Many times after basketball games conclude, we prescribe emotions to a team or player just because of the results. When the Los Angeles Lakers came back to defeat the Boston Celtics in Game 7 two seasons ago, we described Kobe Bryant as indomitable because he rebounded a heap of misses and the Lakers prevailed. Partially, our description was true. Bryant surely wanted that game desperately, just like everyone else on the court. But if the Lakers had fallen that night, we would have torn apart Bryant’s 6 for 24 shooting and rightly pointed out his temporary status as Los Angeles’ weak link. We occasionally mold our opinions to fit the narrative rather than vice versa, and Game 7 was one of those times.
We called the Boston Celtics an angry team based on yesterday’s outcome, and in this case their emotions matched the sharpness of their play. Rajon Rondo arrived at the team’s shootaround with an “extremely serious” attitude, according to Doc Rivers. Kevin Garnett had berated the Celtics after Game 2 for their lack of Ubuntu. Paul Pierce had heard about nothing except his knee and Andre Iguodala for 48 hours. One of the first comments Chris Webber made on the TNT telecast was to point out how business-like Boston had been in its preparation.
The Celtics often follow the lead of their core, and in this case the core wanted blood. (WEEI)
As Rondo said, “I really believe we needed this game. I thought we responded well tonight. It wasn’t just me. It was everyone. We all were pretty focused today in shootaround. Obviously we had two close games at home. We wanted to show these guys — send a message tonight and I think we did a pretty good job of that.”
Anger bared its fangs everywhere. Rondo attacked the basket like it had slept with his girlfriend. Pierce gritted his teeth and fought through whatever pain he might have felt, unveiling two dunks that had been gathering dust in his closet since 2001. He followed those slams with a pair of matching screams like he was trying out to become a banshee, and he crashed the glass with abandon all night. Garnett, if possible, seemed to cuss even more than usual, and his post-ups seemed to come a little closer to the hoop, and when the Sixers took away his space, he put his head down to drive to the hoop.
After one quarter, the Celtics trailed by five points. Their offense had been sharp in the first frame but their defense hadn’t held up its end of the bargain. They were trading baskets for baskets, and that needed to change. Building a lead required a different commitment to the defensive end, and they responded. Philadelphia scored 16 points during that second set of 12 minutes. The Celtics poured in 32, largely thanks to Garnett, who drilled his first six shots of the quarter.
When the first half ends with such a bang, the second half sometimes begins with a whimper. Instead, the Celtics dominated much the same way they did in the second quarter. When I picture the halftime intermission, I envision Pierce throwing darts at a board adorned with Iguodala’s head, Garnett wrestling a grizzly bear and Rondo quietly whispering to himself while working himself into a controlled frenzy. The New Big Three were not going to let this game slip away. They were mad. They wanted to make a statement. They outscored the Sixers 29-17 in the third quarter. By the time the fourth quarter arrived, the Boston lead had become 89-66. The only uncertainty at that point was at what time E’Twaun Moore would make his playoff debut.
These Celtics don’t have a large margin for error because they are not naturally a great offensive team. To blow out opponents, they need to be nearly perfect. They understand that, and yesterday they approached perfect and got close enough to smell its perfume. The Celtics hit 52 percent of their shots, committed just seven turnovers, out-rebounded Philadelphia 44-37, earned 28 free throws and drilled 5 of 11 triples. They played angry, and that’s because they were.
“After (Game 2) I came in and just said, ‘We’re not going to beat anybody — JV teams or high school teams — if we were not going to play together,” Kevin Garnett said. “We’ve worked so hard to get to where we’re at and we got there together. Ubuntu — we’ve been preaching that since I’ve been here. I had to just remind the guys, including the younger guys, so the new guys on how we succeed here and the creed, Celtics basketball and what we are here. I just had to reiterate that.”
Garnett reiterated the message to his teammates, and together they spread the gospel according to Ubuntu throughout the NBA world.