by Ben Collins
The following is a list of people who, with two weeks left in the season, were right about the Boston Celtics: Doc Rivers, homers, morons, idiots, people who haven’t watched basketball since 2008, people who haven’t watched basketball since 1986, people who were cryogenically frozen in 1967 and woke up two weeks before the season ended, your ex-girlfriend from Revere who works at Kelly’s Roast Beef, mindreaders, Wyc Grousbeck, and people who were absolutely and completely, 100-percent right.
“Nobody believed in this team,” Celtics co-owner and CEO Wyc Grousbeck said, and then he lifted the Eastern Conference Championship trophy a few seconds later. His Celtics just defeated the defending Eastern Conference Champion Orlando Magic, 96-84, and will advance to the NBA Finals.
You’re right, Wyc. Nobody believed in this team.
Why would they? They finished their regular season by going 3-and-7 in their last ten games. Their backup center swore that he’d be in shape come playoff time, then playoff time came, and he was a shape, but not the one we were all thinking of. The team’s backup point guard had just recently learned to dribble below his chest on a fast break.
And they just looked — well, they just looked old and discombobulated. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what was wrong with them. And that was the biggest problem of all.
But credit Doc Rivers. He saw what everyone else was talking about — the discombobulation stuff — but he refused to believe it. He saw something else from the very beginning.
“I said it in the locker room after the game tonight: ‘This is where we thought we would be, so don’t be surprised,’” said Rivers. “We started out so well. Through 28 games, as a coach, I saw what they did and what they had. (The C’s were 23-and-5 to start the season.) We kept saying as a staff, ‘We have it in us.’”
But then the team got mangled by injuries. Kevin Garnett looked like he’d never fully recover from a knee surgery that cost him the back-end of last season. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen had various nagging ailments. Then there were the other kitschy things. They had to hold Kendrick Perkins out of the last game, Ray Allen told the media tonight, so he wouldn’t pick up a technical that would cost him a playoff game. The Nate Robinson Point Guard Experiment wasn’t working out.
And it all fell on Rivers. He opted to forego any end-of-the-season momentum or goodwill with the local media to rest all of those players and implement a backup point guard solution of Tony Allen and/or just playing Rajon Rondo 43 minutes per night.
“I knew we were not good enough injured,” Rivers said. “But we had a chance healthy.”
And that chance was realized tonight. And it was because all of Rivers’ late-season decisions paid off.
Yes — all of them.
Paul Pierce was the same in-his-prime Hall of Famer that the Celtics needed to win a title in 2008. He scored 31, snared 13 boards, doled out five assists, and stemmed any run the Magic attempted with quick answers. Why? Because he was healthy.
Ray Allen? Ditto. Twenty points on 6-of-13 shooting, and one dagger three from the corner.
And the most important decision of the night? Inserting Nate Robinson for his first major postseason minutes of his life in a must-win game.
Nate delivered, scoring 13 on 4-of-10 shooting and providing a banged-up Rajon Rondo with 7 minutes of second quarter rest. All of this coming from a guy who hadn’t played meaningful extended postseason minutes in his life, who was officially out of the rotation until the end of this series, and who had spent 30 games this season dawdling on the bench of a lottery team.
“This is how it happens. I knew this was how it was gonna happen for me,” said Robinson. “You’re in there, you’re playing, and I almost busted out in tears. I looked up to the sky and I just said, ‘Thank you, thank you.’”
He’s talking about God here, by the way. Not Doc. But on the infallibility scale recently, there’s little difference.
– Let’s start off these Game Notes by reminding you, the reader, about how badly Game 5 was officiated. How bad was it? It’s the only thing anyone can talk about today, about an hour and a half before Game 6.
Perkins on the rescission of one of the technicals: “It really don’t matter what I think. I do think both should’ve been rescinded, but I’m just glad to be playing.”
Perkins on the worry of having to play tech-free for the rest of the playoffs: “I don’t worry about getting another tech. I can’t play like that. But I might even smile a few times.”
Perkins on the first technical, and if his elbow to Gortat was an accident: “I didn’t do that on purpose. That was an accident.”
Perkins on the reputation of being a talker: “If I be honest with you, I’ll get in trouble with Stu Jackson.”
Me on the fact that we have to talk about how blatantly corrupt officiating is in this league an hour before Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals: “Fix this s–t, David Stern. It’s ridiculous that you refuse to acknowledge this.”
– Perk gets a huge ovation from the Garden faithful during introductions for being allowed to play in this game.
– Strong rebound by Ray to trigger a fastbreak, which Rondo finishes.
– See what you’ve done refs? This first foul was clearly a foul, but the fans are going to disbelieve you anyway. Smooth. Barnes to the line right away.
