The Philadelphia 76ers stopped the Boston Celtics from eliminating them in Game 6 of the second round. And since Sixers fans like myself know that the Miami Heat are on a far higher level than Philadelphia, it was only logical that the Heat survived a Game 6 with the Celtics as well. Of course, logic has been on short supply in the Eastern Conference Finals - with Boston's Game 6 collapse on June 7 as the latest example.
The Celtics rose from an 0-2 deficit to a 3-2 lead going back home, which made them look unstoppable and made the Heat look ready to implode. But as stunning as Boston's rally in this series has been, it was only less shocking than its complete inability to show up in Game 6. And thanks to this 98-79 defeat, the Celtics have gone from huge underdog to huge favorite and back in the blink of an eye.
The home crowd and their team's recent hot streak should have been enough to drive the Celtics to the NBA Finals. In fact, even when the Heat and LeBron James jumped out huge in the first quarter, it didn't look like anything to worry about. After all, Boston fell behind big early in Game 5 on June 5 at Miami and rallied back, so doing the same at the Garden in a close out game should have been easy.
Yet each time the Celtics got a bit of a mini spurt to close the gap to single digits, James made a few more baskets to put the Heat out of reach again. This frustrating formula even continued in the third quarter, which is supposed to be Boston's time during these comebacks. But the things that worked in the Celtics' favor throughout the last three games just kept failing them.
Rajon Rondo carried Boston in the first half with 19 points, yet had little in the second half except turnovers. Paul Pierce continued to struggle from the field and get into foul trouble, but he didn't even have any late clutch shots to make up for it. And for the first time in this series, Kevin Garnett looked overmatched and overwhelmed, even with Chris Bosh still only in for limited minutes against him.
Even when the Celtics have played ugly for long stretches in this postseason, they still had enough for a big spurt or two to either win or get close. But in this all important Game 6, with an NBA Finals berth on the line, and with this possibly being the last time the Big Four played together in the Garden, there was no run of all to speak of.
All there was was James going off for 45 points and 15 rebounds, and the Celtics finally looking as old and tired as they were supposed to be at the start of the conference finals. This is the kind of sudden collapse that came from nowhere, just as much as Boston's three straight wins did.
Now the Celtics have no idea which version of themselves will show up for Game 7 on June 9 in Miami. What's more, they could spend the offseason - and the next few after that - regretting that they ever had to find out.
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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