Tip your hat to the Miami Heat. They deserve it.
For a team as scrutinized as Miami and a player as villainized as LeBron James, this must be pretty sweet. It was a huge moment in James' career. Boston had beaten him two of the previous three seasons and, at some level, he had to wonder if he’d ever get the monkey off his back.
Sure, it's still just the second round and Miami hasn’t won anything yet. with two major contenders already out in the Western Conference, things are certainly looking up.
The strange thing about this series was that for all the talk about how Miami couldn't close games and how Boston could (which I harped on a lot), the Heat completely turned it around and made late game execution a distinct advantage. And in game five, when they needed to come through the most, they did.
The triumvirate of Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and James totaled 23 points in the fourth quarter on a hyper-efficient 8 of 13 shooting. Defensively, they were a step faster on every possession, relegating the glacially slow Celtics to one poor possession after another. Boston’s Big 3 was just 1-9 from the floor with 2 –- yes 2 -– points during the same stretch, marking the first time in their tenure together they have not taken a series to seven games in a losing effort.
Sure, we can point to the Rajon Rondo injury as a factor, because frankly, it was.
Rondo is the catalyst for everything Boston does. His ability to push tempo, find shooters in transition and execute the pick-and-roll is vital to the Celtics’ success, especially with guys like Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen not able to get the separation in isolation scenarios they could even three years ago.
When it comes down to it though, would a fully healthy Rondo even have mattered?
The Celtic, like the Lakers and Spurs, looked old, slow and shockingly unathletic. In game five, they were just completely dominated and outscored 16-0 to close the game. They didn’t rotate defensively and didn’t help each other at all.
A changing of the guard is happening in the NBA about as fast as the Heat and Mavericks dispelled the competition -- which is to say, fast. In the west, upstarts like Oklahoma City and Memphis are young and only improving, while out in the East, the Bulls and Heat may just be forming their own mini-dynasties.
The window for Boston –- at least with this roster -– has come and gone. Then again, GM Danny Ainge -- if he’s still around -- will have plenty of ammo come next summer. The Celtics have flown under the radar in all the free agent talk, but with the salaries of Allen and Garnett coming off the books after next season, the Celtics will have an abundance of cap room to try and lure top tier free agents.
But before we look forward, we must first understand the past.
For Celtics fans, thinking about the past few years must be bittersweet. The one championship in 2008 was a great moment yes, but the question of “what if” has to enter their mindset on some level.
Garnett had a brutal knee injury two seasons ago and missed the 2009 postseason, Kendrick Perkins went down before Game 7 last year and now with Rondo, that’s three consecutive seasons where key personnel missed vital playoff games.
We don’t know what happens next for this franchise and the questions are bountiful. Will Doc Rivers return? Is Shaq retiring? Will they re-sign KG or Allen after next year?
The bottom line?
While this team only captured one title, I think we can all agree they were worthy champions while it lasted. Even for Celtic haters, you have to respect what this team accomplished. As they walked off the court in South Beach last night, it was truly the end of an era, and a very special one at that.