– Rondo hits a three off of one stepback dribble. Hey, is this the alternate reality where LOST ends and they answer some questions? 5-1, Celtics. It’s a baseball game!
– We’re 2:37 into this quarter and there have been six whistles. That’s one call every 27 seconds.
– Odd tempo to this game early. Lots of mid-range Js from unusual suspects (Rondo, Barnes) for usual results (horrible clanging noises).
– Rondo to the bucket, plus-1. There’s no foul there, either. 10-4, and Rajon is back to Game 3 Rajon tonight.
– KG appears to have just punched Dwight Howard in the forearm twice. It’s his second foul. An unbelievably dumb play, and he’s lucky it wasn’t a flagrant.
– Big Baby enters for the first time to an ovation befitting a concussed infant.
– Dwight Howard receives a beautiful lob pass and throws it down. Just filthy, and it shuts up the Garden temporarily. The Magic have stormed back on a 6-0 run to tie it at 10.
– Back-to-back 3s for the C’s. Allen then Pierce. 17-14, Celtics. We’ve got mid-fourth quarter intensity in the first quarter.
– They’re showing the Rondo hustle play de la centurie on the jumbotron and it has effectively stirred the crowd back up after the long TV timeout.
– Rondo hasn’t picked up any early, dumb fouls yet like the last few games.
– Howard muscles for one of those Superman rebounds after Rashard Lewis’ wild flail hits the top of the backboard. Howard throws in the layup plus a foul. The fans are upset because they don’t know that the top of the backboard is inbounds.
– Uh-oh, Big Baby is trying to do too much tonight. He misses a 21-foot jumper.
– Rondo coast-to-coast off of a turnover. 19-16, C’s. Is there anybody more dangerous on the break than Rondo in the entire NBA right now?
– Dwight Howard picks up his first personal on a Big Baby clobbering and there’s the kind of mock applause you hear in my living room as Jay Leno completes his monologue every night.
– Davis draws a foul against Howard. No call. If it’s annoying reading all these officiating updates, imagine how annoying it is watching the game.
– Rondo completes the no-look pass of the playoffs to Pierce for a dunk. This guy’s highlight reel for this post-season might be the flashiest of all time. No exaggeration. 28-18, Celtics.
– Howard is demolished down low by Pierce.
– Rondo is demolished by Dwight Howard. Rondo is still down. This crowd is chanting Rondo as he’s on the floor. EVERYONE IN THIS ARENA. Honest to God. This is like Rudy. I’ve never heard anything like this.
– The foul is on Jason Williams. Hahahahaha. He wasn’t even near the play. America.
– Rondo is getting a loud MVP chant. On the way to the arena, I was thinking about how he wasn’t even Third Team All-NBA, and how no one thought that was a big deal less than a month ago. This guy’s career growth is a damn pituitary case.
– 30-19, end of 1.
– There’s no Internet or working TV up here tonight. It’s a lot like the ‘40s. I’m currently smoking a cigar and a hooker is transcribing everything I’m saying.
– I’m lonely and I need cash.
– Sorry, most of that last game note was the hooker.
– Nate-Rob has entered to start the second.
– Out-of-control Tony Allen in a nutshell: He strips the ball, doesn’t look up to a wide-open Nate Robinson, continues driving with his head down and the ball dribbled up by his chest and is called for a charge.
– Orlando is huge right now. They’re rolling with Howard and Gortat at the 4-5 upfront. Doc notices and counters with KG (who has two fouls) and Rasheed to match the length.
– Nate-Rob rolls around the pick and drains a three to give the Celtics their biggest lead. 35-23, and the C’s are +1 in 2:15 of Rondo Rest Hour.
– Three people in head-to-toe Gumby costumes are dancing in the bleachers. Happy Memorial Day, everyone!
– Vince Carter rolls through a couple of picks and hits a J off the dribble. Orlando fans would murder many a hobo to see this version of Vince for the rest of this series.
– Howard picks up his second foul on an obvious charge.
– Nate Robinson hits a pull-up 3 in transition. The C’s have activated Kryptonate tonight against Superman and it’s the only time it has ever mattered. Celtics extend the lead to 15, 40-25.
– KG played 3:51 in the first quarter and the only non-zeros on his stat sheet were two fouls and one turnover. He has a dunk and a tip-in in his three minutes this quarter. 42-15, C’s. Timeout Orlando.
– Big hustle play by Nate, forcing Jameer over-and-back. He’s providing Rondo over a half-quarter of rest, here.
– Another hustle play by Nate, chasing after a thrown-away Vince Carter pass. Jameer Nelson tomahawks Rondo slightly, for a flagrant-1. Probably the right call — no intent to hurt, but a pretty violent swing. Nate picks up two free throws.
