The same thing happened against the Hawks.
It was the night before Game 1, and over in Chicago, Derrick Rose tore his ACL, ending his season and placing the Bulls in serious danger. Back in Boston, the Celtics hadnt even taken the court for Round 1, but the conversation had already moved past Atlanta and on to the second round.
Can the Sixers beat Chicago? Either way, with Rose out of the picture, are the Celtics now a legitimate threat to move on to Miami?
Roses injury was the break that Boston was waiting for. The latest in a series of late season dominoes to fall in their favor and inject hope into a lost season. There was a time when the mere thought of the Conference Finals was more laughable than a Mickael Pietrus press conference, but with one injury, the Conference Finals became the expectation. The seas had parted, and in our eyes, all the Celtics had to do was dance down the middle, through the Hawks and whomever else.
The next day, the Celtics laid an egg in Atlanta, and woke us from the perverted dream. Suddenly, Derrick Rose the Bulls the Sixers nothing mattered. The Cs had a battle on their hands, and spent the next five games and a whole bunch of energy and effort fighting for their playoff lives.
They eventually took down the Hawks in the first round, the Sixers in Game 1 of the second and then, it happened again.
It was the night before Game 2, and down in Miami, Chris Bosh strained his abdomen. When the dust settled, and the Heat classified him as out indefinitely we fell right back into the dream.
Another round, another major domino. Of course, Chris Bosh isnt Derrick Rose (hes barely Carlos Boozer), and his injury was nowhere near as serious. But whether hes significantly less than 100 or altogether absent, the injury presented a legitimate threat to Miamis chances.
Back in Boston, the conversation moved past Philly and onto the Conference Finals.
"Can the Celtics beat the Heat?" became "The Celtics can beat the Heat!"
There was a time when the mere thought of the NBA Finals was more laughable than a Mickael Pietrus dance party, but now it was the expectation. Or at the very least, a legit possibility. The seas were parting again, and all Boston had to do was follow their Basketball Moses down the middle.
Destination: NBA Finals.
Last night, we were all hit with another wake up call.
Suddenly, Bosh the Heat the Pacers the NBA Finals nothing matters. The Celtics have another battle on their hands. Now, they're without home court advantage against a young team that's brimming with confidence. Now, we're back to obsessing over Paul Pierce's knee, Rondo's late game decision-making, whether KG can carry them every night. From looking into the future to worrying whether there will be a future at all. It's Atlanta all over again.
And just like with Atlanta, the most frustrating part of all this is the knowledge that the Celtics are the better team.
It would be one thing if we still had that mindset from earlier in the season. When the second round was the ceiling. When the Celtics didn't have a chance. When we'd made peace with the futile end of the Big Three era and were prepared to watch them go down peacefully. Back when we had no expectations, a night like last night wouldn't have hurt so badly.
But now, things have changed. With the Celtics, and all around them. To this point, the playoffs have been like a sequel to Angels in the Outfield Leprechauns in the Backcourt (working title). We've watched the Basketball Gods strike down other teams, give KG wings and make believers out of everyone. Destiny's basically called a team meeting and is screaming in the Celtics ears: "It's right here, guys! I'm doing this all for you! Why do you have to make this so much harder than it has to be?"
But they still don't get it. Like Game 1 in Atlanta, and especially Game 5 in Atlanta, last night the Celtics missed another huge opportunity to help destiny along. To take advantage of their unbelievable good fortune and put themselves in the best position for another unlikely, yet entirely realistic trip to the NBA Finals.
But now as opposed to yesterday, and thanks to last night that potential trip to the NBA Finals, even the Conference Finals, is the farthest thing from our mind.
The Celtics once again have their hands full, and will spend a whole lot of effort and energy fighting for their playoff lives.