Let me get this straight. The Celtics have dominating regular seasons in 2008 and 2009, but then have to sweat through a seven-game series in both years just to advance past the first round.
Now, in 2010, when the Celtics were a .500 team since Christmas and accomplished nothing in easy fashion all year, they need just five games to move on to the second round after tonight's 96-86 series-ending win over the Miami Wades, I mean the Miami Heat.
Not everyone picked Boston to win the series (I'm talking about you Bill "I know the Celtics are going to lose in Round One" Simmons ), but even those who did, could never have predicted it would only take five games. The series easily could have been a sweep if not for Dwyane Wade's instant classic performance and Celtic-missed free throws in Game Four.
Boston recovered from the Game Four loss and in Game Five, the Celtics were in controll basically throughout. Boston took a 19-17 lead on a Paul Pierce three-pointer with 3:33 left in the first quarter and never trailed the rest of the way.
The lead grew to as large as 21 at 67-46 following a Kendrick Perkins layup off a nice feed from Rajon Rondo.
While some members of the Heat may have been willing to throw in the towel at that point, if not sooner, others decided to not go away. Most notably in that group was obviously Wade, but also Mario Chalmers.
Trailing by 21, Chalmers hit back-to-back three-pointers and had nine points in the third quarter, helping Miami finish the quarter on a 19-4 run. This pulled the Heat to within six points, 71-65, heading into the fourth.
Nervous would have been an understatement to describe me at this point. Boston led by six after three in Game Four, and I was having Dwyane Wade flashbacks.
It was not looking good either when Ray Allen picked up his fifth foul early in the quarter and Wade hit the ensuing free throws to make the score 76-72.
But then Doc Rivers made a great coaching move. He kept Allen in the game, but took him off Wade, putting Pierce on Wade.
The move kept Allen on the floor, and Pierce put the clamps on Wade defensively, holding him to just three points over the final nine minutes.
With Pierce shutting down Wade, who admittedly looked exhausted on the floor (he played 46 minutes), the Celtics offense did its part on other end.
Two hoops by Kevin Garnett sandwiched around a Pierce drive pushed the lead to 12, 88-76, midway through the quarter.
Wade and Miami had one last push, though. Wade had a three-point play, his only points in the final nine minutes, to cut the lead to single digits, 91-83 with two minutes left.
But then Allen canned his fifth three-pointer of the game and Pierce delivered the dagger with a deep jump shot at the 1:18 mark to seal the victory and give Boston the series win.
The usual suspects were the stars for the Celtics. Rondo set the pace all night long, just missing out on a triple-double with 16 points, 12 assists, and eight rebounds to go with four steals.
Pierce, in addition to his defense on Wade in the fourth quarter, had 21 points, seven rebounds, and six assists. Ray Allen was the top-scorer for Boston with 24 points, including four second-half three-pointers.
Off the bench, Glen Davis did not have huge numbers, with seven points, but was a factor on the floor during crunch time.
As for the Heat, it was basically a replay of most of the games from this series. All Wade, all the time. He nearly had a tripe-double with 10 assists, eight rebounds, and a game-high 31 points.
But the Boston defense made him work for his points, limiting him to just 10-24 from the floor. He entered Game Five shooting 60-percent from the floor in the series.
The other Heat starters did absolutely nothing.
Seeing how Quentin Richardson is not really a very good basketball player, it is a good thing that he appears to be lining up several other career possibilities. In addition to being a theater critic, Richardson can also seek out the Alliance of Magicians with his repeated successful disappearing acts in the playoffs. He had a big four points in 39 minutes in Game Five.
Jermaine O'Neal's play once again inspired the question: Why is he even on the floor?
After Game Two, Wade had nothing to say when asked about Michael Beasley. I imagine he will have even less to say after Game Five when Beasley had two points and was benched for the entire second half.
Chalmers, who came off the bench, was the only player of any help to Wade, as he had 20 points, the only Miami player other than Wade in double figures.
Right around now, based on this series, Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra have to be wondering how will they possibly convince Wade that Miami is the best place for him. All series, Wade looked like an Academy Award-winning actor surrounded by understudies from the local community theater.
Reading body language, Wade repeatedly during the series had a dejected expression when looking around at his lack of help. Game Four showed he does not need a great deal from his teammates to win, but the other four games proved he does need some help and that the Heat as currently constructed do not have enough.
Wade averaged over 30 points, six assists, and five rebounds on 57 percent shooting in a series where his team won only one game. Not exactly a selling point to keep him in Miami.
What is their pitch to Wade? I do not know, but I imagine it won't be game tape of Beasley in the playoffs.
As for the Celtics, Rivers has found the answer to the inconsistency and lack of effort and energy that plagued Boston for much of the year—rely on the starters.
Similar to last postseason, Rondo, Allen, and Pierce essentially have to play the entire game. Each played over 40 minutes in Game Five, with Pierce playing 46 and Rondo playing 44. Garnett has gone from 29 minutes a game in the regular season to over 35 in the postseason.
As for the bench, Rivers has cut the rotation down to just the starters and Davis with a little Tony Allen. Old men, Rasheed Wallace and Michael Finley, have been relegated to playing only when absolutely necessary.
Rondo may have moments of inconsistency, and the Big Three may be aging, but you can count on their effort every night, and against the Heat, it was more than enough to win and advance.
I do not know if that formula will continue to work, but it is apparent that is the only way the Celtics will have any chance to move on. Expect the big minutes to continue for Boston's all-stars.
Fortunately for them, unlike the past two seasons, they finished the first-round series quickly. Now take advantage of the opportunity to rest. LeBron awaits.
- Speaking of LeBron, James and the Cavaliers also finished their first-round series tonight, defeating the Bulls four games to one. Celtics-Cavaliers is a rematch of the second-round matchup from 2008. In that series, James and Pierce each went for over 40 in a memorable Game Seven, that ended with the Celtics victory.
- The two teams are vastly different now. The Celtics have the same starting five as they did then, but no James Posey, Eddie House, or P.J. Brown who were all crucial to the Celtics winning that series.
- Since 2008, Cleveland has done for James what Miami has failed to do for Wade—get him quality players. The Cavs have added Shaquille O'Neal, Antawn Jamison, Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, and Jemario Moon.
- This season, the teams split the four meetings. But Cleveland's two wins came easily, while Boston won one game way back on opening night and the other win was more of an escape than a victory, as Cleveland was one James-missed three-pointer away from winning a game they trailed by 22 in the fourth quarter.
- James, this season, averaged 36.5 points, 8.3 assists, and 6.5 rebounds against the Celtics. For Boston against Cleveland, Ray Allen had a team-best 22.5 points per game while Pierce averaged 19.0 points. Garnett averaged 15.0 points and 8.8 rebounds and Rondo averaged 14.8 points and 10.3 assists.
- Home court has been key in the games between the two teams. Cleveland has won 12 of 13 against Boston in Cleveland, while Boston has won 10 of 11 against the Cavs in Boston.
- Two years ago, Boston was the top seed with the best record in the NBA and Cleveland was the four seed. Those roles are now reversed.
- In 2008, Boston defeated a Cleveland team that was a one-man-show similar to the Heat team the Celtics just defeated. Cleveland is a much more complete team now and if the Celtics have any hope of moving on, they will have to do much more than just contend with James. Although, that is a good place to start.
(This article was originally posted on 4SportBoston.com)
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