What can you say?
You can make an argument, I suppose, for the 2002 comeback against the Nets, maintaining the somewhat valid point that overcoming a 24-point lead in the fourth quarter supersedes taking more than a half to do so.
But based on everything that this game stood for in the NBA Finals, broadcast to a riveted audience across America, the Celtics pulled off a 97-91 comeback win over the Lakers that will be described by those who saw it 10, 20, 25 years from now as probably the best NBA game they have ever watched.
And it was only Celtics-Lakers.
We could shout more conspiracy theory that on the doorstep of an NBA scandal the league delivered enough of a classic to make us put Tim Donaghy away in our sports consciousness drawer for a while, but it’s not worth it. Giddiness reigns in Boston today. The Celtics are going to win the NBA Championship. Maybe Sunday. Maybe Tuesday (imagine the pregame hype for banner No. 17 on the 17th). But oh, it’s going to happen all right.
Before you start retorting with remarks of jinxes and cockiness, ask yourself in honest fashion whether the team that got all the calls Tuesday night and still managed to win by six and then blew an NBA Finals game in historic fashion last night has any chance of winning Games 6 or 7 at the Garden, where the Celtics have lost once this postseason. Any?
Aside from dreadful starts Tuesday in Game 3 and a jaw-dropping, drool-your-Guinness-onto-the-hardwood ineptness in the opening minutes of Game 4, who is rationally going to argue that the Lakers are the better team? As much as we’re wont to criticize Paul Pierce’s decision-making from time to time, the captain followed up his six-point stinker with a 20-point effort that will go down in the annals of Celtics history. Mix that in with Game 1 of this series, Game 7 against the Cavaliers, and sure, the ’02 comeback against the Nets, and suddenly you don’t sound stupid mentioning him in the same breath as a certain Indiana kid. What’s the dif, a title or two?
Just wait a few days.
I watched the game last night in a Harvard Square pub, where one of my party spent much of the pregame espousing how much he liked James Posey’s game, which is fine, if not a little reminiscent of Ted Williams trying to tell folks that Damon Buford was the best hitter on the '99 Sox. Posey then went and pushed in 18, in a Poweian effort that everybody in the establishment appreciated aside from the pair of Lakers fans that incidentally arrived sometime in the third quarter. They sat in the rear and made their presence known with "Kobe" chants, getting a head start on Bryant’s apparent bender in preparation for Game 5.
An hour later -- right around the time of Ray Allen’s nasty move to the hoop -- the blank stares on their faces made me only imagine how Lakers fans in So. Cal. could take this loss any other way than a complete collapse that cost them the championship. How do you in any way try to rationalize what happened last night from a Laker perspective? LA gave its best shot, was thisclose to making it a series again, tying this affair up 2-2, and then ... I guess the best word to sum everything up is, kaplooey.
Here’s how they’re taking last night on the Left Coast:
LA Times: Loss is hard to swallow
Daily Breeze: Hard loss for Lakers to digest
Orange County Register: Lakers trashed second half and hopes
LA Daily News: Lakers dream beginning ends up a nightmare
In that last publication appears a piece by Kevin Modesti from earlier this month in which he tries to argue that the Celtics-Lakers rivalry has hit a generation gap, that the closest thing to a "winner" on the Celtics is (ahem) Sam Cassell, and that they don’t inspire fear and loathing. "Take away the shamrocks, you've got the Orlando Magic," he writes.
Think the man wants a re-do?
For all the clips, highlights, stories, and retrospectives we heard and saw in the week leading up to this matchup, it’s safe to say that last night was the defining moment for a new generation in this rivalry. This was the bridge, the game that the young guns can have as their "Steal by Bird," their "Havlicek stole the ball," their "McHale takes down Rambis."
No longer does anyone 21 and younger have to endure Celtics stories of yore. This was arguably the most entertaining basketball game that we will ever see in the pros. And not only did it come in the NBA Finals, it was Celtics-Lakers. This happens last year with the Spurs and Cavs, and this morning we’re talking about the end of Julio Lugo’s RBI drought.
On the biggest stage the game has, the Celtics stepped up and proved that they’re the best team in the NBA by purely embarrassing the home team Lakers, the media darling heading into this series. They’ve put an end to any more Kobe-Jordan talk for at least one more year. They’ve prevented Phil Jackson from overtaking Red Auerbach. And last night, they pushed the best rivalry in league history to a new level with a comeback that showed determination in a way that rivals every other banner that hangs in the rafters.
They are one win away thanks to a monumental comeback in Los Angeles. It wasn’t just one of the best games in Celtics history, it was one of the best games in Boston history, one that we’ll talk about for 20 years, the same way as we do those Bird-Magic affairs.
"In my day…" tales of the NBA just got updated to yesterday. Game 4 was one to remember, to cherish, and pass down to the next generation, who can only dream of ever witnessing anything as entertaining as we were privy to last night.