BOSTON -- The way the fans serenaded the home team with a “Let’s go Celtics!,” was that a plea for Game 7 in Miami or a thank you for an era well done?
Given a chance to win on their home floor, the Celtics folded like a paper airplane, raising suspicion that their best game could be behind them.
“A bunch of fighters in this locker room,” said Kevin Garnett. But these “fighters” lost by 19 points and looked like an old heavyweight who just absorbed a few too many blows. They were victims of a great performance by MVP LeBron James, no doubt, but also their inability to repeat the shots and plays they made in the previous three games, all Boston wins.
Besides Rajon Rondo, the Celtics had nothing. No fire, no steely determination, no grit … all the elements that helped them venture this deep into the postseason.
“We got into the locker room after the game and there was a great sense of disappointment among everybody,” said Ray Allen. “And anger. This was basically our Game 7.”
The Celtics quickly turned their attention to Saturday and what Rondo said will be a “confident” team. But can the Celtics possibly be a better team? Against Miami? Against LeBron? And in their 20th game of a very long playoff stretch?
The signs aren’t terribly promising. Allen isn’t going to miraculously develop a better ankle. He made three shots Thursday, one a 3-pointer, the only three in 14 tries for the Celtics team. Paul Pierce hit a big 3-pointer in Miami, but 48 hours later, he was meek. He made one more basket than reserve Marquis Daniels and had no answer for James. It could very well be the schedule is finally catching up to the Celtics, who must play tremendously to win Game 7 on the Heat’s floor. Not to say that isn’t possible. But really, what are the odds for a team that has overachieved?
“It’s been tough for us all year to get to this point,” said Pierce, “and why wouldn’t it be tough now?”
They’ll be asked to beat Miami for the fourth time in five games, something that hasn’t happened to the Heat all year, and they’ll have to do it against an energized James, still smoldering from 45 points and 15 rebounds. Nobody would fault the Celtics for losing in seven against Miami; just reaching the East finals was an accomplishment alone for a team that had a losing record a week after the All-Star break.
But there was just a sense, in the way their shoulders dropped with each James basket, in the manner in which they regretted letting a golden opportunity slip, that Boston’s best has come and gone.
“We left a huge opportunity on the floor,” said coach Doc Rivers. “But we have another opportunity. And that’s what the playoffs are all about.”
We’ll see. The Celtics have won much respect for stretching this season out despite losing their best two bench players and dealing with Allen’s lingering injury. They’ve made it this far on pride, more than anything else. But that takes you only so far.
Like, to the doorstep of the NBA Finals. But probably not through the door.