Reveling in the surprise party

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Reveling in the surprise party

After six months spent watching the Celtics overcome every obstacle and bounce back from the dead more times than Kenny McCormick, its hard to believe that Saturday really marked the end of their season.

In fact, Im still not convinced that theyre done. After all, if any team can lose Game 7 of the Conference Finals and somehow live to see another day, it would be these Celtics, right? Right?!

I guess, but delusions aside, we all know the truth. It came down hard on Saturday night, as the Cs ran out of gas, LeBron casually drained a half court jumper and a fan base that barely deserves a team celebrated its second straight trip to the NBA Finals. Yeah, maybe the pains started to evaporate, but the bitterness still exists, and it will remain until the Thunder take care of business, or . . . I dont know, until forever? Then again, its hard to get bitter about anything after the month-long surprise party the Celtics threw this city.

They took us places that weve been before, but were sure wed never see again or not for a while, not with this group. They taught us important lessons about the power of team, heart, faith and resilience. Lessons that we learned in 2010, but conveniently forgot. Lessons that Im sure well eventually forget again. But for now, theyre fresh, and what this team just accomplished not only inspires us as fans, but as human beings: Screw the haters. Just work hard. Stay focused. Be you. (Also, it helps if youre a seven-footer with a deadly jumper, or 6-foot-1 with blinding speed, a beautiful mind, freakish wingspan and hands the size of frying pans.)

Man, it was an amazing run. Unfortunately, one that will be quickly overshadowed by the star-studded NBA Finals and the Celtics state of uncertainty by the draft, free agency and retirement rumors. But before we get there, before the greatness of the Celtics improbable charge to within one win of the Finals starts to fade like a photo of the McFlys, lets take one more second to breathe it all in. To go back to the moment before Game 6, before Game 7, when everything was so real, when you firmly believed in the impossible, when the Celtics were on top of the world and on the verge conquering it. Do it now, before the feelings gone forever . . .

Ahhhhhhh, thats good Celtics.

What a run.

What a team.

Now, lets turn the page.

In the coming days, weeks and months, things will get crazy around here. Have we just witnessed the end of an era? Is Ray gone? Is KG retiring? If so, does Danny step up and trade Pierce? Who knows? All I can tell you is that Im holding off on the obituaries. Ive wasted far too many words and hours eulogizing this team over the last three years. Im done with the speculation. Im done with preemptive goodbyes; with assuming we know what these guys will do next.

When Rays at the podium in New York, Miami or Chicago, Ill say goodbye. When the Celtics announce that theyve received a hand-written note from KG saying: Its been real. See you never. Ill say goodbye. When Pauls sitting between Danny and Doc on stage in Waltham, with tears in his eyes, saying thank you for everything that Bostons meant to him over the last 14 years . . . Ill say goodbye. Until then, what else can we do but sit back and see what happens. And you know what? Im actually excited to see what happens.

That alone feels like a victory.

Weve spent the last five seasons training ourselves to fear the end of the Big Three Era. As if once one, two or all three of these guys walk away, well realize that the last five years were nothing but a dream, and wake up in the same awful place that we were before they got here. With Rondo in Pierces role as tumultuous leader, surrounded by a slew of interchangeable, irrelevant parts, and Doc flailing at ways to keep it all together. The Big Three Era is what saved this team, so we just figured that the end would doom them once again. It was a natural fear. An honest fear. But personally, its one thats faded significantly.

Part of that has to do with the changing face of Boston sports in general, because lets be honest: Were all living though a major transition.

Once Kevin Faulk retires, Tom Brady will be the only one left from that first Super Bowl. David Ortiz is already the only one left from that first World Series (I know Youk was on the roster, but he was the 40th man). In the time since Vinatieris kick in New Orleans which started this run of unprecedented greatness weve said goodbye to nearly every athlete we ever loved. We watched a dynasty disappear, we watched the Idiots go their separate ways. In the process, weve learned that life goes on. That change doesnt always breed disaster. That while those may have been the good old days, that doesnt mean that all the other days have to be a nightmare. That if you truly love a team, you'll find reasons to love them. Or more, those reasons will find you.

