Whenever I come back to Boston, I think about all the battles I’ve had over the years with Celtics teams. I feel fortunate to have been one of many in the cast of characters who participated in the Celtics vs. Lakers drama that will live out in basketball history forever.
Boston was the site of one of the best moments of my career, as well as one of the worst. In the 2008 Finals, we played three games in Boston, and lost them all. Game 6 of that series ended our season with one of the worst losses of my career.
I think that was the moment that I realized how difficult it is to get in that position, and have a chance to win a championship. When you come up short, it makes you question whether you’ll ever get that chance again.
At that point, we’d lost the last two times I’d been to the Finals. We lost to the Pistons in 2004. I was out of LA during my time with Golden State and Utah, and then I came back, and we lost to the Celtics in 2008.
I was frustrated, and questioned whether I’d ever get the chance to win a championship again.
But what happened in 2008 — the way the season finished, the bad taste that was left in our mouths — was the catalyst to just about everything that happened after that. That failure motivated us to win the back-to-back championships that followed.
It certainly played into the emotion of that entire 2010 series. Getting the opportunity to play against the Celtics again and actually come out victorious was something we craved.
When you play Boston in a Finals situation, it requires everything you have — physically and mentally — to win the series. After losing Game 2 at home in LA, we were in a very difficult situation: going out on the road for Game 3, and trying not to allow the momentum of the series to completely swing in the Celtics’ favor.
So going into that game, I was laser focused and engaged. It was a back and forth game the whole time. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that I got some opportunities offensively to start impacting the game. I just wanted to do what I always want to do, and that’s make plays to help my team win.
That’s what I was able to do on that layup in the final minute.
When I got the rebound on that play, I took a couple seconds to make sure I secured the ball. They had a little bit of defensive pressure on me in the backcourt so when I initially started advancing the ball, I was really just trying to make sure I got the ball over half court in plenty of time to avoid an eight-second violation. But once I got by Kevin Garnett and over the line, I noticed there wasn’t anybody else in front of me.
One of the things we always practiced in LA was taking the direct line. Take the most direct path to the basket, or wherever you’re trying to get to on the court, until somebody stops you. I saw a direct line to the basket and reacted. It was the natural basketball play, attacking the basket until somebody gets in front of you. But nobody ever did.
As I got closer, I knew I could get the shot off, and that contact was going to come because there were so many guys chasing. But I was able to finish the play. To help secure that game, to help my team that way, it was just a great feeling.
After the game, I surprised myself with some of the additional emotion that came flowing out. It wasn’t something that I felt building up or starting to happen. It just kind of happened. I actually remember having a bit of a letdown after that going into Game 4 because whatever I was feeling after Game 3 kind of emotionally wiped the slate clean.
But I’m glad we were able to respond as a team and finish that series out the right way. That entire series was an emotional one, and it took everything we had to win in seven games.
That Finals sticks out as much as if not more than any of the other ones I’ve ever been in.
As a player, you’re constantly trying to prove things to yourself and even sometimes to your teammates and your coaches. You want to make sure everybody knows you’re capable of getting the job done.
We’re seeing an example of that now in Oklahoma City with Reggie Jackson.
Reggie is having a phenomenal season so far, and he’s continued to get better on an almost daily basis. He’s a guy who works hard at his job and his game every single day. He gets to practice early, stays after practice and has really been working at his craft by doing the things that he needs to do to sustain that high level of performance. He’s shown that he can do whatever it is the team needs him to do, whether it’s as a starter or coming off the bench.
That’s an important trait for guys to showcase in this league every time they get a chance.
I’m very happy for Reggie, and we have a great relationship. He’s always very open minded about the things that we discuss, talking about the game and the team. He wants to learn. He wants to get better. You can’t ask for a better teammate than that from that perspective. I think he’s going to continue to get better at a fast rate because of how hard he likes to work.
One thing that helped prepare Reggie for the season he’s having is having that experience in the playoffs last year without Russell in the lineup.
When you get an opportunity like that, you have to make the most of it. You also have to come back the next season, and sustain some of the glimpses of greatness that you showed previously. I’m sure that factored into the way that Reggie approached this past offseason.
My first year with the Thunder, Reggie didn’t get the opportunity to play a lot down the stretch, so I didn’t get to see him play much. Last year was kind of a similar thing. I came to the team after the trade deadline. I saw a little bit more from Reggie than the year before, and he played great in the playoffs.
But the level he’s playing at now — and the consistency with which he’s playing — I can honestly say that I didn’t see it coming.
What he’s done has been remarkable. He’s really done it the old fashioned way of just getting better a little bit each day. It seems like it happened fast, but it’s the years of work that he’s put in already that are leading to these great moments he’s having now.