Look, I’m not giving the Celtics a pass for the mistakes down the stretch yesterday. A lot of plays could have, and should have, been made: Rajon Rondo’s missed runner in the lane from three or four feet away, Ray Allen’s three missed free throws and Kevin Garnett’s two more, and a missed box-out that resulted in a Michael Beasley tip-in. The mistakes ended up being the Celtics’ unraveling, even after they withstood Dwyane Wade’s explosion.
But somehow, despite playing the first quarter as if in a South Beach hangover and the last as if they’d never played in pressure situations before, the Celtics were right there at the end with a chance to steal a victory. Boston got bloodied in the first quarter and battered for parts of the second, but bounced back. They cut an 18-point deficit down to six points by halftime and turned that deficit into a seven-point lead in the third quarter. The Celtics displayed resolve that had abandoned them throughout the regular season, unwilling to succumb without a fight.
While Dwyane Wade and co. kept the series alive with a win, everything had to go right for them to get it: Wade went bananas, Quentin Richardson outplayed Paul Pierce, Ray Allen missed three free throws in a game (and did it all in a row, in the clutch) for the first time since Dec. 26, 2006, and a comedy of fluke-ish errors down the stretch was the only thing that kept Boston from STILL pulling out the victory. Wade proved beyond reasonable doubt that he is the best player in the series but “Boston,” as Chris Sheridan so succinctly put, “is still clearly the better team.”
A couple Celtics writers agreed that Boston’s loss was nothing to worry about. Not yet, at least. Here’s Jeff Clark, from CelticsBlog:
We got the Heat’s best punch yesterday. They came out with desperation and determined focus. They flummoxed our offense up and couldn’t miss on their side of the floor. The Celtics were down 17 and then down 18 a little later on. This game could have been out of reach very easily. In fact, I’d argue that in the regular season, this team might have punted the game and accepted a double digit loss. Instead, they stayed focused and got back into the game.
Most impressive was the fact that it wasn’t any one player trying to be a hero. Pierce hit some shots, KG hit some shots, Rondo was doing his thing, it was just a good team game and it was working. They just missed some fluky shots and ran into an unstoppable force in Wade. It happens.
The Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn also saw positives in the defeat.
Wade, a 30 percent 3-point shooter, erupted early in the fourth quarter with four straight treys, but the Celtics withstood his flurry, made those in-game defensive adjustments so prevalent in 2008, and lunged at the Heat’s heart, looking for the decisive strike.
A club that had feared Wade was capable of carrying the Heat with these barrages left yesterday’s game realizing it endured his best game since the 2006 Finals and still nearly ended the series. The blame goes squarely on oddities and aberrations such as Allen’s three missed free throws. The Celtics proved even more that they are at playoff caliber — even in defeat.
They fell short because Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett combined to miss five free throws, Rajon Rondo missed a runner he usually makes with either hand, and Paul Pierce’s run of clutch shots ended abruptly.
A man like Dwyane Wade is always capable of a fireworks display but — even with Wade’s right burning in a forest fire of flames and Boston’s crummy, uneven play — this game was Boston’s to win down the stretch. The Celtics didn’t come away with the win, but refused to wilt in the Miami heat.
The Celtics lost an opportunity to win the series but, by displaying a stubbornness in the face of defeat, showed once more that the playoffs have transformed the Celtics into a steely, determined team.
Now, it’s time to close out the Heat in Game Five. As encouraging as Game Four’s loss was, when it comes to postseason play there are no such things as moral victories.