"You and me, we created something special,
You and me always standing at the threshold."--Deer Tick, Standing at the Threshold
The Boston Celtics are standing at the threshold of a third NBA Finals appearance in the last five years; an unimaginable feat to anyone that follows the laws of gravity and common sense. A team that was written off and left for dead two and half years ago. Mid-season 2010 had the vultures circling, swooping, playing target practice with that white spot atop Rasheed Wallace's noggin and hoping, praying that Big Baby Davis was the first to drop. (We could eat for months!!!)
Two years later the vultures have flown off for less gamy prey, or have dropped dead from exhaustion. The team that was old half a decade ago certainly hasn't gotten any younger, they've just become harder to kill. These Celtics, this season, haven't won playoff series as much as they've survived them. Dodging the Reaper that touched Dwight Howard's back, tapped Derrick Rose on the knee, and punched Chris Bosh in the stomach. Maybe he thought he'd done enough already by going to work on Jeff Green (heart), Chris Wilcox (heart), Jermaine O'Neal (no heart, and thanks again, by the way), leaving only enough to take out both of Avery Bradley's shoulders when just one wouldn't do the trick. The Celtics can't complain about health at this point though; not the bone spurs floating in Ray Allen's ankle or the damage in Paul Pierce's knee. For early June, the Celtics are as healthy as they could ask to be. A few nicks and bruises aren't going to knockout this group. Just ask Miami.
Standing between the Celtics and the NBA Finals is their antithesis. One of the great teams in the league will face two of the great individuals in the NBA. Dwyane Wade and Lebron James will walk into the TD Garden for Game 6 to face a rabid fan base, a hungry Celtics team, and all of the pressure in the world. The Celtics don't have five great defenders, but they have a great team defense. The Celtics don't have great individual scorers, but their offense runs like a well-oiled machine ONLY when they move the ball and execute the plays as a team. The Heat have two great players, but even those two aren't great together. James and Wade don't play in concert; one is the opening act for the other. And they do not make beautiful music together. They are not volleyball, they are tag-team wrestling. James dominates a quarter. Tag. Wade gets it going. Tag. The Celtics couldn't pull this off if they tried. They don't have the horses. You can't play "hero ball" with five Robins and no Batman.
In order to get past Game 6 the Heat will have to beat the most defiant team in NBA history. This Celtics team defies logic, defies statistics, defies aging. The Celtics don't defy aging in that creepy way that 70-years olds who dye their hair, go tanning, workout seven days a week and chug HGH smoothies do. They defy age like the 80-year old who has never worked out in his life and sits at the bar smoking cigarettes and slugging whiskey and eating steaks does. The guy you look across the bar at and say to your friend, "how is that guy not dead yet?"
How is this team not dead yet!?
They were too old to outlast the Lakers in the 2010 Finals. Too washed up to hang with the Heat last season. Too finished to sniff .500 after 30 games this season. They couldn't control a series against a banged up Hawks team in the first round. They went the distance against one of the worst playoff teams in NBA history in the Sixers in the quarterfinals. This team has lived a thousands lives and died a thousand deaths and still they stand. And still they win.
I'm finished trying to figure out what has gotten this Celtics team back to the threshold. I thought it was Avery Bradley. I thought it was Rondo or KG, or Pierce and his knack for the big moment. I thought it was Doc Rivers. Each of these players have been great and poor at times in this postseason. The truth is, you can't separate anything with this team. Nobody and nothing stands alone. The starters, the bench, the coach, the history, the role players, the legends, the Garden, the fans, together have created something special over the last five years. No season has been more special to me than this one. This team was supposed to go out with a whimper. This season was to be little more than an abbreviated farewell tour. A jumbled, creaky thirty-something games before a trade deadline hacked the team apart limb from limb and sold the meat for pennies on the dollar. Ray Allen was a Grizzly. Paul Pierce was a Net. KG was a vegetable. But Danny and Doc and luck and fate allowed the Celtics to finish this thing on their own terms, together. As a fan I'm thankful that I had the opportunity to watch what will likely be the end of an era with the team intact. I have no idea if this team will have enough to complete the journey; to truly accomplish what was once unthinkable. It really doesn't matter one way or another. But here we are again, standing at threshold.