It's the middle of August. Not much happening at this stage of the calendar, NBA-wise. Those of us who cover the league should have the luxury of kicking our dogs up, cracking wise about Pau Gasol and Cristiano Ronaldo and generally living a stress-free life. August is our down time, man! Can we all agree this isn't too much to ask?
Well, today my pursuit of genteel leisure has been rudely shattered by Doc Rivers. In an interview on ESPN 980 in Washington, D.C., the Celtics coach dropped what might be the most buffoonish statement so far in an offseason littered with buffoonishness. Let's go to the transcript.
They [the Lakers] still have not beaten our starting five. Our starting five against the Lakers' starting five has a ring. . . . We will be back strong and Perk [Kendrick Perkins] will be there next year if there's a Game Seven.
OK, deep breath. This was just an off-the-cuff remark on some sports radio gab show in the depths of the offseason. As such, it should be taken less seriously than just about any other sequence of words in the English language.
But... come on, Doc. If you're going to say something stupid, did it also have to be so inflammatory and grotesquely ill informed? One needn't be a Laker fan to be enraged by this. One need only possess a respect for historical accuracy and a memory that stretches back three whole years.
What Doc's referring to, for anyone whose recollection has faded, is the injury suffered by Kendrick Perkins in last June's NBA Finals. After playing only seven minutes in Game Six, Perk landed awkwardly under the basket, ripped up an ACL and missed the rest of that game and all of Game Seven. The Lakers won both contests and the championship.
Doc's statements reflect an effort, however spontaneous and casual, to delegitimize that title. He's saying, "If we'd been fully healthy, we'd have won the series. Just like what happened in 2008!" There are all sorts of things with this argument.
First, the NBA Finals have never once been played with both teams at full health. This isn't NBA Live, and you can't just disable injuries in the settings menu. Over a long season, players get dinged. Limbs grow tired. Ligaments get frayed and sometimes torn. What often separates champions from also-rans is depth. Great teams build benches that permit them to survive injuries to key players. In other words, Doc: if Kendrick Perkins is so damn crucial, maybe don't rely on Rasheed Freakin' Wallace to back him up.
Second, it's not like the Lakers themselves were 100% fit during last year's Finals. Not even close. Andrew Bynum was lugging his frame around on a strained Achilles that left him severely limited. Kobe Bryant was playing with a broken right index finger and an injured knee that would require offseason surgery. Lamar Odom was fighting through a bum shoulder. We'd all have preferred that both the Celtics and Lakers be at full strength in the final showdown, but that's not the way it works. Come June, everyone's got problems.
Third, "our starting five against the Lakers' starting five has a ring"? Um, no. They very much do not. In 2008, Bynum missed the entire postseason due to injury. Trevor Ariza, moreover, could play a grand total of 35 minutes in the Finals, forcing Phil Jackson to hand the small-forward position to Vladimir Radmanovic and Luke Walton. As handicaps go, these are far more onerous than what befell Perk, who despite his injury logged over 140 minutes in the 2010 Finals.
Again, that's the way it goes. At all times over the course of the season, but especially at the bitter end, you go to war with the army you've got, not the army you wish you had. It's always been thus, and Doc should leave it that way. Because if he wants to use injuries as a pretext for slapping asterisks on recent NBA titles, the line starts in 2008, not 2010.
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