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Adios, Celtics

In Basketball on May 30, 2012 at 6:41 pm

The Boston Celtics’s unlikely run to the Eastern Conference Finals will likely come to an end at the hands of the Miami Heat.

The church bells in Boston must be ringing a slow, mournful dirge.

The sticky heat that hung over the East Coast this weekend spread north from Miami to Philadelphia, carrying rot like Paul Revere’s ride up from the tank-topped causeways of South Beach and onto the streets of Boston Common.

In Philadelphia, the lumbering bodies of the Boston Celtics moved like dysplasia-afflicted Labradors at a summer barbecue. They heaved themselves up in the air for jump shots or layups without any semblance of ease. Unbelievably, Lavoy Allen played a key role in their almost-demise.

The reign of Boston’s big three is coming to a close. Fitfully, violently, and despite the moody protestations of Rajon Rondo, they too must pass.

But, oh, what a curtain call it has been.

At best, the Celtics were supposed to be a borderline contender this year. The compressed 66-game schedule would be too much for Kevin Garnett’s creaky knees, every sportswriter said, and even Ray Allen’s cyborg body would have to stop humming at some point.

But somehow, by the end of the season, the Celtics had positioned themselves as dark horse favorites for the title. They beat up on the Miami Heat three times during the regular season, which contributed to Round 687 of “Can LeBron and Wade coexist?” Avery Bradley, a young role player who had come off the bench during the first half of the year, emerged as a defensive stopper who could run the fast-break with Rondo. Some rando named Stiesma came out of nowhere to contribute as a shot-blocker. Bill Simmons all but rescinded a not-that-funny column about Danny Ainge being a crappy GM.

It was as if the nightmares of a million anti-Bostonians had combined like Optimus Prime in the form of a resurgent Kevin Garnett.

To call it magical would be hyperbole (and weird). But it was somewhat remarkable. At the very least, no one wanted to face the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.

The Indiana Pacers had depth and length, but there was no way a team led by Danny Granger and David West would beat Paul Pierce and Garnett. Miami was trying to find itself, with Erik Spoelstra still tinkering with his top-heavy rotation in the final weeks of the season. The Knicks were a walking joke. The Bulls lost Derrick Rose. The Utah Jazz were… the Utah Jazz.

That left the Atlanta Hawks and the Philadelphia 76’ers. And unless you were one of those people who devoted their Wednesday nights to watching NBA TV until 1 a.m., there wasn’t much anyone could say about either of those teams (Not that there’s anything wrong with that…).

The Atlanta Hawks are always underrated. Which isn’t the same as saying they’re good —they’re not. But like a drunk uncle at a Christmas party, the Hawks always seem to show up just enough to make things difficult, without doing anything truly memorable.

I follow the NBA fairly closely, and if Joe Johnson were walking down the street dribbling a basketball, I’m not sure I’d stop to pay attention. Even in Atlanta, the Hawks are seen as something of a joke.

That being said, he is a fairly good — albeit wildly overpaid — player. But when you paired him with Josh Smith, entering the playoffs on a career year, they became remarkably more dangerous. Does he take ill-advised threes? Sure. Does he move through the league with a chip on his shoulder in the worst way? Definitely. Can he throw down thunderous dunks over Kendrick Perkins? Absolutely.

Although the Celtics had won the regular season series against the Hawks 2-1, the point differential of those games was exactly zero. In three games, each team scored the exact same number of points against each other. Even for a No. 4 seed vs. No. 5 seed matchup, this was close. And even though the Celtics managed to dispatch the Hawks in six games, it was hardly an easy series.

The return of Hawks All-Star Al Horford created serious problems for Boston. Horford’s presence of mind on defense, 19 points and 11 rebounds gutted Atlanta to a win in the final seconds of Game 5. In fact, his performance in the final possession of that game helped exemplify the Celtics biggest flaw: Rondo’s indecisiveness as an offensive threat.

Rondo had a chance to win the game after forcing a steal with 9.9 seconds left on the clock. After driving up the middle, he inexplicably went left, where he was locked down by Horford before eventually losing the ball after dribbling it off his foot.

Rondo is a good — and often great — point guard, but his lack of a shot and poor decision-making in clutch moments shoots the team in the foot when he becomes the only available offensive weapon. On a team as injury-plagued as the Celtics, that is bound to become a more frequent occurrence.

During the regular season, the Celtics were 5-7 in games in which Rondo took 15 or more field goal attempts. When you factor in poor jump shooting and a weak free throw percentage, his .448 FG% becomes less impressive, as it implies that a disproportionate number of those shots were layups.

He is one of the few players in the league who can score a triple-double in the playoffs and look ugly doing so — watch Game 7 of the Philadelphia series if you don’t believe me.

After all, it was the seven game series from hell.

The second round matchup between the Celtics and the Philadelphia 76’ers, on the other hand, was what happens when a movable object meets a stoppable force.

Based on player efficiency rating, the Sixers’s three best players in the 2012 playoffs were Jrue Holliday, Lavoy Allen and Thaddeus Young, none of whom will be knocking down doors in the league anytime soon. Despite nailing a few clutch threes on top of being a lockdown defender, team leader and 2012 All-Star Andre Iguodala was held to 12.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game in 13 playoff games this season, and on .384 shooting, no less.

