It’s a tough day, not because of tomorrows test looming over me, or the early hour I was forced to wake up today. No, today is tough because a harsh reality has set in, the Celtics run is over, and in the unlikeliest of ways.
I knew I’d write this article at some point. It was only a matter of time until I was forced to face the realization that my days of basketball glory were over, but not like this. The Celtics are playing as well as I’ve seen them play in years, but after a heart-breaking loss they find themselves down 2-0. Teams up 2-0 win 95% of their series!
Numerous blogs have tried to describe the series as one team just being better than the other, but that’s not true. Sure, the Heat are more athletic, younger and a better team than the Celtics, but that’s too easy of a cop-out. The Celtics played a Heat team that was at their best, on their home floor and were one step away from beating them. Actually, one call away from beating them. Rajon Rondo’s unbelievable, historic and enigmatic performance will be remembered as one of the greatest playoff performances in history, and that’s not hyperbole.
However what will be so memorable about the game was Rondo’s drive in overtime, with the clock under two minutes. It was a play that’s happened to Rondo a million times. His quickness and over-aggressiveness pays off, and even though he misses a layup he has no shot of making, he gets fouled by a flailing arm trying to stop a speed that’s impossible to keep up with. Normally, he goes to the line, hits one, maybe two free throws, but not this time. This time, the refs blew it, and not an excuse type of blowing it, they blew the game! He was clearly hit in the face, and in a game where LeBron James shot five less free throws than the entire Celtics’ team, the refs have no excuse for “letting them play.”
The refs called a completely different game for LeBron than for Paul Pierce or any other Celtic, it’s just a fact. Fouls don’t accumulate on one side and not on the other like that, especially in a game this even. Stars have gotten calls in the NBA for years now, and I’m sure Michael Jordan is in a casino somewhere laughing about how he got the same love-taps-turned-free-throws LeBron did. However for all of those terrible gimme calls, all of the Game One technicals against the Celtics, the refs had a chance to erase every whisper of NBA conspiracies. All they had to do was call an obvious and unquestionable foul, but instead Rondo got smacked in the face and went down looking for a call. By the time he turned to the ref, Udonis Haslem was on the other end of the floor dunking the ball…it was a four-point swing.
Even with the foul, the Celtics had a great chance and played a great game. I don’t give much merit to the stat of the largest comeback in Heat playoff history, since everybody realizes that erasing a 15-point lead before halftime in the playoffs is about as impressive as T.O.’s arena league play. In fact, it was the Celtics who were resilient. Ray Allen’s late three sent the game into OT, even after trailing late with Dwyane Wade on the line ready to seal the deal.
Sure, if the Celtics come down with the rebound after LeBron’s missed layup in the waning seconds of the fourth, they have the ball with a chance to win the game in regulation, but it wasn’t like they blew the game. They went into overtime with their best clutch player on the bench because of fouls. Both teams had leads, and both teams lost them, it was an even game.
So here I am, with a 5% chance at coming back and winning the series, and possibly elongating a run with a lineup that will change completely by next year. I always pictured this moment as pathetic and hard it is to watch. I imagined the Celtics losing in the first round to the Pacers or Magic, and the world laughing at my old and staggering lineup, but the Celtics are in the Eastern Conference Finals, with a lineup that has no business of being there, competing with an Avengers-like team. They lost in overtime, in part, because of a blown call that any ref could easily make. It’s a perfect parallel for them, a team that won its championship with defense, intensity and effort willed themselves to battle last night. They lost that one. They won a couple in 2008. And that’s sports. The sooner I come to terms with that, the easier the end of these Celtics will be.