Hell, Rob Gronkowski was 12 when the Patriots won that first Super Bowl. Avery Bradley was 11. Tyler Seguin had just turned 10. Some of our favorite athletes in this city were basically babies when this whole thing started. Do you think they know anything about Boston's decade of dominance? Or more, what it was like before that?

Times are changing. Times have already changed. Whether its in two days or two years, time is coming for the Big Three. And while thats terrifying on the surface, time has taught us that theres also reason to be optimistic.

Time has showed us that Rondo is ready to run with the torch. That Avery Bradley is more than ready to run with him. Throw in Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Chris Wilcox, Greg Stiemsma, two first round picks from an especially deep draft, not to mention all the money the Celtics have available and . . . well, I'm already way ahead of myself. But the point is that while we've spent the last six months fearing that the end of this season was going to trigger a return to the Dark Ages, in reality, even the worst case scenario doesn't look so bad. We can see the future. The foundation is in place. It's starting to make sense.

But we'll deal with that when we get there.

For now, all we can do is take another second and appreciate a great run from a great team. And know that if Saturday night truly marked the end of not only the Celtics season, but this latest era of Celtics basketball, that we were all lucky to have seen it, to be a part of it, and to have lived and died with them from the beginning to the end.

And that while no one knows what the future holds, we can all agree on one thing:

Let's go, Thunder.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

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Celtics-Heat preview: Do C's need to bounce back from a win?

Celtics-Heat preview: Do C's need to bounce back from a win?

BOSTON – The final score on the Jumbotron Friday night said the Celtics beat the Phoenix Suns 130-120.
 
But there was a clear and undeniable sense of loss on the part of the Celtics, even if Friday’s victory was their third in a row and sixth in the past seven games.
 
The Celtics (47-26) hope to continue on their winning ways tonight against a Miami Heat team currently among a handful fighting for one of the last playoff slots, but are doing so without Dion Waiters (ankle) who has been instrumental in their surge after an 11-30 start to the season.
 
Beating the Heat (35-37) will require Boston to play better than they did against the Suns, a game Boston won, but in many ways had the feeling of defeat.
 
Yes, Devin Booker’s career-high 70 points was very much a blow – a huge blow – to the pride of a team that takes tremendous pride in its defense.
 
But the sense of a loss came in the form of purpose while playing as close to their potential as possible.
 
The Celtics fell short on both fronts Friday night.
 
Being just one game behind Cleveland (47-24) for the best record in the East, the Celtics understand getting as many wins as possible is the mindset right now.
 
But coach Brad Stevens knows that while winning is important, how the team plays is even more valuable.
 
“Like I’ve said before, I’m surprised at where we are record-wise because we’ve got to play at a higher level for 48 minutes,” Stevens said. “We just don’t do it.”
 
Is this Stevens’ way of trying to motivate his players after a not-so-great performance?
 
Or is he seriously concerned that his team isn’t as good as their record?
 
The Celtics, by their own standards, and to those of us on the outside looking in, know they are a better team than the one we saw on Friday night.
 
Not having Avery Bradley (sick) certainly hurt Boston’s efforts defensively.
 
Still, a Friday night’s game wore on, Booker’s confidence only grew and the Celtics’ desire to shut him down or at least slow him down, began to dissipate like an ice cube in hell.
 
And that’s a problem - a big problem - for a team that has to be connected at both ends of the floor for an extended period of time in order to play at the level their capable of and, most important, give them the best shot at emerging victorious in the postseason.
 
That’s why Stevens isn’t too caught up in the team’s chances of catching Cleveland, or whether they go into the playoffs riding a fat winning streak.
 
“I’m not going to get caught up in winning a couple of games in a row and all that stuff,” Stevens said. “I want to get caught up in playing well. We’ve shown ourselves capable of playing well, we have not sustained it throughout a game. And it’s been pretty consistent.”