Monday, June 11, 2012

A Sad End to a Happy Era for the Celtics

In what could be the last game of the Big Three Era in Boston, the Celtics fell to the Heat 101-88. It was likely the last time that Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen were all on the same floor on the same team in a meaningful game.

It was a brutally painful end to an enjoyable 5 seasons. So even though the ending wasn't a triumphant one, and there was no ride into the sunset with an 18th NBA Championship trophy in tow, I'd argue that as a whole the story of The Big Three was happy one.

In the Big Three Era, the Celtics won 5 divisional titles, 2 Eastern Conference titles, and an NBA Championship. They won 11 playoff series (they'd won 10 between the 1986 NBA Finals and the start of the Big Three Era). They had a .693 winning percentage and won 273 regular season games. They rekindled the rivalry with LA. They won rings for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. And they made sure that the number 34 would one day hang in the rafters of the Garden with the other Celtic greats.

More important than all that, the Big Three Era made the Celtics relevant again. Before, the C's were struggling on the court and were struggling for attention in a town that had Super Bowl and World Series winning teams. The Big Three Era returned the Celtics to prominence in this town. And nationally, Boston was once again a focal point of the Basketball world.

It's been a very special 5 years.

Now, let's talk about Game 7.

The Celtics and Heat were tied 73-73 going into the 4th. The Celtics led 82-81 with 8:00 left in the 4th. Then the Heat went on a rampage and the C's cooled off. They outscored the Celtics 20-6 from that point on. The Heat executed, the Celtics didn't.

The common explanation for this is that the Celtics "had nothing left in the tank." They simply ran out of gas. That may be. And it might be part of the reason Miami was able to pull away so quickly. I'm not quite sure that's the reason, though.

This Celtics team has been very streaky all season, especially with their shooting. Hot for 10 minutes, cold for 10 minutes. They've blown several leads (and built several leads) in the postseason because of this streakiness. They were cold at the end of the 4th last night, but it didn't look much different from previous cold stretches.

And give credit to the Heat for their execution. I hate that I have to do that, but they made the big shots in the 4th last night. They made the momentum swinging plays (example: late in the 2nd Celtics had a chance to go up by 9, Pietrus turned it over, then LeBron dunked to make it a 5 point game). They played better than the Celtics, especially in the clutch.

I'm not calling the Celtics a team of chokers. You can't be both a Choker and a Champion, and you can't be a Choker if you're also the underdog. But the Celtics could have won this series if they played just a little bit better. The effort was there, but not the execution.

Earlier in the series, the Celtics got cold at a key time and let another game get away from them. Game 2, remembered mostly for bad officiating, saw the Celtics up 5 points with 3:00 left in the 4th. And they couldn't hit a shot. Miami took a lead, then the Celtics had to miraculously tie it, hope for LeBron to choke (which he did), and go to OT. Which they eventually lost, thanks in part to the refs. But the C's had that game in their hands, and didn't execute.

And that's fine. The Bruins didn't execute against the Caps. The Patriots didn't execute against the Giants. It happens. I'm not trying to lead an anti-Celtic crusade here. I'm not trying to criticize them or call them losers. It just seems like every time the Celtics lose, there's always an explanation and it never includes the phrase "didn't play well enough to win." It's either the refs, or their age, or health, or injuries, or running out of gas.

It's okay to admit that these guys are human, and that it's tough to execute perfectly for 16 games and win an NBA Championship. If anything, I think it emphasizes how impressive their 2008 title was. The NBA Playoffs are a grind. Only a freak could play their absolute best in every single game.

Anyway, in 10 years we won't remember this game much. We'll remember the players, but not for their shooting percentages in the 4th quarter of this game. We'll remember them for what they did the 5 years they were here. They brought pride back to the Green and White, to the most storied franchise in the NBA, and to Boston.

Photo Credit:
AP Photo

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