dad pointed to referee Bob Delaney, who was practically wearing a Celtics jersey and joked, "I like that guy. I want him for every game!"

If you're a Lakers fan, take solace in the fact you'll get every call at the Staples Center if the crowd shows up; not only do these things have a way of coming around, but if Bennett Salvatore doesn't officiate Game 3, it will be the biggest sports upset of this century. Still, the Lakers shouldn't be pardoned for never driving to the basket and failing to play with enough intensity on the defensive end. Yeah, the calls were one-sided, but you can't expect to get calls when you're reaching in from behind, trying to strip guys after they beat you and trying to block shots after your guy already grabbed an offensive rebound and he's standing between you and the basket. For the first seven quarters of the series, honestly, I can't think of a single thing the Lakers did well.

When they started playing with desperation in the fourth quarter, pressured the ball full-court and bombed 3s in a wild small-ball attack, you could see the lightbulb flickering over their heads. Hmmmmm, maybe that's how we should have played this whole series. In particular, Kobe pushed himself to remarkable heights, flying around the court like Lawrence Taylor after an 8-ball, a force of nature covering chunks of the court at once. What an incredible athlete to watch in person. You can't say enough about it. Had Kobe brought that frenzied intensity to the rest of the series, the Lakers would have won at least one of the games. He didn't.

As for the Celtics, they're peaking at the perfect time, submitting some really good stretches in the Detroit series and hitting new heights Sunday. I'm starting to wonder if they simply got rusty after they clinched home court, lost their way a little bit, battled some severe confidence issues in the Atlanta and Cleveland series and ultimately found their way again. These things can happen with an inexperienced team, even a team with this many veterans. When you think about it, none of their key characters could be considered "playoff experienced" except for Pierce (and even that's dubious), and they have a coach who has been learning as he goes along.

For all the grief that Doc Rivers has taken (and yes, I'm one of the grief-givers), he has gotten better throughout the playoffs. Other than the ongoing House/Cassell tragedy (don't get me started), I haven't disagreed with anything Rivers did in the Lakers or Pistons series except for burying Leon Powe against Detroit, which was inexplicable at the time and seems twice as perplexing after what happened Sunday night (21 points, two roof-shaking dunks). I thought Rivers coached the best game of his career in Game 2, calling timeouts at the right times, shortening his rotation, making the right adjustments and even keeping an on-fire Rajon Rondo (16 assists) in the game for the entire second half. I didn't disagree with a single move, except for playing Cassell, who is obviously blackmailing him, so we'll let it slide. As I've written in the past, I'm a big believer in "getting reps" in life, whether it's speaking in public, driving a race car, performing in a porn movie, coaching a basketball team or whatever. Maybe Doc just needed to get some playoff reps in. I keep telling myself this.

Regardless, the Celtics are heading to Los Angeles with a 2-0 lead, a healthy team and a coach who has figured out how to not be a liability. Life is good. I'd feel more confident if Kobe wasn't playing for the other team. Even Sunday night, with the Lakers trailing by 20 and showing less chemistry than John Travolta and Kelly Preston, Kobe remained terrifying and I specifically remember glancing at the Jumbotron every so often and hoping the clock would move faster. As the series continues to unfold, he remains the most intriguing person in it, pressing for the first seven quarters but dominating the eighth. He's not going down without a fight, nor do we expect anything less.

But even Kobe can't stop the sun from shining in Boston today. Everyone is wandering around a rejuvenated city with hoarse voices, talking about the game and trying to figure out what will happen in Game 3. There is nowhere I would rather be. The Celtics are back.

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. For every Simmons column, as well as podcasts, videos, favorite links and more, check out the revamped Sports Guy's World.

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06-09-2008, 02:56 PM
If the Celtics end up winning the series the worst thing will not be the fact that Reggie was almost on the team, it will be the fact that Sports Guy will be happy. (I can't stand that guy!)

06-09-2008, 05:39 PM
No doubt. I can't stand him either.

06-09-2008, 09:59 PM
If the Celtics end up winning the series the worst thing will not be the fact that Reggie was almost on the team, it will be the fact that Sports Guy will be happy. (I can't stand that guy!)

If it makes you feel better, a couple months ago he was asked something along the lines of, "If the Celtics win the title, will it make up for the Patriots losing in the Super Bowl?" His response was an emphatic no. I found that surprising, since he's always been a bigger basketball fan, but that's how much he got caught up in 19-0.

06-09-2008, 10:59 PM
Wow, I normally like his articles, but his last one was simply too much of a Boston lovefest. I had to take a break while reading it to keep my sanity.

06-09-2008, 11:55 PM
I can't say I enjoyed game 2. It was one the worst officiated games I've seen in years. I've seen harder fouls in the WNBA and the ladies don't complain. I really don't care who wins the finals , so I'm far from bias. I do however want to see a good series and if you wanna let one team get away with fouls , then stop calling the little girl fouls. Let them play for pete's sake.

06-10-2008, 02:42 AM
If the Celtics were to go up 3-0 and then lose in 7, some people in Boston would seriously have to be put on suicide watch. The biggest upset in NBA history to go with the biggest upset in NFL history, in the same season no less, would be too much for some fans to take.

06-10-2008, 08:16 AM
^ As much as that would be awesome to **** off Simmons, my dislike of the Lakers trumps any desire for that to happen.

06-10-2008, 10:58 AM
Simmons is an unabashed Boston homer but I love his articles.

The fact that we knew these articles were going to be a Boston love-in and we still read them anyway, proves the guy is an entertaining sports writer.

06-10-2008, 01:29 PM
If the Celtics were to go up 3-0 and then lose in 7, some people in Boston would seriously have to be put on suicide watch. The biggest upset in NBA history to go with the biggest upset in NFL history, in the same season no less, would be too much for some fans to take.

I'll have to keep this in mind if the Lakers somehow manage to win. I won't like it, but knowing that Sports Guy is miserable will ease my pain.