They’re back, and it’s all systems go
Hey, America. Remember the Boston Celtics?
17 titles. The Leprechaun. Red Auerbach and his cigar. The parquet. The banners. Russ? Cooz? Hondo? Larry? A couple of Big Threes?
Anyway, while all you out there in the Great Beyond tuned in last night to see what fate had in store for LeBron James, the Cavaliers, the city of Cleveland, the state of Ohio, and perhaps even how the balance of power for the next 10 years in the NBA might be affected, for those who care about the fortunes of the Boston Celtics this was Game 6, and nothing more. LeBron was just another villain standing in the way of another Celtics’ championship run.
Boston is the only city in America in which people are saying this morning that the Celtics won, and thus will be playing Orlando Sunday afternoon in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. Everywhere else, LeBron lost.
Yup, the Boston Celtics capped off a great series with a great win, controlling play for all but a few minutes, absorbing a fourth-quarter incursion and then running off 10 straight points to ensure a 94-85 triumph and answer all the pre-playoff questions as to their real worth after concluding the season with a lackluster 27-27 record.
For two months they talked the talk, assuring the world that if they got healthy they could play with anyone. But we all needed validation, and we got it.
“The regular season is a lot different than the postseason,’’ said Cavaliers coach Mike Brown. “We knew they were going to be a different team. We hoped we were. They stepped up, and we didn’t.’’
It would be a vast overstatement to say that a team beat one man, but maybe not. It was pretty evident as this series wore on that, while LeBron James remained the best player — how many others could put up a forgettable triple-double? — the Celtics had the next four best players in the series. And it took everything those four had, plus everything bench players such as Tony Allen, Rasheed Wallace, and Glen Davis had, to subdue Cleveland’s phenomenal force of nature, who played this entire series with a bad right elbow.
“All we talked about throughout this series was that individually, we’re not going to beat them,’’ said Doc Rivers. “But teamwise, we were on the same page. It was a brutal series. Guarding LeBron James for six games is brutal. He is a monster. One guy didn’t do it. Our team had to do it.’’
He was specifically talking about the exemplary team defense, but he could also have been talking about the offense, which was distributed during this series in the finest Boston tradition. On a night when Ray Allen was 2 for 8 and never hit a three and when Paul Pierce was in foul trouble and was limited to one field goal in the first 31-plus minutes, Kevin Garnett stood tall with 22 vital points on 11-for-19 shooting. As the Cuban coach said when the Dream Team eviscerated his team back in ’92, “One finger cannot cover the whole sun.’’
“When you prepare a scouting report on us,’’ Pierce said, “you’ve got to discuss four, five, or six guys, night in and night out. You can’t just talk about one guy.’’
The crowd was ready for this one. They had come to celebrate and to let LeBron know they were up on the news. They started chanting “New York Knicks, New York Knicks’’ when he went to the line in the second quarter, and that cry got louder and louder as the night wore on. They even tossed in a “LeBron’s Leaving’’ reminder.
And the team gave them plenty to cheer about, the chief orchestrator being Rajon Rondo, who had 21 points and whose 12 assists included some definite crowd pleasers. Mo Williams one-upped his point guard counterpart with 20 first-half points, but he only had 2 in the second half. Rondo had the last say, as he did from the start of Game 1.
You can’t overpraise the Celtics defense. Cleveland was harassed into 24 turnovers, good for 27 points. In what may very well be his final game in a Cleveland uniform, James came perilously close to pulling what the assembled New York scribes — gee, I wonder why they were here? — might call a “Micheal Ray,’’ otherwise known as a quadruple-double. The man had nine turnovers, many of them truly ugly.
Leading, 76-67, after three quarters, the Celtics went a bit cold after a Rondo drive made it 78-67 to start the fourth. Cleveland ran off 7 straight, the last 6 coming on back-to-back transition threes by James (27-19-10). Rivers called time out, and when play resumed the Celtics ran off 10 straight, with Pierce and Wallace each hitting threes and Garnett capping it with a thunder transition dunk off a Rondo feed.
“I told them we can’t do what [James is] doing,’’ Rivers explained. “We had to slow down and execute.’’
“That was a good timeout,’’ said Pierce. “We knew they were going to make a run. During the season we lost leads because we were looking at the clock. Doc just said, ‘Go to it. Be aggressive.’ ’’
The lead back up to 14 at 90-76, it was strictly ceremonial in the final six minutes. OK, the Cavs did get it down to 7 at 92-85 with 2:07 left, but Garnett, appropriately, made it official with a jump hook to create the final score.
Cue Gino and the Bee-Gees on the big screen. For all I know, they’re still dancing down there in TD Garden.
The Boston Celtics. Remember the name.