NBA

Celtics, Spurs play the right way

Shaquille O'Neal #36 of the Boston Celtics waits for the play with Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs
Duncan and Shaq in the Finals? Bring it on!
FOX Sports MITCH LAWRENCE
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NEW YORK

With all due respect to David Stern, Pat Riley, Miami’s Big Three, Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson, everybody at ABC and the millions of NBA fans who are dying to see a Miami Heat-L.A. Lakers Finals, we’ve got a better championship series waiting for you in June.

Boston-San Antonio.

That’s right, Celtics versus Spurs.

What’s that, if you’re forced to watch those two teams, you won’t need Sominex to help you get some sleep?

Are they worthy?

The fans got most of their All-Star picks right. But they missed a few.

Sure, Boston-San Antonio wouldn’t have the glitz or glamour of a Lakers-Heat Finals and the first-ever June showdown between Kobe and LeBron. We have to admit, we’re rooting for that matchup because we’d like to see at least one Finals pitting the game’s top two players. As far as sheer entertainment goes, who wouldn’t want to see Lakers-Heat, especially with a lockout looming only a few weeks after they put the balls away for the season?

So we understand, a series putting the Celtics’ Big Three against the Spurs’ Big Three would not have the sizzle of a Heat-Laker series or the astronomical TV ratings.

But if the two teams currently leading the East and West — and who, incidentally, are showing no signs of letting up — were to meet in June, it would bring a smile to the faces of all the basketball junkies who aren’t carried away by the drama and daily soap operas surrounding the Lakers and Heat.

Who isn’t sick of the Heat by now? If you’re tired of Phil Jackson winning rings, who wouldn’t want to see him denied a fourth three-peat as he heads off into the sunset?

Yes, the NBA would lose the casual fan if Boston plays San Antonio. We can live with that. But there would still be lots of fans who appreciate the unselfish team concept of Boston and San Antonio, along with their strong defensive play, who would love to see these two franchises in their first-ever Finals showdown.

Compared to L.A. and Miami, the Celtics and Spurs don’t have any of the top superstars in the sport. At this stage, there isn’t even one player from Boston or San Antonio who would even crack the list of top 10 players in the league. Yet, there would be plenty of star power to give us one of the best Finals in recent years.

Above all, the team would be the star, rather than the individual. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?

POLL

  • Which of these Finals matchups would you most like to watch?
    • Celtics-Spurs
    • Heat-Lakers
    • Celtics-Lakers
    • Heat-Spurs

But here’s what Boston-San Antonio would give us: A series pitting two grizzled future Hall of Famers in Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan. That matchup wouldn’t bore anybody. How about Rajon Rondo, the NBA’s top assist man and perhaps its best playmaker, running the floor against Tony Parker? Not shabby. Sure, these are two teams that don’t have anyone ranked in the top 20 in scoring. But does anyone think that there wouldn’t be any offense, at all, if Paul Pierce and Manu Ginobili are on the floor? Throw in Ray Allen’s 3-point shooting and perhaps the last Finals fling for Shaquille O’Neal, along with Gregg Popovich’s quest for a fifth ring, while trying to deny Doc Rivers his second bling.

Guaranteed, Boston-San Antonio could get a little nasty, too. Anytime Garnett is on the floor, you better watch out for stray elbows and backhands to your groin, as Phoenix’s Channing Frye recently discovered. The Big Ticket makes the NBA’s No. 1 defense go. Bruce Bowen might be gone, but he didn’t exactly take all of the Spurs’ toughness with him. Duncan and his mates still know a thing or two about knowing what it takes to win.

“When I look at Boston and San Antonio, I see age, wisdom and experience,’’ said Allan Houston, the former Knick who now is a team executive. “They both have great balance. They both come at you with size and shooting and defense and skill. You look at their lineups and they don’t have a lot of weaknesses.’’

Not that anyone talks about them, though.

“We have a young league and it’s great,’’ Houston noted. “But sometimes the older guys get overlooked.’’

Before you think you’d be stuck watching a re-run of San Antonio-Detroit from 2005, when TV ratings went through the floor, remember that the Spurs have reinvented themselves this season at the offensive end. No longer a team that just throws the ball into Duncan in the post and grinds its way to 98 points a night, as they did the last time they won the title, in 2007, the Spurs can push the pace with the best teams. Playing a lot less inside-out basketball than they ever did when they won four titles from 1999-07, they’re averaging 104 ppg. That’s just four points off Denver’s league-leading average.

Midseason awards

The NBA doesn't hand out any honors at the halfway point of the season. That doesn't stop us.

Now, is that how the Spurs expect to get Duncan a fifth ring, which would pull him into a tie with Bryant and further solidify his standing as one of the all-time greats? Of course not.

Back when the Spurs were going through their only rough stretch, in late December, Popovich gathered the troops and reminded them how championships are won.

“As I told them, if we wanted to win 45 or 50 games or 55 games and then plan our summer, then we could carry on the way we were,’’ he said. “But if we wanted to have a chance to play with the big boys and be the last team standing, we really had to make a better effort defensively. They decided to do that. We’ll see if it continues or if it’s a blip on the screen.’’

The Spurs have certainly not been a blip on the screen. They’ve been the surprise of the league, starting February still on pace to win 70 games. While the Heat have garnered all the headlines, Boston remains the class of the East, as the Lakers found out last Sunday.

So Boston-San Antonio for all the marbles?

If Kobe and LeBron aren’t going to cooperate, we’ll sign for it right now.

Tagged: Celtics, Lakers, Spurs, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan

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