Forget LeBron James.
His season is done. The Celtics, who beat the Cavaliers 94-85 tonight in Game 6 at TD Garden, have more games to play. James won't be going to the Eastern Conference Finals. He may be going to New York, Chicago, or Miami next season, but you'll have to read about that on some other blog.
This night was all about the Celtics. It was about old and new. About Paul Pierce finding his form, and about Rajon Rondo's ever-rising star. It was about this group of Celtics proving they have one more run left in them.
That run will last at least a couple more weeks.
"I thought we hit our stride at the right time," said Celtics forward Kevin Garnett. "We’re a veteran team. We understand that when it’s time to lock-in as a group, as a unit, I think we did just that. I think if anything, the experience has totally taken over versus anything else.”
Unlike Games 4 and 5, tonight's contest was anything but easy for the Celtics. Absent all series, Cavs point guard Mo Williams surprised everyone at halftime with 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Limited by foul trouble, Pierce played just under nine minutes in the first half. The Celtics forced 13 Cleveland turnovers but led only 51-49 at the break.
The start of the second half was marked by an increase in chippy play, as well as the first Cavaliers lead of the game. Cleveland began the half on a 6-0 run. Kendrick Perkins and Shaquille O'Neal were whistled for technical fouls at the 6:56 mark in the third quarter. The Celtics hit only 4 of 8 free throws in the third quarter, the misses keeping the Cavaliers within shouting distance entering the final frame despite Pierce's re-emergence (8 points in the third).
Cleveland got as close as 78-74 with 9:34 left in the fourth quarter (on back-to-back threes by James), but a 10-0 run by the Celtics opened up the lead once again.
"You knew it was coming at some point with LeBron," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "And when he made the back-to-back threes I just told our guys -- I thought we got away from what we were doing. I kept using the word ‘hero basketball.’ I thought we had a bunch of guys who really wanted to win the game so bad that they start for that three- or four-minute stretch trying to do it on their own. And that’s what that timeout was about: to remind them that we can’t do that, what he’s doing. We’ve got to continue to execute what we’re doing, do it together, and slow down. And I thought they did that.”
As he has all series, Kevin Garnett came up huge once again for the Celtics, putting up 22 points and 12 rebounds. Rondo was Rondo, carving out the Cleveland defense for 21 points and 12 assists of his own. More poor Celtics free-throw shooting in the fourth (the Celtics finished 21 of 33 in the game) kept the Cavs in it until the end, but the Celtics had done enough to win.
This is as good a place as any to mention that James had a Rondo-esque Game 6, filling the stat sheet with 27 points, 19 rebounds, and 10 assists (though he did have 9 turnovers). The numbers will ring hollow without a win, however. Fans chanted "New York Knicks" early and often at James, a taunt directed at James's courtship with the New York area and the team that could be his potential landing spot in free agency this summer. If James leaves the Cavaliers, he will leave having never brought a championship to Cleveland.
"Me and my team is gonna figure out what’s the best possibility for me," said James. "I love the city of Cleveland of course. The city, the fans. It was a disappointing season to say the least but at the same time we had a great time together. We’ll see what happens.”
But enough about that. The Celtics slayed the NBA's best regular-season team tonight for the right to play the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals. That series, unlike the Celtics' series last season Orlando, will feature Garnett, who is finally healthy after battling injuries the last two seasons. It will also feature an improved Rajon Rondo, for whom 20-point, 10-assist games now seem routine.
And it won't, thankfully, feature any discussion of elbows, Kings, or future New York Knicks.
5:50 4th quarter, Celtics 88-74: What's a 5-0 run when you can add five more? Wallace knocks down a three and Garnett throws down a dunk on the break to put the Celtics back up by double-figures.
7:55 4th quarter, Celtics 83-74: Old Paul Pierce, same tricks: Pierce's three-pointer gives the Celtics some cushion and forces a Cavs timeout.
9:34 4th quarter, Celtics 78-74: Don't think the Cavaliers are just going to go away. Back-to-back threes by LeBron have Cleveland very much in this thing.
