The Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics played a very defensive minded second round series together. Although this method took the Sixers to the limit with the Celtics, Philadelphia fans like myself knew that this might not have been enough to beat the likes of the Miami Heat. Likewise, Boston's ugly, defensive-minded method wasn't expected to push Miami as much as it did in the Eastern Conference Finals - yet its limitations were finally exposed at the very last moment.
The contrast between the Celtics' grind-it-out style and the Heat's more explosive style clashed all the way up to Game 7 on June 9. However, Boston was the one beating Miami at its own game for the first half - yet the Celtics had to match the Heat shot for shot and spurt for spurt during 48 whole minutes. Unfortunately, it only lasted for 40 minutes as the Heat finally broke through for a 101-88 victory to reach the NBA Finals.
Technically, the Celtics stayed red hot for only 24 minutes, as they led the Heat by as many as 11 points late in the first half. After being ice cold throughout Game 6, Boston lit up Miami with over 50 percent shooting and a balanced attack led by Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Brandon Bass. With the Heat down by seven at the half, they needed to get hot quick - or at least make the Celtics less hot - in order to avoid a disastrous fate.
However, Boston's hot-and-cold approach only works when it is hot - and it was decidedly less hot in the second half. Miami quickly erased its deficit, yet couldn't quite break away with the lead as it kept going back and forth. Although the Celtics were starting to look like the weaker team, they still held on to salvage a 73-73 tie after three quarters, then held an 82-81 lead with eight minutes to go. But at long last, this was when they finally hit a wall.
It took them 66 tough regular season games and over 19 even tougher postseason games that Boston wasn't supposed to survive. Yet the Celtics' age, cold spurts and inability to outlast the Heat finally gave out in these last eight minutes, as Miami closed Game 7, the series - and the Boston Big Four era - on a 20-6 run.
For all of Rondo's brilliance, Garnett's grit, Bass's surprising emergence and the occasional big shots from Pierce and Ray Allen, it could all only do so much to match LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. And with Bosh finally fully healthy and rejoining the Big Three with 19 points - and three surprising three-pointers - the Heat found what they were missing to put the Celtics away at long last.
Before the Eastern Conference Finals, Miami was thought to have too many weapons, too many superstars and too much youth to be beaten by Boston. It took six games and 40 minutes before this ultimately came true, yet the fact was that it finally did. The Celtics matched the Heat shot for shot longer than anyone thought possible - but the hard truth was that it was just shy of long enough.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan - who has become quite familiar with the Celtics in that time.
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