Well, that was shocking. And no, Im not talking about Adrian Gonzalezs home run.
Im talking about an 18-point third quarter advantage. A potential 3-1 series lead.
And what did the Celtics do with it? They tripped over their shoelaces and tumbled down two flights of stairs. Of course, they survived, theyll live to see another day, but not without acquiring a few new mental and physical bruises. Not without injecting life into a team that was so close to death that theyd actually initiated the release of numerous bodily functions over the Wells Fargo floor. Not without adding to their collection of supremely frustrating 2012 playoff losses.
Final Score: Sixers 92, Celtics 83
In a way, its so easy to lose perspective. When the Celtics landed in Philly on Wednesday, all we really hoped for was a split. A 3-1 advantage would have been nice obviously ideal but we knew it wouldnt be that easy. In reality, all we wanted was one. For the Celtics to stay alive. To steal back home court advantage andor prove that if there comes a time (aka Game 6) when they HAVE to win a game in Philly, that theyd be able to draw from past experience and have the confidence and evidence to take care of business. And regardless of how awfully Game 4 may have played out, the Celtics did achieve that initial and ultimately important goal.
They took back home court. They put themselves in a great position to win this series. And right now, gun to your head, even in the aftermath of Friday nights disaster, youd still bet on them to emerge. But thanks to last night, well take that confidence with a solid helping of regret. With the knowledge that even though a 3-1 series lead was never entirely likely, it was right there. It was real. The Celtics had the chance to put the Sixers away. They HAD them put away. Not just the game, but the series. It was over.
Now thats irrelevant. Now theyre back to square one. Or square two. Or whatever, theyre tied. The Celtics need to win two before they lose two. And if they fail, well always remember the one that got away.
Rich can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine
The Celtics' two main targets in free agency are expected to be Gordon Hayward and Blake Griffin. But what if neither signs here . . . or what if the C's have other plans? This week, we'll look at some of 'The Other Guys' who might interest the Celtics: TODAY: Dallas' Nerlens Noel.
BOSTON -- When the Celtics had trade talks with Philadelphia last season, it was no secret they had their eyes set on Nerlens Noel.
The 23-year-old has shown tremendous potential as an elite, rim-protecting big man.
THE OTHER GUYS: POTENTIAL CELTIC FREE-AGENT TARGETS
The Dallas Mavericks saw those same qualities, which is why they engineered a trade for him last season despite knowing he would be a restricted free agent this summer.
And while he would certainly be the kind of player Boston would absolutely love to add to the mix, seeing the Mavericks go in a different direction seems highly unlikely.
But until he signs with the Mavericks or any other team, the Celtics can’t be totally discounted as a possibility if they strike out on Gordon Hayward and Blake Griffin.
WE LIKE HIM BECAUSE . . .
His proven body of work and his potential. Noel has shown flashes of being a decent player offensively, but he’s going to get paid handsomely this summer because of his defense and rebounding.
According to Basketball-reference.com, Noel has been among the NBA’s top 10 in defensive box plus/minus two of his three NBA seasons.
During the 2014-15 season, his defensive plus/minus was +4.5 (fourth in the NBA) and the following season it was +3.4 (eighth in the NBA).
And while his upside is viewed primarily through a defensive prism, his presence on the floor seemed to provide a much-needed jolt to the Mavericks offensively.
In his 22 games with Dallas, he averaged 8.5 points and 6.8 rebounds with a solid offensive rating of 106.1.
NOT CRAZY ABOUT . . .
You love Noel’s length and athleticism, but you wish he would add some weight to withstand the physical rigors of playing primarily in the post. In an ideal world, Noel will add another 10-15 pounds, which would put him weight-wise similar to another standout Maverick from a few years back, Tyson Chandler. But Noel’s narrow shoulders and pogo-stick thick legs will likely result in his current 228-pound frame not changing much in the near future. He will still be a factor defensively, but there will be nights when stronger, more physical centers will give him problems. Fortunately for him and the Mavericks, big men whose strength is well, their strength, are becoming scarce in this new age of position-less basketball in the NBA.
IN CONCLUSION . . .
Noel would look really good in a Celtics uniform, but there’s little to no chance the Mavericks allow him to get away. They've made it clear that re-signing the 6-foot-11 big man is their top priority. And short of Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry saying they want to become a Maverick, it’s highly unlikely Dallas will change course.
Four-year, $106.4 million. That’s the most a team outside of Dallas can offer the soon-to-be restricted free agent. Noel knows the Mavericks won’t hesitate to offer him a max contract, which would give him more guaranteed years (five), better raises (eight percent versus five percent) and a total package of $143.55 million, which is more than $37 million beyond what other teams like the Celtics can offer.
Again, something would have to go unexpectedly wrong for Noel to wind up on any roster other than the Mavericks.