As a life-long Laker fan , I have no love for the Boston Celtics . My dislike for them goes back to the days when the Bill Russel-led Celtics used to regularly break Laker hearts and Red Auerbach would light up his infernal victory cigar. I remember all too well Kevin Hale clotheslining Kurt Rambis and Paul Pierce pulling off his fake injury stunt . To me , Kevin Garnett seems demented as he spouts his obscenities , Paul Pierce is a pouty prima donna and Rajon Rondo is a twerp … and yet , in the 2012 playoffs , the Celtics have been MAGNIFICENT.
They had not looked impressive during the regular season while winning their division with a 39-27 record. Things did not look good when they lost the opener against Atlanta and Rondo was suspended for bumping the ref. However , playing without their star point guard , they trounced the Hawks in the next game and went on to win the series handily. In the second round , they looked old and vulnerable as they were stretched to 7 games by an eighth seeded Philadelphia 76ers team and as the Conference finals began , I and most observers did not give them any chance against the Miami Heat. Every Yahoo sports expert picked Miami to win in 5 , or at most 6 games.
When Miami ran past them in the first game 93-79, all those predictions seemed to be coming true . Then , despite an outstanding 44-point performance from Rondo in the second game , they lost a heartbreaker in overtime. This surely was the end ,we thought . “No way they can bounce back from a loss like that” , said the experts as the Celtics headed back to Boston down 0-2. Boy , were we all wrong !!
Not only did the Celtics win both games at home , they went to Miami and beat the Heat to take a 3-2 series lead and grab the home-court advantage. Kevin Garnett was a demon in the paint , Rondo was all over the court , Pierce hit a key three pointer and the Celtics played stifling defense . They also kept their composure even as Miami lost theirs. Michael Pietrus came off the bench to sink a couple of threes and collected two offensive rebounds to keep the ball in Boston’s possession late in the fourth .( I always liked this guy when he played with the Orlando Magic; I only wish the Lakers had got him.) It would have been a fairytale ending if they had been able to clinch in Boston but LeBron James turned in one of the all time great performances and just would not be denied. As I write , the series is tied 3-3 and the pivotal 7th game will be played tonight in Miami.
If one goes by history , the Celtics won’t get this one ; till now , the home team has won 80% of the time in deciding games .However ,as this Celtics team has shown , history means little. They have got to this point despite a string of adversities. Paul Pierce has a sprained knee ligament , Rondo has a troublesome elbow and Kevin Garnett has his share of twinges. In addition , their best shooter Ray Allen is rusty and his shooting touch seems to have deserted him. With all this, and despite the fact that the Big Three are aging fast, the Celtics have played their hearts out battling Miami to a tie. It has been a pleasure to watch them play team-ball as opposed to an individualistic Heat team. Doc Rivers has been masterful in disguising his defenses and , if the Celtics can keep it close until the fourth quarter tonight , I give them a chance . The Heat ‘s psyche is fragile and , in a tight finish , the Celtics poise and playoff experience is a decided advantage and anything is possible.
I’ll be watching the game tonight and rooting for the Celtics . I hope they win but one thing is for certain : Win or lose , this Celtics team can be proud of the way they have battled it out and of the heart they have shown.
Go Celtics ! ( Gulp!! Never thought I’d say those words !).