One thing I'm fairly certain of is that the Celtics were the better team at the beginning of the year. Then something happened, or rather several things happened, and now (at least so far) it appears that the Miami Heat are the better team.
Can the Celtics come back with a couple of home wins and make it a 3 game series? Sure. Could I climb Mt. Everest with a Sherpa and the wind at my back? Sure. But possible isn't always probable and right now we're staring at some long odds. Maybe John Hollinger was right after all.
As Celtics fans we have hung our hats on those early season matchups against the Heat. It was poetic that the model of team play and unselfishness won out over the team of egos and hero-ball. We represented the old school, gritty, in your face, defense first way of winning titles. They represented the star system and relied on one-on-one play and simply imposing their individual wills on the other team. We were a team with amazing talent that was somehow greater than the sum of its parts. They were exactly the sum of their parts. It was comforting.
Now all that has changed. A lot has changed actually.
Let's start with Miami (since we'll spend all summer talking about Boston). They used the excuse early on that they didn't have Wade for much of the preseason and they were still getting used to playing together early in the year. Maybe they were right. Not all teams gel right off the bat like the 2008 Celtics did. They also dominated the lesser teams but struggled against the better teams (like Boston). That was another hurdle that they had to overcome. So far, so good. They are simply peaking at the right time.
Boston, on the other hand, peaked early. As is their custom, they came out of the gates firing on all cylinders. They still had the bad taste of game 7 in their mouths and they got the gang back together again for another shot at a banner. Everything was clicking, including dispatching the upstart Heat, until the realities of an 82 game season set in. Injuries, age, wear and tear, and the overall mental drag of a long season got to the team. They flipped the switch thinking that they could just duplicate what happened last year with another shot at the Lakers in game 7. That's fine against the Knicks, but the Heat are a different story.
And of course we can't do a full analysis of the team without discussing The Trade. Ainge took a calculated gamble on adding youth and athleticism (and talent, Jeff Green is talented) in exchange for size, experience, and to be fair, a questionable health record. So far, not so good. Would we have won either of these two games with Kendrick Perkins instead of Jeff Green? Just like game 7 of last year's Finals, we'll never know but it is clear that Green isn't giving us all of what Danny had banked on. He also admittedly was banking on Shaquille O'Neal's 39 year old legs to give us something in the post season and that hasn't happened yet either.
Maybe this team could have made it back to the Finals if they were playing the competition from last year. I'm pretty confident that we could beat the LeBron led Cavs again. I'm pretty confident that we could beat the Hawks or the Magic (from this year or last). But the East got better. Chicago is arguably the best team in the league and Miami is the team that is handing us our butts on a silver platter.
This is a league where stars win. In 2008, we had the most talent and they happened to buy into the team Ubuntu philosophy and won fairly easily. In the next few years, the Lakers got more talent and a little bit of luck (KG's injury) and rode that talent to two titles. Now the Heat have the most talent and they have a really great shot at winning a title. If not this year, then maybe next year and the year after that and so on.
This series isn't over, but I can't help but think that the torch is in the process of being passed.