Date: April 11, 2012
Location: TD Banknorth Garden, Boston, MA
Final Score: 88-86 (OT)
Key Players: Rajon Rondo (triple double, 10-10-20), Kevin Garnett (22 points, 12 rebounds)
Top Plays: 0:16 (Rondo comes up with a tough steal, dishes to Pierce for 3), 1:12 (Garnett reverse layup and fouled by Pachulia)
Rundown/What it meant: I’m combining these sections because, in this game, they were one and the same.
You would be well within your rights to wonder how this game could POSSIBLY be above #8 (an impressive win over Miami in South Beach). And perhaps, from a fan’s perspective, this game didn’t mean as much. But this game turned out to be big in the playoff race. The Celtics finished a game behind the Hawks in the overall standings, but Boston finished first in the Atlantic Division, securing the fourth seed in the playoffs. And even though the Celtics closed out the Hawks in six games, meaning they closed the series in Atlanta (more on that later), having home court advantage at the start of the series was a boon for a team that went 24-9 at home in the regular season, finishing under .500 on the road.
But more importantly, this game was an indication that this year, the C’s weren’t going to lose the kind of games that we always assumed they would lose. That game against Miami I mentioned? It happened the night before. This Atlanta game was a dreaded second night of a back to back, or, as CelticsHub has dubbed it, a SEGABABA. Not only was it a SEGABABA, but it was against a rested Atlanta team that built a lead in the second half.
Too often in this situations, behind and exhausted, we’ve seen the C’s quietly throw in the towel. They rarely get blown out, but they seem to concede that a particular night isn’t their night, and perhaps they should just move on and focus on getting enough rest to win the next one.
Not on this night.
Boston couldn’t score, shooting just 41.6% from the field. So one game removed from their biggest offensive explosion of the year, instead of trying to outscore the Hawks, the C’s simply locked the game down, muddied it up, and prevented the Hawks from putting the ball in the hoop. The Hawks took 20 3-point attempts in the game, making just two. In the five minute overtime period, the Hawks were able to post just two points. The Celtics were barely better, scoring four points, but when a game is tied going into five extra minutes, barely better is better enough and better enough is a win.
This brings us to the biggest reason the Atlanta game meant more than the Miami game: Boston’s offense against the Heat was unsustainable. As fun as it was to see the Celtics hitting every shot and shooting the lights out from beyond the arc, they weren’t going to be able to give up 108 points to the Heat and win again. The Celtics simply don’t play that way. Rather, they play tough defense and just enough offense to win. In a tight playoff race and a SEGABABA, an ugly win feels more significant than a win that can’t be replicated (to me, anyway, and this is my list, so bite me).
Nearly two months later, the Celtics would win a similar game against another Eastern Conference foe, but on a much larger stage. I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you whether or not that game is coming later in the countdown, but that game is coming later in the countdown.
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