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Celtics have been as good as it gets this postseason

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / May 19, 2010

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ORLANDO, Fla. — This has been a confounding season for the Celtics. They were probably the best-prepared team in the NBA after the preseason, and they seemed to be sailing with six successive wins to start the season, then an 11-game winning streak on the way to 23 wins in the opening 28 games.

The season opener at Cleveland (a 95-89 win) was a harbinger of their postseason success. There were winning margins of 33 (Charlotte) and 28 (Chicago) at home, plus a 31-point win at Philadelphia.

But after the Celtics went 27-27 in the final 54 games, their performance raised questions about which was the real team: the one that won 14 of 15 games from Nov. 22 through an 86-77 victory at Orlando Dec. 25, or the one that limped through the rest of the season, losing seven of the final 10 contests?

“I always say, when you’re bad, it takes just something small to turn you around, you’re not that far from being good,’’ guard Ray Allen said before last night’s Eastern Conference playoff game against the Magic. “And vice versa — when you’re good, you can just tank it, immediately.

“You never have it figured out. And, as a team, you have to figure you get a break in the schedule somewhere, there’s so many different variables. So, you just try to take it one day at a time. As a coach, it’s like let’s hold on, you’ve got to keep cementing what everybody is doing.’’

The Celtics could well advance to the NBA Finals without owning a victory over every other team in the league. They were swept by the Atlanta Hawks (four games) and the Phoenix Suns (two games).

But the disappointments of the regular season, including disconcerting late-season home defeats to Houston, Memphis, New Jersey, and Washington, have been forgotten as the Celtics compiled a 9-3 playoff record going into last night. The Celtics won seven of their opening 12 playoff games in 2008 and ’09. They finished 16-10 and won the title in ’08; they went 7-7 in last year’s playoffs.

A championship team at a different level was Allen’s point of reference yesterday, though.

“That’s why when I look back at what the UConn women have done, how miraculous that is,’’ Allen said. “Because every game, you’re playing with that same amount of intensity, you haven’t lost in 70-80 games.

“So, the way we started out, at some point, complacency sets in. It’s human nature. You don’t want it to happen but it happens. Then, you get a team that runs through brick walls to get to the locker room, they come out and they’re fired up. So, just staying on point with each other is important.’’

Continuing the analogy, then, the Celtics might have been on the way to a national championship for a collegiate-length season.

“That’s right,’’ Allen said.

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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