End 3d quarter, Celtics 76-67: The Celtics captured the momentum back in the third quarter, but they haven't captured enough of a lead to put this game out of reach. Paul Pierce found himself in the quarter, overcoming that first-half foul trouble to score eight points in the third.
1:53 3d quarter, Celtics 73-61: Consecutive three-pointers by Rasheed Wallace and Paul Pierce give the Celtics their largest lead of the game.
3:31 3d quarter, Celtics 67-58: So. Loud. A 7-0 run by the Celtics, punctuated by a Kevin Garnett jumper, has this building louder than it's been all season. The Celtics have withstood one Cavaliers run and come back with one of their own.
6:56 3d quarter, Celtics 57-55: Kendrick Perkins and Shaquille O'Neal pick up double-technicals as the players get their arms tangled up. Less scoring and more intensity here in the second half.
10:21 3d quarter, Cavaliers 55-51: Bad start to the second half for the Celtics as the Cavaliers reel off six straight points to start the third.
Halftime, Celtics 51-49: Two surprises: Mo Williams has 20 points for the Cavaliers, and Tony Allen is playing like it's 2006. Allen's thunderous dunk was the last scoring play of the half and is sure to be seen on the highlights all week.
Williams's production was seen by no one. He's 7 of 10 from the field, a shocker for a guy averaging 11 points and under 40 percent shooting for the series. The Cavaliers need an x-factor. If Williams can be that guy they're a much more dangerous team.
2:48 2d quarter, Cavaliers 43-42: Well the Cavaliers have the lead, and that thought doesn't sit particularly well with any of the Celtics fans here. Cleveland's turned the ball over 12 times and yet the Cavs lead.
5:14 2d quarter, Celtics 41-36: Foul trouble is mounting for the Celtics. Paul Pierce and Rasheed Wallace each have three, Rajon Rondo, Tony Allen, and Ray Allen each have two. The Cavs are making a run because they're taking it to the basket and drawing fouls.
8:45 2d quarter, Celtics 33-29: Paul Pierce picks up his third personal foul. That's huge for the Celtics as Pierce should be on the bench the rest of the half.
10:42 2d quarter, Celtics 33-23: Defense leads to offense as Ray Allen breaks free for the stuff over Mo Williams. LeBron James started the quarter on the bench but came right back in after that bucket.
On the very next play, Tony Allen intercepted a lob meant for James and ignited a Celtics break, finishing off a delayed pass from Rajon Rondo. This is so similar to Game 4, where the Celtics used defense to lead to easy transition buckets. Cleveland needs to stop turning the ball over or this one's going to get out of hand in a hurry.
END 1st quarter, Celtics 25-22: Neither team will hate this start, neither will love it. The Celtics like it because they have the lead and are holding Cleveland to 40-percent shooting. The Cavs like it because despite that poor shooting they're just a possession away. LeBron James has 9 points and 5 rebounds already, but he's also turned the ball over three times.
1:01 1st quarter, Celtics 22-19: This is the LeBron James portion of the updates. James fouled Rajon Rondo going for a steal in the backcourt -- it clearly appeared as if James bumped Rondo, but LeBron argued vehemently against the call. The crowd loved that.
The crowd also liked chanting "New York Knicks" at James when he took free throws a few minutes earlier.
4:28 1st quarter, Celtics 20-13: Mo Williams makes himself useful, driving to the basket for the bucket and the foul. Pierce picks up his second foul and is replaced by Tony Allen.
7:13 1st quarter, Celtics 14-7: The Celtics are picking Cleveland apart on defense. The C's have hit 7 of 11 shots from the floor, most of them dunks or lay-ups. It's a strong start.
8:00 1st quarter, Celtics 10-7: Lots of action so far. Anthony Parker picks up his second foul, replaced by Paul Pierce. Too early to make any determinations on this game other than that it will be a blast.
10:30 1st quarter, Celtics 6-2: A loose-ball foul on LeBron James coupled with a 3-3 start for the Celtics has this crowd into it from the start.
Pregame: Cautious optimism. Palpable optimism, but cautious. That's how I'd describe the atmosphere inside TD Garden about 20 minutes before tip. Jay-Z is blaring on the soundsystem: It's a case of the Celtics using one of the other team's motivational weapons against them. It's dirty, but will it work?