I may not have seen the Cleveland upset coming but make no mistake about it. I went on the radio before the Orlando series began and confidently predicted the Celts would roll and take out the Magic in six. Mission accomplished. Next!
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to having a moment of doubt. Not so much after game four, when entire regiments of Celtics fans were ready to lay down their arms and throw the Celts out with the Bruins. But after game five, I was not too encouraged. Why so? Well, the team looked like it aged eighteen months between games four and five and if that progression held in game six, the Celts were in trouble as Pierce and Allen would have shown up as 36 year-olds. On top of that, Big Baby was coming off a knockout where he looked like an early Tyson victim, Rasheed looked busted, Perkins was going to be playing on eggshells and it appeared that Rondo was finally wearing down. All told, my confidence was intact but a bit shaken.
It turned out any concern I had, however small, was misplaced as the Celts came ready to play in game six. Pierce had his legs and his shot, Allen played more like 32 than 36, the defense stiffened, Big Baby turned out to be fine and even little Nate delivered with a hot hand. And on the other side of the ledger, Jameer Nelson came back to Earth in a big way, Rashard Lewis struggled again and the Magic got waxed on the glass.
In the end, it really came down to this …. The Magic were a player short. They thought that player would be Vince Carter but they guessed wrong and in a big way. Carter ended up doing his usual thing in big games and when the genie dust stopped working on Jameer and JJ Reddick, the Magic were out of arrows.
The Celts, on the other hand, advanced without getting much help from KG and almost no help from Perkins. In fact, Perkins woeful offensive game turned downright pitiful against the Magic. Instead, Rondo’s blitz got the Celts off strong, the defense propelled the Celts to a three-game lead, the bench played well, and Pierce turned out to be holding enough in reserve to close the series out. It was an excellent effort, but I would call it more workmanlike than surprising as I thought the Celts were the better team going in, I thought they were the better team after game four and they left little doubt who was better in game six.
The Celts now sit atop the East, a spot that seemed like an absurd thought six weeks ago. But they vanquished Wade, spiked LBJ, and dispatched Superman. And now, only The Black Mamaba stands in the way of an 18th NBA championship. It won’t be easy but six weeks ago, this all seemed wholly ridiculous. Now, it seems quite doable. And make no mistake about it, if they “do,” this will be amongst the organization’s finest moments.
I will hold off on my preview and prediction for another thirty-six hours, but I will say this ….. it doesn’t get any better than this. Celtics-Lakers! Boston-LA! Quite simply, the best rivalry in North American professional sports is just 72 hours away from takeoff.