With the Celtics headed to another postseason meeting with the Hawks, Jeff suggested I post an excerpt from the Hawks-Celtics chapter of my book, which chronicles the 2008 title run in great detail, as a preview or taster for the 2012 series. The whole chapter would be too long, but I'm going to give you a couple of lengthy excerpts, one today and one which was posted yesterday. We'll finish up by looking at how the series ended...
Deciding that my game five approach had proven that I was indeed a jinx, I contemplated not even listening to game six, but then I decided that maybe the jinx only applied when I watched the games. After the outcome of this game, I figured that it wasn't so much that I was a jinx at all, just that Boston either sucked or were really unlucky. Hopefully, it was the latter of the two.
Grande's reaction certainly gave credence to that concept. He couldn't believe that they managed to not win the game, saying "You could play that game again a hundred times and the Hawks wouldn't win it more than once or twice." He even suggested that if the teams played a 21-game series, the Celtics would probably win 16 or 17 games.
During the broadcast of game seven, he even said that the fact that they lost game six troubled him so much that he couldn't sleep, so he went back to the game footage and charted shots that had bounced on the rim more than once. Apparently, the Hawks went five-for-five and the Celtics went one-for-five on such shots.
So, while I had been questioning my own sanity because I was worried whether watching the game or not watching the game, or what I wore or what predictions I made would affect the outcome of the game, the play-by-play radio guy was essentially displaying a similar level of obsessiveness. When something meaningful happens that you can't understand, you go looking for reason. Obviously, this series and the title quest itself meant just as much to Grande as it did the rest of us.
Bless you, Sean Grande. If you ever needed evidence as to why he is the perfect man to tell the Celtics story over the radio, there it is. Ladies and Gentleman, Sean Grande: One of us.
That might have been a crumb of comfort when game seven got underway, but the fact is they still fell short (as did Rajon Rondo's game tying three attempt) in game six and many media members had already decided that the Celtics championship hopes were a thing of the past. The Celtics can't win on the road. They don't know how to win close games. They're too run down to stop LeBron.
The game itself was one the Celtics would want to forget. They actually played great basketball in the first period, building a twelve point lead that had all but evaporated by half time. Still, they scored 32 third quarter points and entered the fourth quarter with a three point lead and a chance to end the series once and for all. However, the Hawks rallied again and when Pierce fouled out with 4:44 remaining on a dubious call, Atlanta led by six.
Would this be a repeat of game six in Indiana three years ago when Pierce was ejected but his teammates regrouped and won without him? In short, no. They managed to pull within two, but Johnson hit a three and the Hawks clung on to win 103-100.
After the game, long after most Boston fans had probably already switched off in disgust, Zaza Pachulia grabbed a microphone and shouted "We're going to game seven!" as the crowd chanted "Seven! Seven! Seven!" Josh Smith was quoted afterwards as saying, "It's definitely a dream, but we weren't going to be satisfied with just making the playoffs."
Wait a minute. (Cue sound effect of needle slipping off record). In retrospect, they were acting as if they had achieved their goal. And maybe they had. Maybe they knew there was no hope that they could beat the Celtics in Boston. After all, they had tried five times this season (four in the past two months) and lost by an average of 20, with a ten point loss as Boston rested their best players in the final week of the season being the high watermark. There was no "We realise this is a big win, but we've still got work to do," no "We still believe we can take this series."
They had thrown everything into those three home games and stood up for themselves in a physical battle against the league's best, giving their hungry home fans some memorable playoff wins in the process. For that, you have to tip your hat to them.
Some teams have ambitions to make it to the Superbowl, but the real winners have ambitions to make it to Disneyland. The Hawks had set their goal at seven, and achieved it. Boston's goal was seventeen and they were not even a quarter of the way there.
Although everything said Boston should win game seven comfortably, it was certain to be nerve wracking for a time. Then, even if they won, the Cavaliers, who along with the Pistons had found a much more straightforward route through the first round, loomed on the horizon, as expected. I had prepared myself for the worst. Imagine if they lost this. Imagine if the season ended here. After a season of such promise, a team that played the game the right way and had so many gutsy wins and magical moments, I didn't want to be sitting at the end of the game thinking, "I can't believe it's over." I didn't ever want to have to think that.
On the day before Game Seven of the Hawks series, my beautiful niece, Mollie, was born, making me happier than any possible Game Seven result. There are bigger things than you and I and basketball. Other than her being a relatively big baby, I can't link her into this story although she did teach me that "Shipping Out to Boston" is a great song to tickle a baby to.
On the return to the Garden, there was that symbolic, yet real, dark cloud hanging over the series again. Someone needed to open a proverbial window, whatever the heck that meant. Look what you're doing to me, Boston. I'm practically speaking in tongues. At least this was a day game, so the problem wouldn't be exacerbated by sleep depravation.
Game seven. Boston-Atlanta. But Bird-Wilkins this was not. Celtics' fans greatest expectations were soon realized, as they raced to an 11 point lead after one and then stretched it to an 18 point lead at half time by holding Atlanta to 10 second quarter points.
The scariest moment came early in the second half, as Rondo got clear on a fast break and perhaps for the first time all series didn't have Josh Smith bearing down on him for a highlight-reel rejection from behind. Instead, Marvin Williams drove him to the floor with a right arm lariat. As I listened on the radio, the thump as Rondo hit the floor, followed by the audible gasp from the fans and the ensuing silence as everyone worried about whether he was going to be alright, unsurprisingly had me a little concerned. One "is rondo dead" text to (my buddy) Waldorf, later, my fears were allayed as the Pacer-cum-honorary-Celtics fan, watching online, replied with a "no. I think hes going 2 b ok".
With that scare over, it was plain sailing for Boston, whose lead grew to 36 by the end of the third quarter, with the Celtics playing their best basketball of the series and everyone stepping up. Grande said that the performance was "beyond [the Celtics'] wildest dreams." Pierce had cut through the lane, caught a pass in mid-air and flipped it behind his back to set up Garnett for a three point play. "beautiful" came the text from Waldorf. The only thing more beautiful than that play, was the scoreline, at that point a 30 point Celtics lead.
One piece of unfinished business remained and Garnett took care of that in the late third quarter, decking Pachulia with a huge screen. The message was simple. To the Hawks: "Great effort guys, but this is our series." And to the rest of the NBA: "The Celtics are not finished yet."
Bent has been writing for Celticsblog since May 2005. You can buy or download his book here.