I was still convinced of the Celtics’ invincibility. Kevin Garnett was out, and the mediocre Bulls had just finished forcing Boston to play seven brutally exciting games to finish Chicago off. But I still felt Boston would never lose.
There was just something about the Celtics. They were a band of brothers that raised their games when they needed to. They came through with the big plays, whether they be stops or buckets.
Even in 2008, nothing had been easy. Not even the young and inconsistent Atlanta Hawks had rolled over. But a championship had been won, and it could be attributed to the C’s gritty and timely play. Nothing was easy, but they’d never been beaten. Not when it counted.
Coming into the Game Seven against Orlando, the current Celtics nucleus had been untarnished in Game Sevens. Three challengers, three victories. A mystique started in the days of Cousy and Russell continued: The Celtics were the kings of the seventh game.
Then Hedo Turkoglu and Dwight Howard turned legend into myth. Game Seven turned into a rout, and this time it was Boston who was sent home. The Celtics’ aura was gone.
Now, it’s a new year, and Kevin Garnett’s back. Paul Pierce missed yesterday’s game, but one can hardly say his absence mattered. It seems like it doesn’t matter who’s on the court for Boston these days. They can beat the poor teams, the under-.500 teams, but against the pressure of facing the Big Boys they do nothing but crumble.
Yesterday was a new day, same song. Another game, another beating. Every time out, it’s the same old shit.
Is it time to face the cold, hard truth? The Boston Celtics just don’t have what it takes to beat good teams. They can play well against them for quarters, even halves, but when the going gets tough, the Celtics’ opponent gets going.
Yesterday’s exhibit was perhaps the best one yet. Up eight points going into halftime, the Celtics had everything going for them. They were playing out of their minds, the bucket looked as big as Mike Sweetney’s midsection, and a superhero performance from Lebron James was the only thing keeping Cleveland close. Then halftime happened.
How long is halftime? Twenty minutes? That’s about as long as it took for this one to fall apart. Cleveland ratcheted it up, and the fat lady might as well have started singing as soon as they did. True contenders, right now, have another gear they can put it into. They can coast for a half, keep the Celtics in sight, and zoom right by them whenever they decide to pick it up. Boston has been playing like a light-bulb with an “on-off switch” for most of the season, but maybe the Celtics’ inconsistency only proves they don’t have as many watts as the elite teams.
I can tell you numbers, but they only tell half the story. The Celtics shot 14.3% in the fourth quarter, and the Cavs outscored them 35-14. Boston was up one point heading into the final period, and down 20 by the time it was over.
But the stats don’t show Mo Williams, wide open in the corner, with no Celtic in sight to contest his shot. They don’t show Rajon Rondo, who got to the lane at will in the first half, settling for his broke outside shot. They don’t show Cleveland scoring a bucket, then getting the ball right back when Kevin Garnett threw the ensuing inbounds pass directly into the outstretched arms of J.J. Hickson. 35-14 sounds horrible, and the play was every bit as bad as the score would lead you to believe.
The Celtics can use Pierce’s injury as an excuse, but to do that would be to escape the truth. Boston can’t beat elite teams. Not when Pierce is in the lineup, and not when he’s out with injury. And last night was a big game, against an elite team.
The Celtics knew how big it was beforehand. If they didn’t realize it because the Cavs have the league’s top record, or because they have the world’s most dominant player, they knew because Doc Rivers told them so.
“We feel like we have to go through them,” Rivers told the Boston Herald. “It’s like I told our guys before the game: For us to get what we want, we have to go through them. And for them to get what they want, they have to go through us. And Orlando’s in there, and everybody else. But that’s the fact. And something’s got to give at some point.”
I think something already has.
The Celtics have done nothing but give, every time they play an elite team.