Don't bury them yet

Don't bury them yet
May 2, 2013, 12:30 pm
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I don’t want to get too carried away after last night’s victory, because the Celtics still have such a long road ahead. In order for any of this to really matter, they still have to win two more games and become the first team in NBA history to bounce back from a 3-0 hole.

Can they do it? Instinct says no, because how could it be yes? Literally no one has ever done what they’re trying to do. More than 65 years of evidence suggests that the Celtics will lose one of these next two games.

But at the same time, given everything that happened last night, in this series and over these last six years, the concept of them pulling this off isn’t so incredibly far fetched. At the very least, they have a chance to win Game 6 on Friday. If they win Game 6, then they at the very least have a chance to win Game 7 on Sunday. So let’s just come out and say it: The Celtics have a chance. Regardless of how ridiculous that might sound.

And that brings us back to last night, as the C’s fought back from an early 11-0 deficit to take a six point halftime lead, and then pulled away in the second for a 92-86 victory. It was Boston’s first road win against an above-.500 team since March 6 in Indiana. It was New York’s first home loss to a team not named Miami or Oklahoma City since before Valentine’s Day. It was a totally bizarre scene that’s led us back to this familiar place, somewhere between hope and total confusion.

Anyway, here are two quotes from Game 5 that pretty much sum up everything that happened:

The first comes from Tommy Heinsohn, who said, shortly after the final buzzer: “All the years I’ve been around this game, when you start to disrespect your opponent like the Knicks did to the Celtics, bad things happen to you.”

Now, obviously Tommy is a little biased when it comes to the Celtics. That’s not a criticism; he has every right to be biased. He’s been a Celtic since 1956. When he was drafted by Boston, Red Auerbach was two years younger than Jason Kidd is right now. You’d be biased too. But within that bias is a man who’s lived through more NBA basketball than anyone in history. He’s seen it all. And I almost mean that literally. And in any event, he was on point here.

When this series started, one of the few advantages in the Celtics corner existed between the ears. While the Knicks may have had more talent (and still do), the Celtics had the mental edge. They were the big brothers. The bullies on the playground. And while the effects of that might be overstated at times, last night was an example of why that mental edge matters.

Listen, I’m not going to pretend to be offended by the way the Knicks handled themselves these last few days — like Paul Pierce said this week: “It’s just basketball.” — but it was stupid. There was no reason for the Knicks to stir the pot against a team that was as dead and demoralized as the Celtics. There was no reason to further embarrass a team when you’d already done so with flying colors. There was no reason for a funeral; all New York had to do was shut their mouths, flex their muscles and send the Celtics home in an unmarked body bag.

Except in this case, there was a reason — that mental edge. This series is too personal for the Knicks. Carmelo and KG. JR and Jet. Kenyon Martin and the entire Celtics organization (they didn’t want him, and now he wants to make them pay; you think it’s a coincidence that he was leading the funeral procession?). Hell, they even have Quentin Richardson. How weird is that? They went out of their way to bring in one of Paul Pierce’s most heated rivals — who hadn’t been in the league all year — just to sit on the bench. Just to make it more personal.

And when the Knicks went up 3-0, those emotions got the best of them. They got so excited about the concept of knocking off the hated Celtics, that they couldn’t help but rub it in. They wanted to celebrate while Boston could still see them, and make up for every ounce of pain and frustration that Pierce, Garnett and that green uniform had laid on them over the years.

The Knicks wouldn’t have acted like that against any other team. They wouldn’t have held a funeral after going up 3-0 on the Hawks or Bucks. This was a Celtics thing, and the Knicks played right into Boston’s trap. They fell into their own trap. And now they’ve got a series.

Quote 2 comes from Kevin Garnett, courtesy of his amazing post game interview with Greg Dickerson. Watch it here if you haven’t yet.

“Everything you’re about to say, Greg. It ain’t got nothing to do with it. We out here scrappin’. This is like survival. This is Game 7. Every game from here on out is a Game 7. And we’re scrappin’. No shenanigans. No nothing. We know what they’re running. They know what we’re running. It’s just all out. Who wants this? That’s what it is.”

That’s what it is.

The combination of both these quotes tells you all you need to know about last night. The Celtics were playing like it was Game 7. The Knicks were playing like they were up 3-1 in a seven-game series. They were playing like it was a warm up before Game 1 against Indiana. They couldn’t match Boston’s urgency. They didn’t respect it. In many ways, no one did. But would the playoffs be without the Celtics making all of us feel like morons?

This is what they do. Last night wasn’t an aberration; it was just the latest example of why Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are three of the most respected (not that KG is without haters) competitors in this game. It was just another reminder that when it comes to the playoffs, these Celtics are like the Black Knight in Monty Python or the cow from Me, Myself, and Irene. THEY WILL NOT DIE.

Before moving on, let’s quickly talk about Brandon Bass in the first quarter and how he’s pretty much the only reason the Celtics are still alive. Boston was awful in that opening period. Pierce and KG were ice cold. Jeff Green was a non-factor. Avery Bradley didn’t know where he was. And with the season slipping away, Bass put the Celtics on his back. He took it to the hoop. He got to the line. He scored nine points in less than three minutes and helped turn 11-0 into 15-11; all while dealing with Carmelo on the other end.

