As the game clock struck 0:00 last night, a long lost sense of elation rained down and blanketed Celtics Nation. The Celtics had done what some might have deemed as the unthinkable. They had eliminated LeBron James, arguably the NBA's best player, along with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the NBA's best team. For the Celtics, it was a monumental series - one that would undoubtedly test their championship mettle, and either exploit them as impostors, or cement them as worthy and deserving candidates. In the end, it was the latter for the guys in green, and they played their way into an Eastern Conference Finals matchup with the Orlando Magic - a squad that eliminated them from last year's postseason.
When it was finally all said and done, after Paul Pierce and Rasheed Wallace put forth noteworthy second halves, and after Kevin Garnett continued to solidify his resurrection, how could you describe the feeling of it? Purely joyful? Exciting? Euphoric? Vivacious? Exhilarating? Take your pick.
Regardless of the word you selected, what can't be denied is that given the circumstances of the series (the lack of faith that had been placed in the Celtics by the so-called "experts", the excuses about the age of the team, etc.), that type of feeling that was immediately experienced in the aftermath of victory has not been felt since the Celtics ousted the Los Angeles Lakers in six games in the 2008 NBA Finals.
But alas, winning the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals does not warrant the franchise's 18th banner, nor does it bring forth the Larry O'Brien trophy. While last night's win was one for the ages, there is still work to be done.
Trust me, I was probably as elevated as you were after last night's win. The sheer importance of it spawned the feeling, and it was spurred on by the text messages with friends, the comments on this very blog, the Twitter and Facebook posts, and any other means of communication you used to discuss it. And it was all warranted, and completely appropriate. The Celtics' most important playoff victory, and series victory, in the last two seasons deserves such treatment.
But Boston cannot hang its hat strictly upon winning this series. They certainly accomplished something substantial by eliminating LeBron and co., but in terms of the importance of the next series and (hopefully) the series beyond that, their greatest challenges still lie ahead.
Which might explain why Paul Pierce isn't exactly enthralled with last night's victory.
"I'm really not that proud," Pierce said. "Our goal is to win a championship. We didn't say we wanted to come in and beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs. Our goal is to win a championship. We can be excited for one night, but we only get excited here when we put a banner up."
Pierce can certainly be proud of what his team accomplished, but as usual, with the captain, the focus remains on winning, and winning at the highest level.
And all the while, defeating the Cavaliers does not guarantee any future success. The Magic, who are 8-0 so far in these playoffs, are a different type of basketball team, with a legitimate inside presence in Dwight Howard, a more capable point guard in Jameer Nelson, a 6-10 multifaceted talent who's developed a capacity for the clutch in Rashard Lewis, and Vince Carter. And, as is the norm with these playoffs, an even more talented supporting cast revolves around the four key cogs of Orlando's attack.
We enjoyed our moment of elation. But let's keep our eyes on the prize. It's time to get back to work.