MIAMI, FL - JUNE 09: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics points in the fourth quarter while taking on the Miami Heat in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on June 9, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Rajon Rondo and the Boston Celtics didn't accomplish their ultimate goal of winning another championship, but they should still be proud for fighting until the end and representing what it means to be a Celtic.
I'm not one to pick a public fight, or any for that matter, with other sports journalists or bloggers. I think it's disrespectful. I mean, we're generally all on the same side, right?
Anyway, something rubbed me the wrong way on, let's just say a rival website of ours, when I read it on Saturday afternoon. The article was discussing the Boston Celtics' success this season, saying that they had overcome the odds and silenced the critics. Here's where the problem was: the writer suggested that, win or lose in Game 7 against the Heat, it didn't matter.
"The Celtics have already won," the author wrote.
That statement couldn't be further from the truth. We're talking about Boston Celtics basketball here, aren't we? This team has more banners hanging from the rafters than any other team in history, and they don't feel satisfied until they've brought home another. It's all about winning here. Nothing less. Celtics head coach Doc Rivers echoed that sentiment after his team's tough 101-88 loss to Miami in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night in South Beach.
"One of the things I love about being a Celtic is we have 17 banners, that's it, [in the rafters]," Rivers said. "We don't have the 30 division championships or 21 conference championships."
For that reason, it was especially tough for Rivers' to look back and appreciate his team's season.
"It's tough, I'm just too competitive to see it right now," he said. "I'm sure at some point I'll look back and say what a great run. Right now, I'm just too competitive to see that."
Still, from the outside looking in, what the Celtics accomplished this season was very impressive. Boston stumbled out of the starting gate thanks to the lack of prep time as a result of the NBA lockout, as well as injuries aplenty, and was looking like it had zero chance of being competitive at the All-Star break. Thirty two games into the season, the Celtics' record sat at 15-17. Yikes.
So what did they do? They didn't give up, and they found their stride at the right time. Boston was one of the hottest teams in the second half of the season, finishing with a 24-10 record to edge out the Philadelphia 76ers to win the Atlantic Division and clinch the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. Of course, the road ahead wouldn't be an easy one. Playoff basketball is never easy.
First up were the Atlanta Hawks, a team with a talented trio of players in Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Al Horford. Unfortunately, they would prove to be thorns in the Celtics' side. After losing Game 1, and losing sensational guard Rajon Rondo for Game 2 due to a one-game suspension, the Celtics' got a tremendous performance from savvy veteran Paul Pierce, who jump started the Celtics back to life and led them to three straight wins. Boston failed to close the Hawks out in Game 5, but got the job done at home in Game 6. One round down, three to go.
Round two didn't treat the Celtics any better, even though it looked like they caught a break in the beginning. The top seed in the Eastern Conference, the Chicago Bulls, suffered a devastating setback in their opening round series, losing last year's MVP, Derrick Rose, in Game 1. With Rose at the helm, the Bulls were expected to flatten their opponent, the No. 8 seeded Sixers. Alas, Philly wouldn't play by the rules, ultimately upsetting the Bulls in six games to set up a second-round date with the Celtics. Boston and Philadelphia played two very even games to start the series, with each team splitting wins in the first two games at TD Garden. In fact, neither team would win two straight games in the series, meaning the Celtics and Sixers would have to play a Game 7. No problem, though, as the Celtics disposed of the 76ers in front of their home crowd to win the series and punch their ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals. Two more rounds to go.
Finally, the Celtics would meet their match in Miami, but after one heck of a bar fight. Boston lost the first two games of the series, both of which had suspect officiating, but the Celtics, rejuvenated by a return to the friendly confines of TD Garden, did their part and held serve, evening up the series with two straight wins. Then, the victory that defined the series (up until Game 7, of course), as Pierce's dagger three over LeBron James helped the C's seal a 94-90 win, meaning they were one win away from returning to the NBA Finals. Could you believe it?
See, now, that wasn't exactly in LeBron's plans, and he responded with a whale of a night in Game 6, scoring 45 points to lead Miami to a 98-79 win, sending the series back to South Beach for Game 7. By that point, you could start to sense that the Celtics' run might be coming to an end, as would be the case after a battle at AmericanAirlines Arena. That was all. The dream died there.
So the Celtics didn't achieve their goal, after all. Make no mistake, though, they should be proud.
While the season didn't end with Boston capturing its 18th championship banner as it had hoped, this Celtics team embodied everything that is right in basketball. They were tough, honest, good guys who lived by the philosophy of teamwork and shunned individuality. There's no "I" in the word championship, is there (well, technically, there is, but we'll just overlook that for now)?
And in every sense of the word, this collection of 15 players was a true team. No doubt about it.
"Everybody buys into team around here," said Rivers. "Rondo, Paul, Ray [Allen], Kevin [Garnett]. I think they each sacrifice their individual games so much to try to help the team win."
Granted, this was my first season covering the team up close in person, but I can tell you that I won't forget this group for a long, long time. It seemed like every member of this team was a stand up guy. Their locker room was truly a great place to be. Rivers sung praises of their chemistry all season long, and it showed up big time in the playoffs. No, they didn't win a championship. In that sense, they failed, but they can still hold their heads high. They never quit, and they defied all odds to pull within five wins of a title. All while being selfless. Now that's Celtics basketball.