For one night at least, some reasons to believe
They said they could flip the switch, and they did.
So for one night, we believe. We believe they were on cruise control over the last five months and are now able to play serious basketball in the games that matter. There’s still work to be done in the areas of rebounding and running the floor, but for one night the Celtics played the kind of defense that marked their ubuntu championship spring of 2008.
Old-timers like to cite the 1968-69 Celtics as the inspiration for this team. The Celtics of ’68-69 went 48-34 during the regular season and had six guys 30 or older at the end of the season. Then they won three rounds in the playoffs, beating the Lakers for the title in Bill Russell’s last game.
Those Celtics had a star in his prime named John Havlicek, and who would have guessed that mercurial Tony Allen would morph into the Hondo of the new century?
It’s true. Allen was Mr. Sixth Man last night, beating the Heat with All-Star defense and a surprise surge of scoring. He played 29 Havlicekian minutes, scoring 14 points with three steals and two blocks, guarding Dwyane Wade for most of the second half. All this came on the night Allen won the Comcast SportsNet Sixth Star Award.
“The key for us was the defense Tony Allen did on Dwyane Wade,’’ said Celtics captain Paul Pierce.
This was Kevin Garnett’s first playoff game since the epic Game 6 in the Finals against the Lakers two years ago. That was the night the Celtics won banner No. 17 and KG said, “Anything’s possible!’’ One win against the Heat doesn’t put the Celtics back into the Finals against the Lakers but it’s a start, and there’s at least something to build on if you want to believe that anything is possible again this year.
Garnett scored 15 points with nine rebounds (33 minutes) in his return to the playoffs. He also earned two technicals and an ejection for coming to the defense of Pierce after Pierce crumbled to the floor near the Miami bench in the final minute. It was one of those foxhole moments that galvanized the Green in 2008 and sends the Celtics into Game 2 with additional purpose.
“The only thing I saw was Paul hurt and that’s the only thing I cared about,’’ said Garnett. “Q [Quentin Richardson] was standing over Paul and talking and I thought it was disrespectful. You’ve got to give common courtesy for the injured player. If I see one of my teammates down, I’ve got to deal with it.’’
“I think it helped us in some ways,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “It allowed us to get our emotions in check.’’
Garnett threw an elbow during the fracas and there’s some fear he might be penalized.
“I’m smarter than that and I’ve got to have better composure,’’ Garnett acknowledged.
The Celtics held the Heat to 10 points in the fourth quarter. Miami shot less than 40 percent from the floor (39.7).
“That’s the type of team we are,’’ said Pierce. “We only scored 85, but we can live with that. It wasn’t about offense. It was about how we played defense.’’
“I got upset one time tonight,’’ said Rivers. “A couple of minutes into the third. I thought we were hanging our heads and our offense was starting to dictate our defense. We can’t do that. We’re a defensive team. After that, I thought we played hard. We showed some resolve that we didn’t show in the second half of the season. We hung in long enough, we found the right combination on the floor, and we turned the game around.’’
As for “Big Game’’ Rasheed Wallace, he scored 4 points with one rebound in 14 minutes. Maybe he’s saving his energy for the next round.
The Celtics and Heat resume the series Tuesday at the Garden.
“When you get Game 1, that sets the tone for the series,’’ said Pierce. “Hopefully in Game 2 we’ll continue to play this way.’’
Garnett could be the key. The Celtics don’t want to lose him to a silly suspension for Game 2. Garnett’s absence was the reason the Celtics failed to get out of the second round last year.
“I thought tonight he looked fresher than he looked all year,’’ said Rivers.
Another reason to believe.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.