We didn’t believe them, not really. It sounded too much like Pee-wee Herman crashing his bike and popping up to say, “I meant to do that.”
But we can believe them now, not because of anything they said, but because of the way they swatted away the Miami Heat in five games in the opening round of the playoffs. This was a fourth-seeded Boston team against a fifth-seeded Miami squad, but it looked more like a No. 1 against a No. 8, as complete a mismatch as we’ve seen in the first round.
They gave the Heat one game, but only because Dwyane Wade had the game of his playoff life. And that was it. The rest of the series was coldly efficient, the way these things are supposed to be when a superior team has a lesser opponent under its heel.
So now the Celtics get the team they wanted, the one we said they had no chance of beating: the Cleveland LeBrons.
Two weeks ago, at the start of these playoffs, that didn’t seem like a matchup the Celtics could possibly want. Now, it doesn’t seem so crazy after all. The Cavs don’t look nearly as invincible as they once did.
Chicago does not have a Big Three. It doesn’t really even have a Big One. But the Bulls made the Cavs work their tails off to eke out a two-point win Tuesday.
When it was over, LeBron was holding his right arm against his side and talking about a mysterious injury that doesn’t show up on MRIs but apparently hurts like a banged funny bone. One assumes he’ll get better in the next couple of days, especially if the finest doctors money can buy can’t find any structural damage. But one also fears it could continue to hinder him.
If LeBron is at anything less than 100 percent, the Celtics’ chances go from decent to excellent. They showed against the Heat that they are a deep team with a lot of ways to do damage. Cleveland won’t beat them without their top gun operating at his peak.
What makes the Celtics dangerous is that they’re not just about the Big Three anymore. Kevin Garnett is not the dominant player inside he once was, but he’s still a very good forward who gets his points in the flow of the game. Similarly, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen don’t score at the rate they once did, but both can take over a game for a quarter or a half. On Tuesday, Pierce commanded the first half and Allen took control in the second.
In his fourth season, Rondo is simply a terrific basketball player, even if he does wear strange leggings under his shorts that look like he forgot to take his long johns off before putting his uniform on. If he had a better jump shot, he’d be in the discussion for the title of best point guard in the game.
Rondo, Pierce, Garnett and Allen are a pretty darned good collection of talent. Every one of them is better than anyone Cleveland has who’s not named King James. Give Cleveland the edge at center, with Shaq versus Kendrick Perkins, but give the Celtics the edge over forward Antawn Jamison and guards Mo Williams and Anthony Parker.
There’s a never-ending debate in basketball over the relative merits of a team with above average talent at almost every position versus one with overwhelming talent at one position. And what the game has given us is a perfect test case.
LeBron is the single most dominant player in the game, especially with Kobe Bryant playing at less than 100 percent. He may be as dominant as Michael Jordan was 19 years ago. But even Jordan had his Scottie Pippen to take the heat off. The Cavs don’t have anyone of Pippen’s abilities to distract attention from LeBron.
So it’s really going to be one against a team. The Celtics have different people who can take over a game. The Cavs have one person whose job that is.
The oddsmakers will say the Cavs have the edge, and the regular-season totals say the same. But the Celtics have been telling us all along the regular season doesn’t count. All that counts is that they’re healthy, they’re just two years removed from a championship, and they’re ready for another.
You ought to like their chances.
Y! Sports: For Roy Hibbert, a sense of ownership means knowing he should have fought to get in the game with two seconds remaining in overtime, when his absence allowed LeBron James to hit the winning lay-up.
A look back at the 17 championships the Boston Celtics have won.
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Reason for optimism after Game 1 loss?
PBT Extra: The Heat snuck past the Pacers in the final seconds of overtime in Game 1, and PBT’s Kurt Helin breaks down where the Pacers can go from here. Paul George had a monster game, and Helin believes the Pacers have a real chance at upsetting the top-seeded Heat.
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