BOSTON — Who knew the Celtics, who labored for two rounds in the playoffs, then came up empty this week in Miami, still had some swag in them?
Who knew they could reach eight-deep in the lineup and not suffer, could briefly buckle in the fourth quarter after nearly blowing a 24-point lead and live to tell, could do all the necessary stuff that winners do and leave the court chest-first? What you saw Friday night in Game 3 was Celtic Basketball, a team effort led by defense, the kind of ball the TD Garden crowd feared was lost like Ray Allen‘s jumper. And now, after Celtics 101, Heat 91, here comes the question everyone wants answered:
Can the Celtics make this a series? Really?
“We’re not satisfied with just one win,” Rajon Rondo said.
Well, if that means extending the Heat to six games, then yeah, they can make it a series. Of course. That’s possible. They’ll have to turn Dwyane Wade into a zombie a few more times before anyone will believe they can reach the NBA Finals. But for now, let’s just say the Eastern Conference finals received a smidgen of suspense, all because coach Doc Rivers rolled the dice on his thin bench and the Celtics led by Kevin Garnett showed up collectively to finally draw blood from Miami.
KG, Paul Pierce and Rondo combined for 68 points. They all took their turns doing damage at various stages of the game. And the bench, the same crew that combined for nine points and four rebounds in Game 2 (that’s four quarters plus a five-minute overtime) was massive Friday, getting 19 and 14, with Marquis Daniels looking large.
“Everyone who came off the bench contributed for us,” said Rivers. “Our bench played tonight.”
That’s how the Celtics can extend this best-of-seven, by collecting bits and pieces from several sources, not just Rondo with a little Pierce and KG tossed in. They need rebounds (they took 44 to Miami’s 32), they need defense and they need depth. They lack the legs to get into a sprint with LeBron and Wade and, if the game is close, Miami has more closers and three-point shooters.
Of course, the Celtics do have Rondo, who wasn’t 44-point Rondo but sure looked as tough in the final five minutes when the Celtics began to wobble. Rondo took control, scored eight of his 21 points (he added 10 assists and six rebounds) and the entire building exhaled.
“He stabilized us,” said Rivers.
It was a game the Celtics had to have, much like the Thunder had to beat the Spurs when the West shifted to Oklahoma City. The notion of the Celtics possibly getting swept was nonsense anyway; that’s not showing the proper respect for a veteran team and a solid coach. Besides, Miami isn’t that good. The Heat can’t go a best-of-seven without laying an egg. They did against Indiana, and the Pacers don’t have Boston’s enormous pride.
And yet, pride will only take the Celtics so far. Like, six games, tops. Unless you think their bench has a few more games like this.