– They iso Nate (whether that’s the play or not, we’ll never know) and he throws home a 22-footer for two. The Celtics are up 48-29. Remember when some said, “Nate Robinson will win at least one game for the Celtics in the playoffs” when the Celtics made that trade, then everyone wavered on that idea when he fell out of the rotation? Waver no more.
– Nate. Again. Off-balance fadeaway off of one leg. 50-30, Celtics. He has 12.
– Nate goes toe-to-toe with Howard, who provides some weakside help. Dwight blocks him clean up top but (maybe) got some body down low. (Maybe.) It’s his third, and that sucks. Robinson hits one. 51-32. Howard exits with 4:22 left.
– Looks like the Orlando offense is to iso Vince.
– J-Will pull-up trey. 51-35, Celtics. Orlando’s best offense right now is probably fast-break stuff like this because Gortat and Rashard are perfect trailers and can get extra possessions.
– Rondo returns for Nate Robinson, who provided Rajon 7:33 of rest. That’s the longest non-garbage time stretch of the series.
– VC for a corner three. He has a quiet 12. 55-41, Celtics.
– Vince hits a free-throw to bring it the deficit back down to a manageable 13, and the Celtics lead 55-42 at the half
– Downstairs, back in the 21st century, the Internet confirms my suspicions: Nate dominated that half scoring 13 on 4-of-7 shooting in less than nine minutes. Howard is playing well but can’t stay on the floor. He has 13 on 5-of-8 shooting but is the only player in the game with 3 fouls. The Internet also confirms that, other than SLAMonline and box scores, the only thing the Internet is starting to become consistently good for is cat videos. Back to the ‘40s, Doc.
– KG para dos to start the half.
– The Magic have gone to Dwight all three times to start the half. Dwight scores once.
– Back-to-back threes for Ray Allen. Orlando accidentally triples KG on a collapse, leaving Jesus wide open in the corner. 63-44, C’s. Immediate Magic timeout. Whatever happens coming out of this timeout will determine Orlando’s season.
– A nicely drawn-up play gets Rashard an open look for three, but he misses off of the side of the rim.
– Blowout Warning: 66-44, C’s after a Pierce three. Mr. Scalabrine, start stretching, or eating Reubens, or whatever it is you do to get ready to play.
– That was a formal jinx. Jameer for three in transition. Orlando has been monstrous on the break. Also: Orlando has been rarely on the break.
– Dwight makes a strong move to beat KG and Garnett fouls in desperation. And-1, and Orlando is back within 16.
– Howard fouls Pierce very hard on his mosey to the basket. Loud “Howard sucks” chants. The crowd has come to the consensus that the 15th hard foul of the series is not a coincidence.
– Howard, Carter and Nelson have combined for 46 points. The rest of the Magic has 12.
– Pierce hits a patented elbow fadeaway. 82-61, Celtics to end the third. Looks like we have an Eastern Conference champion.
– Interesting Celtics lineup to start the quarter: Nate-Tony Allen-Pierce-Davis-Rasheed. Orlando has Carter, Lewis and Howard in with Pietrus and J-Will. If the Magic want to win this game, they have to do it now.
– Pierce hits an immediate three.
– Pierce wraps up Howard on the break and Howard is angry. Boston does not like this dude right now. Yowz. It’s almost like they’re projecting Sex and the City 2 on this guy’s face.
– Here’s a nice little recap of what’s going on: TV timeout. 8:40 left. 85-65, Celtics. Fans are starting to chant “Beat LA.” It doesn’t seem premature.
– Orlando crawls back slowly with a few free throws. 85-68.
– Pierce hits a three on a broken play. 88-68. Loud “Beat LA” chants. Pierce has 29, 11 board, 5 assists.
– A noisy dunk by Howard, as if to say, “We’re still here, folks.”
– A 24-second violation forced by the Magic. They’re playing some very good defense right now, they just need to score in a hurry.
– JJ Redick for 3 and the Magic are only down 14. 88-74, Celtics with 4:24 left.
– A Rondo coast-to-coast floater. That’s his 14th point and a possible dagger with 3:19 left. 92-76, Celtics. Orlando calls timeout.
– 2:12 left. Fourteen-point lead. Sideline out of bounds. “Beat LA. Beat LA.”
– Ray Allen bucket with exactly two minutes left. We have an Eastern Conference Champion.
– The Boston Celtics win 96-84 and will advance to the NBA Finals.
– Doc: “My favorite thing tonight was Paul during the timeout: ‘I’m just cutting for my teammates tonight.’ And that’s Paul saying that.”
– Big Baby: “This is, what, my third year in the league and I’m going to be in the Finals twice. Charles Barkley hopes he can be in my position. I love Charles, but I hope he can come to grips with himself.”