ORLANDO -- I believe! I do believe, and I shall doubt no more. The undersigned hereby acknowledges that these elderly Boston Celtics can and possibly should win an 18th championship next month.
As we close in upon yet another Celtics-Lakers sequel -- now that Boston is returning home with a 2-0 lead following its 95-92 win Tuesday over the Magic in Game 2 of the Eastern finals -- let me start by pointing out (defensively) that I opened the season picking Boston for the title. But confession is a gift that keeps on giving, especially when you can Google back to find the many times I expressed doubt about the Celtics postseason chances while they were going 27-27 after Christmas.
"The things that were said were probably deserving," said Celtics captain
Now they deserve just the opposite. They have more weapons across their starting lineup than the championship team of two years ago, as Pierce (28 points overall) and
"The feeling of the team right now is just focus," said Pierce. "Only thing we did was win two games; in order to get to the NBA Finals, you have to win four. This is a team that doesn't take that stuff for granted or get overjoyous for two wins."
Throughout his postgame interview Pierce spoke with humility, even after he'd outscored his hosts 9-5 out of the gate to demonstrate the Celtics were seeking a sweep of their homecourt. But his official Twitter page had a provacative message that read "Anybody got a BROOM?" The company that manages Pierce's Twitter account said it was hacked into and the post has since been taken down.
However, media and players still questioned Orlando's
"Am I supposed to comment on that?" said Howard, who scored 30 points (9 of 13) on a night when any teammate who wasn't a center was combining to shoot 18 for 57 (31.6 percent). "They only won two games. Pride comes before a fall, just know that."
But look how they've won those two games and how they've won the last five overall against Orlando and Cleveland, the top two seeds in the East and arguably two of the top three contenders (along with the Lakers) as the playoffs began. This is the longest Celtics winning streak since they won 11 straight through Dec. 14, more than five months ago.
"We're becoming [the] team that started the season, more than the team that played in the middle to the end of the season," said Celtics coach
They're better than that team because Garnett (10 points and 9 rebounds) is healthier than he was in late 2009 as he was recovering from knee surgery last May. He showed it while matched up against Howard in the fourth quarter while swishing an outrageously soft fallaway baseline jumper over his two-time successor as defensive player of the year to give Boston a 91-90 advantage at 2:45 remaining. "That's not a matchup we were hoping for, I can tell you that," said Rivers, who had felt the same way in the previous round when
They're equalling the rebounding performances of opponents this postseason after being clobbered on the boards over the preceding 82 games. Defensively they're approaching the 2008 level while yielding a meager 43.7 percent shooting in the playoffs. In the last two series, it has been easy to define the Celtics' defensive gameplan because they've acted it out upon the stage as if assistant
As often as he spent those long lonesome months of January, February and March dreaming they would overcome their injuries and age and have it turn out this way, Rivers left Orlando feeling ominous discomfort because of his 2-0 lead. "Unfortunately we have a month off before the next game," he said of the odd delay before Game 3 Saturday in Boston. "So we have to try to keep it together, you know. For four days they're going to hear how great they are. We have to get our guys to stay focused and humble."
He hasn't forgotten about the regular season, that's for sure. Even after watching his players refuse to be satisfied with homecourt advantage as they ruthlessly seized Game 2, he cannot forget their not-so-long-ago tendency to relax.
"I wish we could take them to Alcatraz for four days and be on the island all by ourselves," he said. "That's not going to happen."
Here's something else that isn't going to happen, not after they've worked so hard to come this far: A letdown.