They told us this Celtic team was dead.
They told us these C's had no fight left in them after months of trying to persevere without Rajon Rondo. They said the end of the Kevin Garnett era was inevitable, and it was coming sooner rather than later. They dismissed the notion that this team had the never-say-die spirit of Kevin Millar and the "Cowboy Up" Red Sox of nine years ago.
That's what the skeptics said about these Celtics. And let's be honest -- they were probably right. But at least for one beautiful Sunday afternoon, the C's showed some life before the TD Garden crowd, surviving to fight another day against the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They may only be prolonging the inevitable, but for now, Boston is still alive.
"This is a big one for us, obviously," said Jeff Green, who contributed 26 points and six rebounds to the Celtics' dramatic overtime win. "Now we have nothing to lose. All the pressure's on them to win a game. We're just going to keep doing what we're doing."
The Celtics strolled into the TD Garden this morning remarkably cool and collected for a team that was facing elimination after three straight losses. This group has been through a lot of adversity together -- never a 3-0 deficit, mind you, but adversity nonetheless -- and they know how to respond. Most teams on the brink of death look either totally demoralized or they look psyched out, too emotionally worked up to focus. The Celtics were neither.
The C's played a comfortable pace to open the game, moving the ball with ease and finding makable shots. Avery Bradley, Paul Pierce and Jeff Green all connected on smooth jumpers in the opening minutes, and before long Boston had burst to an 18-9 lead. That edge became 42-28 after a long New York drought in the second quarter, and 59-39 when Jeff Green connected on a 3 from the left corner with 9:25 left in the third.
This lead never felt comfortable, though, and it wasn't. Raymond Felton singlehandedly outscored the Celtics in the third quarter, and New York came roaring back, tying the game late and forcing overtime. It wasn't until Jason Terry caught fire, rattling off nine points in the game's final 1:31, that the Celtics prevailed.
It was a breakout game for Terry, who ironically was removed from the starting lineup this morning and gave his best performance of the playoffs to date, scoring 18 points on an efficient 7-for-10 shooting clip. Terry's been on the losing end of plenty of playoff battles in his career, and he didn't want to go down without a fight today.
"This is the first time we really came out with fire in our eyes," Terry said. "I guess that's because it's elimination. Every game from here on out is Game 7 for us."
In Game 3 of this series, Terry made headlines by taking a hard elbow to the face from J.R. Smith, leading to the Knicks guard's suspension for Game 4. On Sunday, though, he stole the show in his own right.
"Who knows? Maybe that elbow changed events for all of us," speculated coach Doc Rivers. "Jason was definitely angry that it happened. He let his teammates know it, both yesterday and today. As I've said before, he's just a fighter. He's one of those guys you want around your team."
The Celtics won this game for a lot of reasons, not just Terry's clutch shots. They won because Pierce and Green shouldered the burden of impossibly heavy minutes (50 for the former, 48 for the latter) and both emerged with big scoring outbreaks for a team that desperately needed them. They won because Kevin Garnett gave another Herculean performance in the paint, muscling up against Tyson Chandler and willing his way to another 17 rebounds. It also didn't hurt that Brandon Bass gave his best defensive effort of the season against Carmelo Anthony.
"We want to survive and continue to play," Garnett said. "That's what it is. This is the position we've put ourselves in. If we want to continue to play, we've got to continue to work. It's all out right now.
"Today we fought for another day," he added. "We'll do the same Wednesday."
How long can this Celtic team keep fighting? Perhaps not too much longer. But they have too much pride to go down easy.