It was almost good enough to take them to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The series was defined by slow, low-scoring games that bordered on unwatchable for casual fans. The fact that it was a matchup between two of the most insufferable fan bases in the world didn’t help.

The only thing that kept it interesting was Garnett, who threw up five double-doubles to revive the Tim Duncan vs. Garnett argument to the excitement of 55-year old NBA fans everywhere. But even those performances were less DMXeraGarnettand more “let’s-settle-for-a-jump-shot-from-the-top-of-the-key” Garnett.

Rondo also played well — two triple-doubles in a playoff series is amazing in any context — but that’s only a shell of the team that had terrorized the league in the latter half of the regular season.

The Celtics are impossibly hobbled. The little tears everyone knew had existed at the start of the season are making fast progress toward the seams. Paul Pierce’s durability is wearing thin, Ray Allen’s ankles have disintegrated and, despite finding something in the bile-generating marsh that is his ego, Garnett is still 36 years old. As for the team’s future, I would be hard pressed to believe that the Celtics are drawing inspiration from Rondo, who showcased his maturity by chest bumping a ref for a suspension in the previous playoff series.

LeBron James is almost impossible to guard. Factor in his defense, and he becomes an impossible matchup for almost every player in the league. Despite his supposed lack of athleticism, Pierce’s numbers against LeBron in the playoffs are pretty good. James has averaged over 27 points per game in playoff matchups against Pierce, but that’s on .426 shooting — well below his .465 career playoff average.

In Game 1 against Boston Monday night, James went 13-22 with 32 points and 13 rebounds. He held Pierce to 27 percent shooting. Pierce was -16 on +/-, and with Ray Allen guest starring on The Walking Dead and their bench running scared, that won’t cut it.

I watched the game with a Boston fan and all he could do was laugh. The Celtics looked so old, so comically inept, it became hard to believe that they’ll pull out a single victory in this series. Boston could get lucky and steal a game, but if LeBron and Wade perform half as well as they played together Monday night, there’s not a chance in hell the Celtics will win.

Garnett and Rondo were good enough to beat a No. 8 seed, but they won’t do it against a team that ran roughshod over a much deeper Indiana Pacers team in the last three games of the semi-finals.

They know it is close to being over, even though people have been saying it for years now. Paul Pierce has gone out of his way to acknowledge the truth, and it’s high time people believed it. Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett aren’t under contract next year, and Danny Ainge would have to be suicidal to resign both players to the two- or three-year contracts former All-Stars always demand when they’re reaching their expiration dates.

I’m not a Boston fan, and I have no love for the Celtics, but you have to tip your cap to a team that has overstayed its relevance.

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  1. I generally like this website, but I’m sorry, this article is not up to par.

    I will get this out of way: I am a Celtics fan. As such, I am obviously inclined to disagree about the so-called imminent demise of my favorite team. However, I think there is evidence independent of my biases and the two games that have been played since the publishing of this piece that at least counteracts your argument if it doesn’t support mine.

    One of your main points is that the Celtics have struggled mightily with two teams they should have beaten handily if they were truly contenders. Yet this is not the first time in recent history that the C’s have been pushed to 7 games against an 8 seed. In 2008, when the Celtics had the league’s second best record as well as the relative youth of its Big Three, they played the maximum 14 games in the first two rounds against the very same Hawks and LeBron’s Cavs. You are correct in saying that the Hawks and Celtics roughly evenly in the regular season, which is a sign of how the two teams have essentially equilibriated (not sure if that’s a word!) since 2008, but in that sense it is no surprise that they gave the Celtics a tough time. Nevertheless, there is precedent for this Celtics team having trouble putting teams away in as few games as possible, no matter how much better or worse the opponent is supposed to be.

    You have also drastically overestimated the second half turnaround. Sure, they played much better, but never “terrorized the league” to the point where anyone took the three wins over the Heat as anything but regular season irrelevance. I expected we’d beat the Hawks, sure, but the Pacers would have been a very tough matchup. Additionally, the issues you cite as being indicative of our demise haven’t suddenly arisen in the postseason and were present during the second-half run. If you have watched KG you would see that Danny would have to be suicidal *not* to re-sign KG, and Ray has willingly taken on his impending role as Avery’s backup.

    Us “insufferable” (a quality which is apparently relevant to the article) fans have heard the “old” claim for years and have even believed it ourselves sometimes. As such, no one ever put too much stock into the second half run, and everyone knew the postseason would be a grind with various ups and downs, none of which should be read into too much until it is the fourth loss of a series or the fourth win of the Finals.

    I’m not asserting that you shouldn’t say that the Celtics are done, since there is obviously a case for that, as there is every year. However, you could have gone about it differently, especially since you assume so much about how the rest of the series will go based on LeBron and Wade’s talent and the Celtics’ struggles to get this far. I am asserting that those are basic, well-known pieces of a much, much larger puzzle.

    Oh, and while there are many funny, appropriate metaphors, an editor or nice proofreading session would assist this article greatly.

  2. I apologize for the hypocrisy of my last sentence, but I am on a Nook Color and it is a son of a bitch to type on and makes it nearly impossible to go back and revise. Why are there no arrow keys on touch screens?!

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