Goodnight Cleveland, Good Luck Orlando
Kevin Garnett, dapper and introspective as usual, was fielding questions at the podium approximately thirty minutes after the Celtics had unceremoniously ended the Cavaliers’ season in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Just as a reporter from the New York Times identified himself and proceeded into what would eventually become a long-winded question about how gratifying it was to have defied the odds, Garnett cut him off.
“There’s a lot of people in this room, boy,” he said, surveying the landscape from corner to corner. “Man! Lot of people in this room.
“I haven’t seen this many people since, uh, ’08. Mmm. It’s aight.”
He then turned his head down for a moment, but the smirk that had found its way across his face couldn’t be hidden. He was, after all, alluding to the horde of reporters from New York and elsewhere that certainly hadn’t been dispatched during the Celtics’ dismantling of the Heat, nor at any earlier point in the Cavs series.
The reason was simple. Outside of Boston, no one anywhere had given the Celtics a chance in this series, so why would rags from around the country dip into already strained budgets to chronicle merely the second speed bump en route to the King’s coronation?
Even when the Celtics tied the series at 2-2, the national sentiment was fairly universal: Lebron would take back control in Cleveland and most likely finish off the aging ex-champs in Beantown.
Suddenly “Summer of Lebron” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, eh? But let’s leave all (ahem) Spring of Lebron dissection to that mass of scribes KG was marveling at, because the King is surely all they will be concerned with for some time.
The Celtics, meanwhile, still have unfinished business. The few talking heads who actually still care about the remainder of the NBA tournament are once again writing the Celtics off in their Eastern Conference finals clash with the Magic (eight of the 10 on the panel of ESPN Experts – all of whom picked Cleveland, by the way – are siding with Orlando).
On the one hand, it’s hard to fault them. Orlando has torn a path of destruction through the playoffs to this point, winning all eight of its games by an average of more than 17 points. Throw in a six-game winning streak to end the regular season and the Magic haven’t tasted defeat since losing in San Antonio back on April 2. Impressive would be an understatement.
On the other hand, it’s borderline ludicrous how short a memory the media can have. After going 27-27 over the final two-thirds of the regular season, the Celtics are 8-3 in the playoffs. They throttled the Heat, holding Miami to 87.6 points per game while winning the series 4-1. The only game they dropped required an otherworldly performance from Dwyane Wade (46 points, 30 in the second half), not to mention a total collapse in the last 150 seconds that included five consecutive missed free throws (three by Ray Allen).
Then there was the Cleveland series. The Celtics led Game 1 for 35 1/2 of the first 36 minutes – until a Lebron bucket gave the Cavs the lead at the end of the third quarter – and trailed by no more than four points throughout the final frame before failing to execute down the stretch. They went wire-to-wire in Game 2 to snatch back home-court advantage, then submitted a no-show in Game 3 as Cleveland returned the favor.
They trailed for the first six minutes of Game 4 and 17 of the first 18 minutes of Game 5.
Other than that? 137 seconds.
For those who desire not to do the math, that means the Celtics were playing from ahead for 85 percent of Games 4-6. Dominant would be an understatement.
And these weren’t the Hawks, people.
Onto the Magic. It seems the same folks who fail to appreciate how the Celtics completely crushed the NBA’s best team also appear to have forgotten that Boston and Orlando played a postseason series but a year ago. The Celtics led it 3-2 and were up in the fourth quarter of Game 6 before succumbing to a deeper and better Orlando team that eventually dispatched of Cleveland and fell to the Lakers in the Finals.
Kevin Garnett was in a suit for that series and Brian Scalabrine was relied upon to play big minutes and hit big shots. Consider the last line of the previous paragraph and then digest that fact for a moment.
Now consider this: Dwight Howard discovered in that grueling seven-game affair in ’09 that Kendrick Perkins was his kryptonite. Perkins was strong enough to muscle him out of the paint and agile enough to cut off his driving lanes. For seven games, Perk held Howard in check on the offensive end, as Superman averaged a mere 16.4 points per game (he averaged 25.8 vs. Cleveland), with a good deal of the damage being done when Perkins was on the bench with foul trouble.
And this: Above all, what gave the Magic the edge in that series, particularly in close games late, was their ability to allow 6-10 Hedo Turkoglu to run the point, with 6-10 Rashard Lewis and 6-6 Mikael Pietrus occupying the corners and Howard in the paint. The Celtics couldn’t sag off any of the former three to double Howard, because all were dead-eye three-point shooters. It was a matchup nightmare.
That was with Turkoglu and without Garnett, mind you. An argument can be made that the Magic are better with Vince Carter this postseason than they were with Turkoglu last. It’s close, but debatable.
No one in their right mind can say the Celtics aren’t night-and-day different from last year with Garnett back, playing the way he is. It’s neither close nor debatable.
So let those talking heads use their big platforms to once again dismiss a team that is now 6-0 in playoff series’ with its core intact.
I’ll use a much smaller platform to say poof! The Celtics will make the Magic disappear in six.