HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The next time Celtics coach Doc Rivers has something to say about his team and the resolve that championship outfits always show when things look bleak, I’ll just shut up and listen. We’d all be wise to do as much.
He warned us when Rajon Rondo went down with that torn ACL that the season would not end for the Boston Celtics just because they lost their All-Star point guard on Jan. 27.
His exact words: “You can write the obituary; I’m not. You can go ahead, but I’m not. We won tonight and so, the way I look at it is, we’re going to stay in there. In my opinion, we’re going nowhere.”
We jumped to foolish conclusions around here and assumed that the Big 3 + Rondo era was officially done. But the Celtics have done exactly what Rivers said they would. Seven straight wins, including triumphs over the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers and most recently Sunday’s triple overtime thriller to snap the Denver Nuggets’ nine-game win streak.
The remaining members of the Big 3 — Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett — have played like the wicked warriors they’ve always been, but they’ve cranked it back up to 2008 levels over the course of the past seven games.
Pierce was magnificent yesterday, slaying the Nuggets with big shots, clutch rebounds and timely assists. Pierce’s 27, 14 and 14 was a throwback to the days of Larry Legend in Boston, as hallowed a ground as there is in Celtics lore. Garnett was just as devastating, finishing with 20 points and 18 rebounds.
But how about the rest of the supporting cast? Jason Terry came to life, finishing with a season-high 26 points off the bench, reminding us all of the crucial role he played in the Dallas Mavericks’ championship run two seasons ago. And Jeff Green, doing his own Mr. Big Shot routine against the Nuggets, chipped in with 17 points and three big blocks.
Rivers, of course, refused to take any credit for what’s gone on the past seven games, including yesterday heroics from Pierce and the rest of the crew.
“I mean that’s what great players do. I would love to tell you I had something to do with it,” Rivers said. “I was sitting just like the fans saying, ‘Please, Lord, Paul make a shot.’ ”
But he’s short-changing the power of his words and presence in that Celtics locker room. As great as Garnett and Pierce have been as locker room leaders since they came together, this team has always marched to the beat Rivers plays for them. He’s the one who showed the ultimate confidence in Rondo when he was still trying to become the elite point guard he has become. He’s also the one who knew when it was time to elevate Avery Bradley to a more prominent role on a veteran-laden team. He’s the one who made clear to Courtney Lee that he had confidence in Lee assuming some facilitating responsibilities in Rondo’s absence.
Rivers is doing what only the greats have done and can do: he’s making a mockery of conventional wisdom and showing that age is truly just a number where the Celtics’ aging warriors and young upstarts are concerned. His belief in his team, in every man on his roster, has paved the way for the Celtics to not only keep their season alive in the midst of what should have been devastating injury news, but also helps them remain as one of a couple of teams (along with Indiana and perhaps Chicago, depending on what Derrick Rose looks like in his return from ACL surgery) capable of complicating the Heat’s march through the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets need to be concerned as well, what with the Celtics having all the ingredients to mount a furious post-All-Star Weekend assault on the Atlantic Division standings.
Everything is still on the table for these Celtics with the momentum they’ve built over the past seven games, and counting.
As usual, Rivers was right.
We shouldn’t have written that obit when Rondo went down.
And the Celtics are thriving because of it!