The “Green” sure could have used a few of those three-pointers back in June, or even just one at a big moment of game seven. But that said, it sure was nice to see Ray Allen drain that corner ball last night because if he hadn’t, it’s quite possible that all we would be hearing this morning is how the NBA season is already over.
This is what was on the line late last night. A Miami win and the basketball world would have been swallowed up by an avalanche of Heat-adoration. Think Vesuvias only instead of lava, hundreds of columns, blogs and TV appearances, each surrendering the season to the vaunted Heat and King James. The storyline, if you couldn’t guess, would be some variation of the following: if the battle-hardened Eastern Conference Champions couldn’t stop them on night one, while the Heat were still assembling and jelling, then it was hopeless to think anyone would be able to slow down this blitzkrieg down the road.
Thankfully, the magic number for Miami to clinch the “Media Championship” remains stuck on one as the Celtics were able to stave off elimination last night. It wasn’t that pretty. And it sure got a little precarious late, as missed free throws and turnovers conspired to tighten things up. But Paul Pierce chilled the Heat with some big fourth quarter moments, the defense induced plenty of misses, Big Baby shined and Allen was ready to kill this time, armed with the dagger that he fumbled and dropped on June 17th.
So for today at least, the NBA Championship remains up for grabs. The Heat, it would seem, will eventually become a very tough foe. That is hard to deny. But for now, the Celtics have won the right to keep their name in the hat. Because if last night showed us anything, it is that the Celtics are motivated, they are deep, they are still a pretty skilled bunch, and quite frankly, they still play the best defense in basketball.
I had computer problems yesterday so I wasn’t able to publish a season preview on time but I will take advantage of a five-day grace period to say the following things about the 2010 team:
* I like this team. I like it plenty. Yeah, they are way too long in age and short when it comes to protecting the ball. So I don’t see 60 wins in their future. And it’s true that the Eastern Conference hasn’t gotten much better over the Summer. But I don’t see why this team can’t win 56 games.
* As far as the new additions go …. I haven’t yet been able to convince myself that Jermaine will be useful, perhaps because my perspective is so clouded by that abortion he threw at the Celtics in the playoffs last year. But I do think the Shaqprechaun will be a force at times. While his utility is questionable against good pick-and-rolls, there is no denying his ability to finish and that should make Rondo’s penetrations that much more effective.
* Losing Tony Allen will hurt. I said it plenty last year but if that guy’s offense was twenty percent better, he would be one of the top fifty players in the league. EASILY. His defense is that good and it will be missed. Sorry, but Marquis Daniels can’t fill that spot.
* It’s hard to imagine Rondo playing better than last year but there is no reason to believe he can’t match his 2010. I think Garnett has a little upside as his agility looks better. Pierce and Allen will probably see some slippage although I doubt it will be too noticeable. And I feel it can be made up with bigger contributions from Donkey, Shrek and Shaq. The message here is the starting unit might not be as efficient as last year but the bench could (and should) be a considerable weapon. I thought this would be the case last year and I was wrong. But coming off last year’s playoffs, both Big Baby and Robinson should be armed with plenty of confidence and I think there is a lot of upside at those two positions.
* Losing Thibodeau is a hit but Lawrence Frank should be a competent replacement. As such, losing Tony Allen will be a bigger hit to defensive efficiency than losing Thibodeau.
I am confident this will be a good club and it should be strong right out of the gate. This is a good thing as the upcoming schedule will be a big test. How big? Try an eight-game stretch, beginning on November 3 that includes two games with OKC, a game with Chicago, a game with Dallas and a rematch with Miami. Last night was a nice start but we’ll know a lot more about this team on November 20th. Hopefully, by that time, the Heat will not have run away with the media’s “mythical” 2011 title and the Celtics will still have their name in THE hat.