After closing out the Cleveland Cavaliers last night in six games, a reporter asked Paul Pierce essentially if he felt a sense of accomplishment from defeating LeBron James and the top-seeded Cavs.
Pierce thought about the question for a few seconds and then said no. He was a Boston Celtic, and the Celtics don’t measure themselves by anything other than championships.
For proof, he said, look no further than the banners.
While other teams raise banners for a varying number of accomplishments, including the team the Celtics share a building with, the Celtics put a flag in the rafters for only one reason—championships.
I smiled for a second because I knew he was right, but, yet, I didn't care.
I know the Celtics are still very far away from a title with an extremely difficult challenge facing them in Orlando. But that didn't matter to me. Last night was an accomplishment worth celebrating.
The game ended and I raced to make sure my DVR was set to tape the early morning replay. I settled in on the couch and flipped back and forth between the various channels in an attempt to not miss anything.
I stayed up long past the time I should have and got up over an hour early so I could catch up on anything I might have missed in my few hours of sleep.
Walking into work today (I do not live or work in the New England area), I saw a co-worker who I know is not a basketball fan, but I chewed his ear off anyway for several minutes telling him all about last night’s game.
Winning this series and winning the game last night was about as satisfying as a playoff moment could be without it involving a championship.
There are the obvious reasons—the Cavaliers were the top team in the league during the regular season, they have the game’s best player, and everyone picked them to win. As much as I wanted to disagree, I had a difficult time making a convincing case for Boston before the series.
One week ago, Cleveland even looked to take command of the series with a 31-point destruction of Boston in Game Three.
Since that point, though, Boston turned the tables on Cleveland, won three games in a row, and did it in rather easy fashion. The nine point margin of victory last night (94-85) was actually Boston’s smallest of the series.
The Celtics won their four games by an average of 17.3 points.
In a desperate situation in Game Six, Cleveland would have the lead for slightly over 90 seconds during a brief spurt early in the third quarter. Otherwise, the game would be all Boston.
LeBron James did appear to make things interesting when he knocked down back-to-back three pointers in the fourth quarter to cut Boston’s lead to 78-74.
This brings me to another reason why I am so proud about last night’s win and the series victory. The Celtics now are almost a completely different team than the one that I struggled to watch for the final four months of the regular season.
Had this been the regular season, after James’ two trifectas, Boston almost without question would have folded.
Not now, not in the postseason.
Rajon Rondo, the best player hands down in the series, turned one of James’ nine turnovers on the night into a fast-break-layup.
Following another Cleveland turnover, Rondo found Paul Pierce for a three pointer.
Then Pierce drove the lane and spotted Rasheed Wallace open in the corner, and Sheed canned the three.
For the final exclamation point, Rondo led the fast break and dished to Kevin Garnett for an emphatic dunk.
In slightly over two and a half minutes, Boston went on a 10-0 run to build its largest lead of the night of 14 (88-74), with less than six minutes left in the game.
The Cavaliers weren’t quite ready to throw in the towel (that would have to wait) and fought their way to within seven points.
Boston needed one more hoop to seal the win, but Pierce missed a shot from in close. Garnett came to the rescue with an offensive rebound, then rushed the shot, missing, but Pierce tipped the rebounds and Garnett secured it.
Timeout, Boston, in order to regroup. Out of the break, the Celtics went back to Garnett, who delivered the knock out blow with a hoop over Anderson Varejao.
James then had his final turnover of the night, and trailing by nine with a minute left in the game, Cleveland put down their swords. They rather inexplicably gave up, and Boston ran out the clock.
I am sure if you search really hard today, you will find someone talking about LeBron James’ future. I don’t want to do that and am not interested in what really amounts to pure speculation.
The Celtics won this series, and they deserve the credit and the attention.
This is a team with a championship pedigree that has had the same starting five now for three consecutive seasons. A starting five that when in tact, has yet to lose a playoff series together.
And it is this team that, due in large part to their own play in the regular season, was written off by everyone. I was right in that mix, I thought the Celtics would beat Miami, but against Cleveland, I just wanted to see them put up a good fight.
And did they ever exceed my expectations.
That is the final reason why the win in the series meant so much to me. It was truly unexpected.
But it was no fluke. It is difficult to win a series by fluke. The Celtics were the better team.
Rajon Rondo was the best player in the six games. Beyond Rondo, though, Boston had the best team, everyone who played had a major hand in the series win.
We spend a great deal of time talking about the individual when discussing the NBA, but basketball is a team sport, and the Celtics are advancing onto the Eastern Conference Finals due to a complete team effort.
The Celtics were better than the Cavaliers, It gets no simpler than that.
- For the six-game series, Rajon Rondo shot 54.1-percent from the floor, and averaged 20.7 points, 11.8 assists, and 6.3 rebounds. He became just the fourth player since 1990 to average 20 points, 11 assists, and six rebounds in a playoff series. The others are Steve Nash, Michael Jordan, and Magic Johnson (twice).
- Kevin Garnett had a double-double last night with 22 points and 12 rebounds. It was his third double-double of the series and his fourth of the playoffs, after only having 10 in the regular season.
- Rasheed Wallace, who had been almost completely relegated to the bench in the Miami series, was a major factor last night, finishing with 13 points. Sheed who looked slow and disinterested for much of the season, hit several big shots in the game and had a number of hustle plays. Wallace also played well in Game Two, where he had 17 points off the bench. Prior to his 13 points last night and his 17 in Game Two, Wallace had not scored that many points in a game since he had 17 back on February 16 at Sacramento.
- Early foul trouble limited Paul Pierce to just nine minutes and two points in the first half. But Pierce came up big in the third quarter, with a pair of three pointers and then a third three in the fourth.
- As for LeBron, after averaging 36.5 points against Boston in the regular season, he was held to 26.8 in the playoff series. In the two wins, he stayed on par with his regular season average of 36.5 points, but managed only 21 points per game in the four losses.
- James lack of a post-up game was glaring in this series. His insistence on not playing with his back to the basket allowed Boston to survive Paul Pierce’s frequent foul trouble and guard James with much smaller players like Tony Allen and Ray Allen.
- It is on to face the Orlando Magic for the Celtics. I almost do not even want to bother looking at how the regular season games played out between these two teams because it is clear Boston is a different team now. With that said, due to Jameer Nelson and then Dwight Howard guarding the rim, it will be interesting to see if the Magic are able to do what Miami and Cleveland could not—slow down Rajon Rondo.
- The series with the Magic is a rematch of last season’s playoffs where Orlando overcame a 3-2 deficit to win in seven games. Each team was without a significant piece during that series, as Orlando played without Nelson and the Celtics played without Garnett. The Celtics enter the series with Orlando fresh off knocking off Cleveland when no one thought they could do that, and Orlando, after beating Boston last year, went on to defeat Cleveland in a series no one thought they could win either.
(This article was originally posted on 4SportBoston.com)
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