After 82 games of wondering whether this season would ever amount to anything, I finally believe. I guess that’s what happens when your team shellacks the NBA’s best team by 32 points, forcing the NBA’s best player to look like an average dude. Boston Celtics, it’s more than nice to have you back.
For so long, we wondered what the Celtics were capable of. We saw them lose to the Nets, at home, and knew they could give us more than that. We saw them get smoked by Washington, at home, and knew they had more to offer. But how much were they hiding? How much better would they get when the games became meaningful? We knew they couldn’t be THAT bad, but sometimes they gave us no choice but to wonder if they actually could. At the very least, they played like they were. I can hardly remember one inspiring game after Christmas; even when beating the Cavs, Boston floundered down the stretch and left so much doubt in our minds.
And so we worried. We worried whether the Big Three Era has run its course. We worried whether Doc Rivers still had control of his team. We worried whether Kevin Garnett would ever play like a star again. We worried about Ray Allen’s jumper, Rasheed Wallace’s everything, and health. And aging. Oh, goddamn aging. We wondered whether it was a good thing that Rajon Rondo was becoming our team’s best player. We looked at Danny Ainge’s mid-season signings and trades and couldn’t find a single player that would help us come playoff time. Through all our worries, the Celtics kept losing. No halftime lead was safe, no team was an automatic win. The Celtics sucked, and you couldn’t tell us otherwise.
Not that the C’s didn’t try. Kendrick Perkins told us the Celtics were just bored of the regular season. Doc Rivers continually told us he liked his team. Instead of listening, we booed. We heard that Doc liked the Celtics, then saw them get blown out at home. “Yeah okay, Doc,” we thought. “Stop blowing smoke up our asses.” The Celtics were mediocre at best, and we despised it. It ate at us. We gave up hope that they’d ever contend again. Most of us asked for Ray Allen to be traded. Some of us called for Doc’s head. We knew a rebuilding mode had to take place, but how? With a team salary that would make the average owner’s toes curl and no more trade bait, there was nothing the Celtics could do. Not only was the Celtics’ present bleak, but their future was even worse. This season was a lost cause and upcoming seasons looked like they’d follow suit.
Then the playoffs came, and the Celtics dominated Miami. We gained a little faith, but not much. After all, it was only Miami right? A one-man team. A bunch of bums surrounding Dwyane Wade. We liked that Boston won in five games, but it hardly made us believe. How could five solid games against a middling team make us trust the Celtics, after 82 games showed us we shouldn’t? Lebron James was on deck, and so we worried again. Oh, how we worried.
Game One in Cleveland gave us hope, but then a flashback to the regular season snatched it away. Another blown lead, another wasted opportunity. The Celtics looked great for a half but, as the Cavs ratcheted up the pressure in half two, the C’s wilted. Just like they had all year. Just like we’d come to expect. Any confidence we’d gained from a dominant first half was gone. The Celtics were what we thought they were — an old team on their way to an early exit.
And then they bounced back. They showed resolve in Game Two, fight we hadn’t seen out of this bunch since Christmas day. Home court advantage was suddenly ours, and hope fluttered into our hearts. Not just blind faith, either — concrete evidence that the Celtics could compete with the Cavs. Two games into the series, the Celtics had dominated three out of four halves.
It’s too bad those fifth and sixth halves of the series had to come. The series moved to Boston, and the Celtics again reverted to regular season form. What resulted was nothing too bad… only the worst home loss in Celtics’ playoff history. As fans, we’d been put in our place again. “So that’s what a championship team looks like…” Boos rained down as we realized the Celtics might actually be no better than their regular season version. Playoff basketball is a worrisome life. One bad loss, and your team might as well be buried in a grave. But for us, it wasn’t just one bad loss; it was a season full of them. That grave seemed like the right place for our Celtics to lay. Still, we had a little hope. Probably hope un-based in fact, but hope nonetheless.
Game Four came along, and I had no idea what to expect. Would the Celtics fold, roll over, play dead? Would they battle valiantly but lose to a better team? Could they actually win? Not only did they win, but they did it impressively. Rondo registered one of the greatest performances in Celtics playoff history, and the Celtics evened the series. By now, we didn’t worry: We just had no idea what to expect. The Celtics had played far better than Cleveland for much of the series, and we knew that. The regular season was long gone, and only the playoff Celtics remained. But would the playoff Celtics be enough?
Not in Game Five. In Game Five, the playoff Celtics were far more than enough. The Cavs tapped out halfway through the third quarter, but Boston kept pouring it on. The Big Three was suddenly captivating again, and Rondo didn’t get any worse overnight. In the biggest game of the year, the Celtics put Cleveland in a chokehold and stomped them out. It was a massive destruction. The series isn’t over, but it feels like it.
And I’m worried by that. The Celtics still need one more win, but it feels like it’s over. They still haven’t advanced, but I’m on top of the world. I’m dreaming about Orlando and L.A., but the Celtics still haven’t closed out the NBA’s best team. For much of the season, beating Cleveland — even in one game — seemed far-fetched. Now, it seems like an inevitability. And nothing scares me more.
I hope the Celtics aren’t as confident as I am. I hope, in Game Six, they play like a team fighting for its own life. Because they are. As great as it felt to win Game Five and do it in such heart-warming fashion, this series isn’t over. Lebron James isn’t going to disappear two games in a row. Cleveland isn’t going to fade into the offseason that easily. If the Celtics don’t win Game Six, the series returns to Cleveland for the deciding game. And as bad as Cleveland looked last night, I want no part of a Game Seven, on the road, against the league’s best team.
Kevin Garnett understands the desperation of Game Six. “We cannot come back here,” he said. “We have to think this is our Game 7 coming up and we cannot afford to have the best team in the league have a Game 7 on their floor. Just not possible.”
Contrary to KG’s belief, having a Game Seven is possible. It just no longer seems likely.