Boston 94, Cleveland 85; Boston wins series, 3-2
And so it ends like this, with everything starting to make sense.
A week ago, well, the Cavs weren't toast. They were surprisingly off, having split a pair heading into Boston for Game 3, but they certainly weren't toast. And then any indications that Cleveland could possibly turn into a toasted pumpkin once midnight hit was supposed to go away, the universe made right, once the Cavs blew Boston out in Game 3.
And then, season on the brink, the Celtics took the next three games. Handily. Easily. Viciously. Brilliantly.
The Celtics took this series, swiftly, by making the favored Cavaliers work and execute in places they weren't used to. The Cavaliers haven't fully formed yet, and probably never will find that balance. The C's? They've been here, before.
And in many ways, it was thrilling to watch it all come together. Because as much as the Cavaliers fell apart - and they did fall apart - this Boston victory was the clear result of a team finding itself again, after five months in the wilderness. Or, geez, 15 months removed; ever since Kevin Garnett(notes) did whatever he did to that knee in Utah. Boston took just enough from every contributor, with no ownership being transferred despite KG's return and Rajon Rondo's(notes) brilliance, and dominated a series over the NBA's best regular season team. Once it became a best of three, Boston became the best it has been in years.
It got tough to breathe in there. Boston took away Cleveland's screen and roll attack, and made the Cavs look small and indecisive. It rotated to cover all those corner threes and elbow-extended bombs that either bring teams back into games, or turn close contests into 12-point Cavalier comfort zones.
Offensively, it attacked whatever was most vulnerable, at the best time. Rondo on a hesitation, with either Mo Williams(notes) or Anthony Parker(notes) left embarrassed (you were embarrassed, right? Tell me you were embarrassed) some 24 feet from the hoop. KG on either block, creating shifts that the Cavs (and a starting lineup that didn't really reveal itself until mid-April) just weren't used to tumbling into. Once the ball started moving and Paul Pierce(notes) and Rasheed Wallace(notes) discovered that they, too, could put their elbows under the ball and nail a corner three? It was over.
That's with Ray Allen(notes) missing five pretty good looks from long range, mind you. That's with Mo Williams hitting shot after desperate shot in the first half. That's with LeBron James(notes) putting together a triple-double, and tossing in a couple of desperate early-clock three-pointers in the fourth quarter. This win came without everything clicking, and yet the C's still got Cleveland to dribble its clock out to end the game. Anderson Varejao(notes) missed a three-pointer, and the dream ended.
Because Boston worked. Because Boston was a team greater than the sum of its parts; and that's what we hire coaches for. That's why we seek out veterans, sure, but that's also why we wonder about coaching staffs, rotations, procedures, playbooks, and personalities. And though Doc Rivers' time in Boston has had its ups and downs, including this season, he's gotten absolutely everything he can out of this team. The Celtics just took care of the NBA's best regular season team in six games, and I'm sure it's more than likely that Boston locker room is still stewing after not being able to put Game 1 away.
Game 1 is where it turned, for me. Game 1 is when I realized why, in all those podcast interviews and chats, I was still considering the Celtics a championship contender, in spite of the team's mediocre 2010 calendar run. Game 1 is when I realized that Boston's unyielding confidence hadn't spilled over into the ranks of the obnoxious, the cocky, the insecure. It's when I realized that - are you watching this? - Boston knew they could get back to the top of that hill.
And less than two weeks later, they done took it. Took it like veterans, like former champions, do. Made the Cavs close it out with a whimper. Probably took a man's job away. Probably took the game's best player from his current team. At the very least, took the game's best player away from his comfort zone, and into a whole world of criticism and analysis that the game's best player has never been able to handle.
The Celtics made this series their own, by trusting the offensive playbook, thinking on their feet, and working to its absolute peak defensively. In a history that stretches well over a half-century, these C's turned in one of their finest playoff series', and made believers out of me - again - even in initial defeat.
Boston is for real, man. I don't know what happens from here on out, but for these six games, this team worked up something special. Something with heart. Something that sweats, too. Something to be proud of.
Something else. These C's are legitimate. These Celtics are to be feared.