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Despite what your eyes were telling you and everything you were hearing, did you really think this team would go down 3-0 to the Miami Heat? On their home court? In the waning moments of their glory days?
No, you didn’t. Not these legendary players, in this historic city, underneath all those banners. So for now you can all rest easy with the knowledge that at least you can still give your gut instincts a little credit.
They may not win this series. They may not even win another game in this postseason. But the Boston Celtics proved that they weren’t going to let a new NBA era usher itself in without at least one more old school Beantown beatdown. Game 3 belonged to Boston from the beginning, as they rode their home court advantage to a 97-81 demolition over visiting Miami. Kevin Garnett lead the way with an impressive 28 point, 18 rebound double-double, and altogether the reinvigorated Celtics’ Big Three combined for 70 points, 10 assists and 4 steals. They were also a perfect 11 of 11 from the free throw line.
Funny part is, as good as the Celtics played statistically on both offense and defense, that wasn’t even the best part of this game…
The game truly took a turn for the epic with 7 minutes left to go in the third quarter. The Celtics had a hope-inducing 10 point lead, with the score at 60-50. They looked like a home team that was ready to win. Kevin Garnett was playing like it was 2008. Shaq had played a few minutes without hobbling into the locker room or coming down from a rebound clutching at his knee… or calf…or ankle. Lebron was looking a little more like the suck-pill we are used to when he’s behind in playoff games. The crowd was roaring.
Then Rondo tripped and fell on a Dwyane Wade foul, and the arm that braced his fall just happened to bend the opposite way that arms are supposed to bend. I know just how sickeningly backwards it bent because they replayed it in agonizing slow motion; about 17 times in a row. It was one of those replays where everyone in the newsroom gasped, groaned, and then looked away in horror; only to look back, grimace harder and turn away again while shrieking “YOUR ARM IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BEND THAT WAY!”
In seconds, Celtics fans had gone from possessing faith that this team could make it a series again, to believing that their season was over and that Rondo’s elbow was most definitely torn to shreds. The Celtics still started the 4th quarter with a comfortable 11 point lead, and they certainly had the Heat playing badly enough to convince us they’d probably win the game.
But we all know they aren’t going anywhere without Rondo, so at that point it kind of felt like a pity win from the NBA gods. “Here C’s fans, we know you are witnessing the end of an era as it is, and you’re All-Star point guard may have just walked off the court with the bottom part of his arm dangling off by the elbow, so we’ll spare you the added misery of getting swept by the Super Team that was put together purely to dethrone you.”
Don’t want to sound ungrateful but…
Wait. What? No way. Rondo did not just come back onto the court and sit on the bench. The announcers have to be mistaken when they say he wants back in the game. Do the team doctors know he’s out there, or did he dupe them with some Rondo-shaped pillows under a sheet on a gurney somewhere?
Yet surely enough, Rondo walked back onto the court. And he played the entire 4th quarter one handed, managing to include a defensive rebound, a dunk off a steal, a driving layup and an assist on a Pierce three-pointer. And when I say he played one-handed, I mean that in the most literal way possible. It turned out that his elbow had been dislocated, and after the doctors popped it back in he wanted to return to the game. But the pain and shock of the injury rendered it fairly useless, so Rajon said screw it. Who needs two hands to point guard their way past the Lebron James and Dwyane Wade anyway?? Somewhere in Atlanta, Derrick Rose is wondering how he’s possibly going to regain his “Most Heroic Point Guard in the 2011 Playoffs” title.
Paul Pierce proved once again why he is the anchor and leader for this team, blazing through the first quarter with 12 points and getting the crowd into the game early. He was visibly fired up, and whatever Achilles issue he was having earlier in the week was not evident in his Game 3 performance. He went on to nail 5 three-pointers and his impressive defensive effort on Lebron James held him to just 15 points; 6-16 from the field and 0-3 from beyond the arch. Pierce after the game talked about knowing the type of attitude he needed to have to lead his team to a victory.
“We picked up full court, got into their space,” said Pierce. “We didn’t let them just pass the ball around. We were the aggressors tonight.”
Though new to the playoff experience with this Celtics group, Jeff Green talked about how he fed off of his captain’s energy, and how it affected his own approach going forward in the series.
“It’s been a roller coaster ride for Paul, especially with the ejection [in Game 1] and not playing well,” said Green. “But Paul’s a fighter, man. Going against him in practice every day, it makes me better. I try to make him better. Seeing him put on a show today was amazing.”
Delonte West came up big, providing the starters with their only legitimate help off the bench. West was 4-7 from the field with a pair of three-pointers 3 assists. He also hustled defensively and while Mario Chalmers was on an unusual hot shooting streak, West helped to make sure that an already generally abysmal Mike Bibby remained so. Bibby played 17 minutes and his sole contribution was one assist.
There is a belief by some that these guys only have the chops to play big when they are ahead, and that they still don’t have the confidence or chemistry to play from behind and come back big. We don’t know quite yet if that’s completely true, but we did see tonight that this Big Three looked overwhelmed as ever at the TD Garden. Chris Bosh was essentially a non-factor with just 5 rebounds and 6 points, and even Dwyane Wade looked to be in regular season form, going 1-5 from the three-point line on spectacular defense by Ray Allen.
Rondo’s elbow is certainly not in ideal shape, despite his all around heroic return to the game. Doc Rivers expressed his concern regarding the injury, and it will be monitored closely moving forward to Monday’s game and beyond.
“It’s a major concern [beyond Saturday night],” Rivers said. “You can play a lot with adrenaline, you see people do it all the time. But honestly, moving forward, we’ll have to see, but it’s going to be interesting.”
After tonight’s performance though, and now that they have gotten into Miami’s heads just a little, I give the Celtics the edge to tie the series at 2-2. Consider also that they have probably the best postseason home court advantage in the league, Shaq back (for now) to help JO with minutes in the paint, the Big Three clicking again, and a human Gumby at point. It’s not ideal, but it’s still enough to get it done for now. One game at a time.