I’m the first to admit that I’ve been one of the Celtics many doubters this year – I just couldn’t see these guys making it to the NBA Finals. And let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, the Celtics aren’t there yet – not by a long shot. But the importance of the Celtics’ Game 5 win cannot be understated. These guys hung around all game, then iced the Heat when given the opportunity. ESPN.com perhaps said it best with their headline this morning; “Respect Thy Elders: Take that disbelievers. A team that we all doubted has reminded us how it’s done.“
The Celtics may be old, but their experience is starting to show as these games get into what I like to call “the wild time.” They’re arguably the only team in the NBA that has 4 guys that you’d expect to close you out if given the ball with the game on the line – that’s just flat-out difficult to defend. Kevin Garnett played a beautiful game last night, to the tune of 26 points and 11 rebounds. But there were really three factors that stood out to me in this game as making the difference:
1) Paul Pierce’s 3-pointer in Lebron’s eye with 52 seconds left in the game. An incredibly tough shot from a guy that had been struggling all game. Pierce’s reputation in the clutch is only further cemented.
2) Rajon Rondo’s incredible tip to Michael Peitrus, who then drained a three, following what could have been a stunning Dwyane Wade fast-break inducing block. Say what you will about Rondo, but this guy may very well be the best playmaker in the entire NBA. He’s incredible to watch. The subtle head fakes, eye fakes, and pump fakes that draw a defender 1 or 2 feet in the wrong direction and open up a miniscule passing lane go largely unnoticed. I can’t tell you how many times Rondo burnt Lebron with these moves. If you have any doubts about Rondo, just listen to Magic Johnson talk about him.
3) The Celtics were 9-9 from the free throw line down the stretch. That’s closing.
I must admit, I’m still generally of the feeling that even if the Celtics do close out the Heat they’re still going to be in over their head against the Thunder in the Finals. But the more I look at, who is better; Wade and Lebron, or Durant and Westbrook? I think you can make an argument either way there, but I think that the Thunder have a significantly better supporting cast. The Heat simply don’t have a Harden or a Kendrick Perkins.
I’m trying to keep my butt in my seat, and my expectations remain relatively low. That’s a fun way to watch these games – it certainly makes the losses sting that much less. At the same time I must admit that I’m now letting a little piece of belief creep in. We still have 3 of the best scorers in NBA history on our side, as well as the most exciting player to watch and the best distributor of the ball that I’ve seen in a long time. So why not us?