Boston Celtics 85, Philadelphia 76ers 75 (Boston wins series, 4-3)
It would be too easy to write the Boston Celtics off — or write the Boston Celtics up — as the ultimate lockout season outfit, right? The Celtics, who hung on to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night to move on to another trip to the Eastern conference finals (their fourth in the last decade), have at times looked worthy of that third-round honor this season or worthy of a spot in the lottery. This seven-game series showcased both versions of that outfit, which has us wondering if this is the team that personifies this nutty lockout season more than any other.
It's an easy tag, but we're enjoying it. This is a team that made its move only once its longtime star got back into shape, following the extended labor impasse. It features a burgeoning star at point guard that nobody seems to know what to make of, and a longtime power forward that finally moved to center 17 years into his career because his team and his game had no choice. Boston features a scoring forward in Brandon Bass who is only on the team because of a rash move by a since-fired GM who was attempting to placate a star on another team; a star whose insidious destruction of his own team happened only last month, even if it feels like ages ago. The team's shooting guard can barely walk. The team's former starting shooting guard just went under the knife for the just-about unprecedented double-shoulder surgery. A couple of times a game, even in close contests, Ryan Hollins and Greg Steimsma get to play.
Boston prevailed, somehow. They made it out of a seven-game turn with the 76ers even with next to no contributions from its bench. The starter with the shortest shelf life was Paul Pierce, at just under 37 minutes in Game 7, and that was only because he fouled out with over four minutes left in this contest. The ball moved crisply, at times, but often to no avail mostly because Philly is such a great defensive team but also because Boston has a hard time getting past anyone, even if the team's complicated offense gives its players myriad options. Boston, like it did with the rest of the league down the stretch of the regular season, just had to wait until Philadelphia faded.
Every little bit helped. Boston had a slim advantage in both taking (22-20) and making (20-14) free throws. Two famously broken plays toward the end of the third quarter saw Rajon Rondo nail two spot on jumpers from just inside and then way outside the 3-point arc. There's your 12 points, right there. There's your buffer. There's your win, and these are your Celtics.
Bass was on the Celtics only because former Orlando Magic GM Otis Smith thought Glen Davis would fit well playing alongside Dwight Howard (he didn't, only flourishing once Dwight went down with injury) and that his presence would influence the All-Star center not to be such franchise-tilting distraction (lolz). He finished with only two rebounds in 41 minutes but he was spent from chasing Sixers around Saturday night and scored an excellent (for this game) 16 points on 10 shot attempts. Kevin Garnett didn't destroy starting center Spencer Hawes again in the first and third quarters, as some on Twitter were tilting toward, but he did work up an array of defenders on his way to 18 points, 13 rebounds and a pair of steals. Mickael Pietrus dunked, and it was rather nifty.
It was just enough. I'm not making excuses or diminishing your team's accomplishments, Boston fans (I've said since December that they had Finals potential), but the C's also took down a Sixers team that still seems to have no idea what it wants roster-wise, and a group that took down the East's top seed only because its two best players went down with major injuries. Things, like they did for the 1999 New York Knicks, have aligned.
We'll have more on the 76ers later in the long weekend, and before the narrative shifts and everything seems to relate only to the Miami Heat, you can't help but give it up for the Celtics. Working through all those injuries. Coming out with eight wins in 13 playoff tries in a spaced-out playoff schedule that was supposed to help only veteran teams, but ended up giving the Celtics just as many games in a month had they been working a four-week term in the regular season. Making it back to the final four, somehow, all over again.
The C's didn't make it this far because of the lockout season. They just embody every odd and grinding part of it, in spades.
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