The Boston Celtics: Green Machine Smash
The Boston Celtics, a team merely two years removed from winning a title, were counted out this postseason. The Celts were seen as aging: Their coach was maybe making his move to retirement; their star players were either considered too old to make any more serious contributions (Kevin Garnett), or a bad fit for this team (Ray Allen), or just the echo of something that used to be great but now would have to fill the veteran role for a new squad (Paul Pierce).
Their second-round opponent was the Cleveland Cavaliers—they of the best record in the NBA this season, they of the MVP LeBron James. Cleveland was the most serious contender for the crown.
The Cavs-Celtics series was many things, but a coronation of King James it was not. The Celtics, miraculously peaking at exactly the right time, took out LeBron and the Cavs and turned their sights to the previously-undefeated-in-these-playoffs Orlando Magic. The Magic went to the NBA Finals last year without their star point guard Jameer Nelson playing at a high level, as he'd just come back from injury. They're equipped with the Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight Howard. The Magic have homecourt advantage in the series, thanks to a superior record in the regular season.
Yet, somehow, again, the Celtics found a way to win.
Garnett, Allen and Pierce were joined in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals by Rajon Rondo, who is in the midst of completing a serious bid for “Player most able to transform from a pellet gun to a fully automatic weapon of death in the playoffs.”
They smashed the Magic in Game 1, building a 20-point lead and looking like the Incredible Hulk showing up to battle the local middle-school bully. The finished up by four, and won 92-88. Game 2 was closer but ultimately got the same result: a Celtics win. The Magic are now heading to Boston to play on Team Green's home floor, down in a best of seven series 2-0.
Not only have the Celtics found a way to win, but they've been doing so (other than the pretty close, but never truly in doubt Game 2 of the ECF) in dominating fashion. It's much akin to the last player off the bench somehow coming into the game and turning in a virtuoso performance—and then doing the same thing for the next five games in a row.
This Celtics team, which no one gave much credit at all to, looks primed to ride its hot hand into the NBA Finals, where they will either meet the upstart Phoenix Suns and their point guard extraordinaire, Steve Nash, or set up a rematch of the public's most beloved series in basketball: the Los Angeles Lakers versus the Boston Celtics. This in no way counts out the Orlando Magic, who have some serious heft on their side. But it should serve at least as a mea culpa from at least one writer who didn't take the Celtics seriously enough.
Like Bruce Banner, this team is playing very, very angry ball right now. And they seem to be getting better.