Celtics Are Right Where They Belong
A little thing like becoming the biggest chokers in NBA history wasn't going to bother the Celtics, even if it had the rest of Massachusetts unable to breathe. Now the players are right where they expected to be.
"The Finals," Paul Pierce said.
Boston's not only the first team in, it should be favored to beat the Lakers or Suns. That thought was crazy just a month ago, but losing is believing. And if LeBron James and Dwight Howard can lose to the Old Gang Green, Kobe Bryant sure can.
"Nobody believed in us," Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck said as he accepted the Eastern Conference trophy.
That's a tiresome line, but in this case it's true. The Celtics finished the latter part of the season 27-27 and went into the playoffs smoking like a '72 Vega with bald tires. Who knew it was all part of a grand plan?
"He stuck to the script the whole time," Ray Allen said.
He is head coach Doc Rivers, who decided winning games in March wasn't as important as being healthy for ones in May. Boston knew its Big Three were still large enough to win it all. Throw in Rajon Rondo and some timely bench help, and the Celtics could overcome anything.
Even the thought of becoming the first team in NBA history to blow a 3-0 series lead.
"I never really think negative thoughts about losing," Pierce said, "or being up 3-0 and something tragic happening."
If he didn't, he was the only one. Orlando may have been down a game, but the Magic had the momentum after blasting the Celtics Wednesday night. All you heard around Boston since was don't pull another Boston.
In the history of pro sports in America, 287 teams had 3-0 leads in seven-game series. Only four had gone on to lose. One of those shares the TD Garden with the Celtics -- as recently as two weeks ago before joining that less-than-select small group.
That would be the Bruins. If the Celtics had joined them, the only New Englander who wouldn't be slightly suicidal might have been Bill Buckner.
"This is not hockey," Pierce said.
If Game 6 had been, Nate Robinson would have scored two goals and done a somersault over the goalie. The Knicks' castoff scored 13 points in the second quarter. It was surprising considering Robinson had barely been on the floor in about six weeks.
It wasn't surprising in the grand Celtic scheme of things. Boston expects bolts of relief from players like Rasheed Wallace and Big Baby Glen Davis. But the starters are why Boston should win the Finals. Assuming everything keeps going as planned.
That means a healthy, rested Pierce, Allen and Kevin Garnett, with a combined NBA odometer of 951,408 miles.
"That stretch the last month, we formed a game plan and I thought it was the right plan," Rivers said. "Obviously, it didn't look right because we were losing games. But guys were resting and conditioning and I thought that was the only chance we had."
As the losses piled up, people forgot just how good the Celtics were at the start of the season. And the 2008 championship seemed like it happened in 1988.
"It wasn't about us going out there and trying to win every game," Pierce said. "The thing we had was, if you look at the contenders, Orlando changed their starting five. Cleveland changed their starting five. We had the same starting five that won a championship."
That pedigree showed Friday night. Orlando huffed and puffed but never came close to blowing the Celtics down. Whenever the Magic seemed primed to make a charge, Pierce would hit a spirit-sapping shot.
If not him, it was Allen or Rondo or Garnett, who missed most of last year's playoffs with a knee injury. That versatility is going to cause Phil Jackson or Alvin Gentry a lot of grief in the next couple of weeks.
"If you look at the series they're coming off of, they beat two very good teams. And made us both look like [we] weren't very good teams," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Cleveland is upset with the way they played.
"We're certainly upset with the way we played. But when you go through two series like that, you have to be fair and say a lot of that has to do with them."
The Finals won't begin for six days. The way the Finals is spaced out for maximum TV impact, tired legs won't be a problem.
What you'll have is a rested team, a healthy team and a team whose starting five has never lost a playoff series.
"This is where we thought we would be," Rivers said.
Four games away from a championship. If they go up 3-0, don't expect them to choke.