When playoff time comes around here, this site tends to get a little “homery,” if that’s a word. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. One of the best things about sports is getting caught up in a great run by your favorite team.
Well, the Celtics are on one hell of a run.
Have they gotten a little lucky with Derek Rose going down and Bosh being dinged up? Sure. But things have gone against the Celtics much more than for them. First it was Ray Allen’s ankle, then Paul Pierce’s knee and Avery Bradley’s Lego shoulder. The Heat were playing at a seemingly unbeatable level and the Celtics were coming off of a hard fought 7-game series with a young, athletic team.
It wasn’t looking good.
They went down 2-0. Between the dominance of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the refs, the fact that Rajon Rondo had one of the best postseason games ever and they still lost and the injuries – the end of the Big 3 plus Rondo era seemed to finally be coming an end. The window had officially closed.
Yet, here we are – good win at home, a close game with some Celtic bounces, and just as quickly that same window was creaking open again. But this is an old window with a lot of use. It wasn’t just going to open again without a group effort. And that’s just what the Celtics got Tuesday night – a group effort. Five players scored in double-figures with Kevin Garnett leading the way with 26.
But that’s not the story. The story was Mickael Pietrus channeling his inner 2009 playoffs, Keyon Dooling hitting a huge three after getting his fewest minutes of the series and Paul Pierce – the captain and the Truth – stepping up and hitting the biggest shot of the series in that face of the best defender (on or off the ball) in the league.
Going in to this series, you knew there was going to have to be a game where Paul Pierce stepped up and won it by himself if the Celtics were going to have to chance at advancing. This was certainly the game for it. The Heat were back in Miami and the crowd was ACTUALLY in to it. With 92 percent of the teams who have won the fifth game of a series that is tied at 2-2 going on to win, this was a must win. It was the type of game where Pierce has stepped up time and time again throughout his career, the type of game that he had on a regular basis when they won in 2007.
Then Pierce didn’t do what we were all expected from him. He was ice cold and couldn’t seem to get to the line. And on the other side of the ball, LeBron was absolutely torching him. Even though he’s playing on a hurt knee, you still expect him to at least show up on the defensive end.
Still, somehow, the Celtics were staying in the game. And as the game wound down it became clear that somebody was going to have to hit a big shot at the end. At first it seemed like it might be Pietrus, then the Heat came back. Pierce got to the line, but it was obvious the C’s were going to need a dagger.
That’s when Paul Pierce did what he’s done his entire career. He lulled LeBron to sleep and right when James went back on his heels for a second – Pierce pulled it. Right in his eye. Without hesitation.
The Heat came close at the end, but with the way Ray Allen had been shooting free throws (a great sign that he’s really getting his shot back, even if his shooting percentage wasn’t there) it was going to take a miracle for the Heat to win.
Having the confidence to take a shot of that magnitude after the off-shooting series he’s had, coupled with the fact that he’s nowhere close to healthy, shows the type of player that Pierce is. Unafraid to miss that shot and trusting that his teammates have his back. It’s the way he’s played his whole career, and no matter how many times he misses that fade away from the elbow at the end of a game – there is nobody I would rather have taking that shot.
But it wasn’t just that one shot. It was the way different players carried the team for certain stretches. The confidence that the supporting cast has, and the trust that these players have in each other is what seperates this team from the Heat. More so than the coaching – where Boston has the obvious advantage – or the role players – where Boston again has the advantage – it’s the team concept that they have all embraced.
As bad as the Heat’s role players are, there should still be more chemistry than this.
LeBron said at the half, “I’m pleased with my individual peformance.” Congrats, Lebronda. You’re really just never going to get it, huh? Until every player on your team believes that he can contribute ALONG WITH YOU, then your teams will always come up short.
Paul Pierce knows that it takes an entire team to put him in that oppourtunity to take that shot. LeBron James tries to do everything himself until the end and then gets surprised when Udonis Haslem almost has a heart attack because he passed the ball to him with two seconds left. The Celtics – and Paul Pierce – learned a long time ago to check their egos at the door and buy in. Don’t make any excuses, no matter how many injuries or bad calls.
I’m not going to say this series is over because I’m not that much of a homer. I’ve seen the Heat play all season long and you’d have to be Helen Keller to not realize how dangerous they are. But the Celtics have put themselves in an amazing position. They’ve just got to win one game at the Garden, and then it’s back to the promised land. One step closer to 18.
If the Celtics advance, it will be because of more than just “grit and balls.” It will be because they truly play as a team, a unit, a family. That’s something that LeBron James and the Heat know nothing about. In a family, you don’t have to do everything on your own. In a family people give you support and love, and you don’t want to do anything to let those people down. Whether that means gutting it out through bone spurs, playing an entire game PLUS overtime or hitting a huge three in the face of the best defender in the game after you haven’t shot the ball well in a week.
“UBUNTU” means “I am what I am because of who we all are.” The Celtics are in this position because, as a group, they have been able to lift and pull that creaky old window open again.