By Steve Silverman
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There is plenty that is dysfunctional about the Miami Heat.
That’s no surprise to those who watched this talented team fail in last year’s NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks and struggle against an ancient Boston Celtics team that is almost certainly on its last legs.
But while much of the national attention is on LeBron James and his inability to assert himself in the game’s final moments, Dwyane Wade’s up-and-down play and head coach Erik Spoelstra’s incompetence, the aging warriors from Boston are wringing every bit of talent they have and finding a way to win games. Can the Celtics actually eliminate the Heat in Game 6 at the Boston Garden or in Game 7 if they fail at home? That’s still to be determined. However, the team play exhibited by the Celtics is something that Mike Woodson and Carmelo Anthony should take a lesson from as they look to the 2012-13 season.
The Celtics have been putting the team concept to use long before Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen got together with Paul Pierce and added Rajon Rondo to the mix. As great as the Larry Bird, Kevin McHale Robert “Chief Parrish were together, it was the team concept that allowed them to win championships. Go back to the group that included Dave Cowens, John Havlicek and JoJo White and team play allowed them to beat the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns in the title rounds. The concept was first put into practice by the Bill Russell Celtics that dominated the end of the 1950s and the 1960s.
But while the Celtics have the numbers when it comes to championships, the Knicks two championship teams were as much about the concept of team play as any of the best Celtics teams. It’s hard not to think about the great Knicks squads that included Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Willis Reed and Bill Bradley. The first title group in 1970 had Dick Barnett in the backcourt with Frazier while the second championship team in 1973 had the sensational Earl Monroe.
When the Knicks acquired Monroe from the Baltimore Bullets – now known as the Washington Wizards – it was a very controversial move because Monroe was a dominant scorer who needed to have the ball in his hands. It seemed like the conflict between Frazier and Monroe would tear the Knicks apart and that the move would be disastrous.
That theory had plenty of traction – until the two got on the court together and formed one of the NBA’s most sensational backcourt partnerships. The Knicks were probably at a major talent disadvantage compared to the Los Angeles Lakers team they played in the Finals that had Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich, but they whipped them thoroughly in five games.
The athletes playing nearly 40 years later are almost certainly much more accomplished than those heroes of the early 1970s. However, the old Knicks won because they incorporated team concepts for 48 minutes. When the Celtics execute in the final minutes and Garnett gets a layup or Pierce hits a 3-pointer with the clock winding down, it’s because they have executed the way Red Holzman’s Knicks teams used to do down the stretch.
Miami has no team concept. James stands off to the side and Wade tries to use his athleticism to make something happen. It often works in the regular season or against lesser opponents. Against a confident team like Boston, they are struggling and may fail before they get a chance to play in The Finals.
It’s a lesson the old Knicks knew well. It’s a lesson you hope Woodson and his charges are taking note of and will put into play next year.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy).
Are you buying into the concept of team basketball, or should it be the Carmelo show at MSG? Be heard in the comments below…