For 40 minutes Saturday night the Celtics played like champions.
Then time stopped - for Boston, at least.
The Heat just kept going - all the way to Oklahoma City. Good news, you can get your Thunder "Beat the Heat" t-shirts now, somewhere.
And when the Celtics were able to maintain an offense in their Game 7 101-88 loss in Miami, the Heat used Shane "Dead-Eye" Battier and Chris "Downtown" Bosh to stay in the game before LeBron James and D-Wade took over and shut the door on the Celtics "Impossible Dream" season.
In case you were wondering: It's Patriots at Titans, Sept. 9 at 1 p.m. on CBS.
Not nearly gut-wrenching as Super Bowl XLVI or traumatic as 7-20. This exit was more melancholy, heartbreaking and disappointing. The Celtics gave their fans much to love this postseason, not to mention the past half-decade. Banner 17 was beautiful. Will we have to wait another 22 years for Banner 18? That could depend on how well Rajon Rondo can work his Twitter account to recruit Dwight Howard when his contract is up after next season, or sooner if the Magic get sick of his antics.
The Celtics used every tool at their disposal to survive until June 9. Rondo and Brandon Bass (perhaps His Honor will label him "Trout" or "Guitar") controlled the first half of Game 7. The Celtics faltered in the third quarter (What else is new?) and this one was tied after three before Boston's offense went comatose in the final 12 minutes. The Celtics desperately clung to the lead with eight minutes to play before LeBron drove the lane with regal authority to put the Heat up for good at 83-82. He's getting harder and harder to hate. Paul Pierce, who faded miraculously in the second half Saturday night after no-showing in Game 6, got stripped by D-Wade on Boston's next possession. Bosh came back and did his best Larry Bird with a 3-pointer that gave Miami a 86-82 lead with 7:17 left and the closing rout commenced. In this "make-or-miss league," the Celtics got it half-right.
The Celtics nearly got a complete game out of Rondo, who delivered another triple-double (22 points, 10 rebounds, 14 assists). Kevin Garnett and Rondo bolted before the buzzer Belichick-style. Emotions run high, for sure, but stick around until the bitter end. The Celitcs fans watching on TV did. And shake hands. You lost, they won. On the flip side, Doc Rivers, Ray Allen and the rest of the team upheld their dignity and showed unsurprising class congratulating the victors.
Who would have thought Kendrick Perkins would return to the NBA Finals before the rest of that undefeated-in-the-postseason starting five? Obviously not Danny Ainge. Maybe K-Perk will be wearing a sliver of green somewhere for his former teammates. The "Curse of the Perkino" lives.
Rondo nailed with his "nope" when he was asked if the Celtics overachieved this season. Had they won Game 7, that would have been an over-achievement. After Derrick Rose went out with injury and the Bulls collapsed, the East was wide open for the Celtics, who matched up with Miami as well as any other team this side of the Mississippi River. Extending this series to seven game was a nice accomplishment but not an over-achievement. Best-of-five would have helped. Thank goodness this one wasn't left up to the judges like the Manny Pacquiao fight.
Saturday night's loss closed this era of Celticdom. There's no real purpose in trying to force another season out of this core group, especially with Allen and Garnett as 36-year-old, unrestricted free-agents. The golden lining in this cloud was the play of Rondo since his Game 1 ejection against Atlanta. He's the foundation. Time to rebuild.
Father Time is one tough mother. All the gile, grit, experience, coaching acumen and desire can't carry you past James in his prime when he's got Bosh draining threes. LeBron's taken the "choker" label and dropped it off in the L.A. Kings locker-room. Hopefully Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, K-Perk and the rest of the Thunder should run the Heat right out of the Chesapeake Energy Arena. At least the Celtics don't have to unpack.
Pierce wilted again Saturday and shot just 34.4 percent in the conference finals. Garnett was neutralized with both his early fouls and Bosh's once-in-a-lifetime ability to crush 3-pointers. Garnett did not speak to reporters after the game. "KJ" seems primed to head off into the Pacific sunset into retirement. While Allen gave the Celtics their last lead of the season with 8:49 to play, he was consistently inconsistent all postseason, averaging just 11.9 points against Miami. Rivers was very emotional in his postgame press conference and ended it with a tap on Rondo's shoulder. "We had nothing left," he said. A return to Orlando as Coach/GM/Grand Pooh-bah remains a long-shot option given Rivers' contract provision that allows him to leave for a promotion elsewhere.
The Celtics provided Boston with one helluva of a "good job ... good effort" for the past five seasons with both the "Fab Five" and "Core Four." History has proven that the Perkins trade ended any real hope this unit had for another championship (in Boston, at least). While the team emotionally recovered this year, time had taken its toll. The numbers hung by the Big Three were still astounding, including 59-34 in the postseason and 11-4 in playoff series. The Stones rocked, but could not outplay The Heatles in this year's "American Idol" semifinal.
On the downside, the Celtics closed their season with a Game 7 loss for the third time in four years and have been eliminated by the Heat two years in a row. Talk about "LeBroning." In that sense, the Celtics underachieved. Red can't be pleased. Historically, those Game 7 losses will be the big difference between this version of the "Big Three" and their predecessors from the 1980s. Allen's emotional remarks about his "Big Brothers" during his post-game press conference drove home the historic significance of what this Celtics team attained and the legacy they were able to maintain and re-kindle. "There's still a lot of basketball left in my legs," Allen said of his teammates. "The four of us know how to play basketball and win games."
Where that happens is anybody's guess.
Thank you KG, Pierce and Allen.
You put the pride back in "Celtics."
It was a great run.
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