Let’s talk about Jason Terry, too. Now this is Jason Terry. Isn’t it amazing how it took only two games to develop total confidence in this guy? Suddenly every time the ball leaves his hands, I’m convinced it’s going in. I think everyone is. Who knows what can happen from game to game, but for the first time since training camp, the real Jason Terry has arrived.

Let’s talk about Terrence Williams. What a weird season, huh? One second your handing the franchise over to Rajon Rondo, the next you’re watching T-Will from China run the point in crunch time of an elimination game at MSG. Obviously, we have to stay realistic with Williams. He is what he is. There’s a reason he spent the fall in the Far East. But what he is, is also the best point guard left on the Celtics roster. They can use him right now. And he did nothing last night to suggest that he shouldn’t be back out there again on Friday.

Let’s talk about Jeff Green. It was another uneven performance, but damn he came up big when he needed to. He had 10 points in the fourth quarter, including back-to-back three pointers at a time (3:30 left) when the rest of the team was near death, and the Knicks were mounting one last run. Do you know that Paul Pierce didn’t score in the fourth? I didn’t until just now, and that’s because Green picked up the slack. And if he can keep that jumper rolling, it’s game-changer for Boston.

As much as we all want him to attack the hoop more, the three-ball is a huge part of Green’s game. You forget that he hit five of them in that 43-point outburst against Miami. When that shot starts falling, confident Jeff Green shows up. That’s the guy who forgets all the outside crap and just plays his game. That’s the guy Boston needs.

Let’s talk about Jordan Crawford, Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee. First of all, there’s no need for Crawford anymore. I never thought there was, but these last few games — and what happened after Game 5 — will have hopefully (and finally) turned Doc on to what the rest of the NBA has known for years. You don’t want this guy on your team. The negative always outweigh the positive.

As for Avery . . . poor Avery. I still haven’t given up hope that he can be a key contributor for this team for years to come, but it’s obvious that he needs Rondo — or any legitimate, natural point guard — to be as effective as the Celtics need him to be. For now, he’s just overwhelmed. And while that doesn’t mean that he can’t be better moving forward (actually, he’s one of the guys who you can expect to play better in front of the home crowd), he just can’t be counted on. He was on the bench the final 20 MINUTES of last night’s game, and the Celtics didn’t miss him once.   

So, with Crawford deserving of exile, and Avery Bradley no longer able to be Avery Bradley, that leaves the Celtics in a position to give Courtney Lee another chance to make something of this series, and this season in general. I mean, he’s big (for a guard), he’s athletic, he’s a solid defender. On top of that, Raymond Felton is absolutely destroying the Celtics. They don’t have an answer for him — unless it’s Courtney Lee. At this point, I’d say it’s worth finding out.

And finally, let’s talk about Pierce and Garnett. Although, I guess, what more can we possibly say?

Watching the two of them out there in these playoffs, there’s no longer any question that they’re on their last legs. They’re doing things, and being exposed in ways that we’ve never seen. There was one play early in the series, when JR Smith beat his man off the dribble, KG stepped in to defend the rim, and in a split second, I remember thinking: KG has no chance.

Smith took off, hung in the air while Garnett made a useless swipe at the ball, and then flipped it in for an easy lay up. That’s not supposed to happen to Kevin Garnett. Also, Paul Pierce isn’t supposed to get shut down by Ray Felton. Or go scoreless in the fourth quarter of an elimination game. Or have the ball ripped away from him in traffic and consistently throw passes to teammates who aren’t looking, or in some cases, aren’t even there.

This hasn’t been the prettiest series for either of these guys, but through it all, their greatness still shines through. As athletes and competitors.

While the Knicks are playing dress up and trying to prove to the world how cool they are (as if there’s not a very good chance that they’ll either lose to Indiana next round or get bounced by Miami in the conference finals) Pierce and Garnett are playing like two guys who know that their next loss might be the last time they ever share the court together. In KG’s case, it could be the last time he ever plays. These two have more on the line than anyone in this series.

And even if it hasn’t been, they’re still getting it done. Pierce had 28 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in Game 4. He only had 16 last night, but scored 10 of those in the third quarter — which has been Boston’s biggest issue this series.

And Garnett? All he did last night was score 16 points, grab 18 rebounds, dish out five assists and drain a 20-footer (after dropping a classic pump fake on Tyson Chandler) to clinch the game with less than a minute left. It marked the third straight game that KG has gone over 17 rebounds. The first (and only other) time he’s done that in the playoffs since the first round in 2002.

They may be closer to Earth than they’ve been in a while, but there still in another world. They’re giving all they’ve got to stay there. In the words of KG, they’re just scrappin’.

They just don’t want to lose. They don’t want to die.

And as the Knicks are learning first hand, it’s a lot easier to talk about burying the Celtics than it is to actually step up and do it.