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From day one, the 2011-2012 Celtics were never given a chance. After falling to the Miami Heat in five games in the second round of the 2010-2011 playoffs, the critics all but counted the Celtics out entirely in the lockout shortened, condensed 2011-2012 season. In the first half of the season, the Celtics were doing everything to prove those critics right coasting into the All-Star break two games under .500.
Jermaine O’Neal missed much of the season due to nagging injuries and would eventually need season ending wrist surgery. Jeff Green, who was acquired in the deal that shipped Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City last season, had a defect in his heart that would cause him to miss the entire season. Energetic forward Chris Wilcox would later be lost for the season with the same heart defect. In all, the Celtics would lose 3 of their projected top 10 players before the regular season was over. But through it all, as is Celtic tradition, they didn’t complain nor did they make a single excuse.
The 2011-2012 Celtics banded together to surge in the second half of the season. After the All-Star break the Celtics went 24-10, won the Atlantic Division, and gained the fourth seed in the playoffs. Role players Brandon Bass, Mickael Pietrus, Avery Bradley, and Keyon Dooling would step up throughout the season to make key contributions.
In the first round of the playoffs the Celtics dispatched a feisty Atlanta Hawks team in six games despite being continuously doubted at every misstep. The 76ers were the next team to step up to the Celtics in the second round, and the will of the veteran team overmatched the youth of the 76ers in seven games. These two victorious series for the Celtics set up what everyone was waiting for- the Celtics vs. the Heat.
No one picked the Celtics to win the Eastern Conference Finals and most analysts didn’t give them a chance to see game five. The series seemed to be going the way everyone expected it to go when the Heat blew the Celtics out in game one. Game two saw the Heat edge out an overtime victory to gain a 2-0 series lead. The words of the critics seemed to be coming true: “The Celtics are too old;” “the Heat are too athletic.”. The Celtics stormed back in the series winning the next three games, including a come-from-behind victory in Miami in game five. The series seemed to be in the Celtics’ control, but a blow-out on their homecourt in game six left them reeling and left the fans wondering if this team had anything left in the tank.
Game seven saw the Celtics throw everything they had at the Heat, but at the end of the game their legs didn’t have as much lift. The previously injured Chris Bosh was who burned the Celtics in the end, hitting clutch shot after clutch shot. The Heat won game seven, ending the Celtics’ season, championship hopes, and possibly an era in Celtic basketball.
The series against the Heat showed everyone who the Celtics were. They were a group of players who always picked each other up when they fell. They were a group of players that didn’t rely on flash, but true grit to win games. They worked hard to even get a game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals. All the injuries and extended minutes finally took its toll on the Big Three and older players. They were playing more minutes than they usually did, but like always no one complained because they knew it was their job to step up. It hurt knowing this team had a legitimate chance to win game 7 and go on to the NBA Finals, but considering no one even expected them to make it this far when the season started, I can honestly say watching them fall just short of the finals was nothing short of amazing.