I was all set and ready to write the “See, I told you so” column for the Trags Bag this week.
Celtics come back from an 0-2 hole, win the next four games, dispatch of the overhyped Miami Heat and march off to their third NBA finals appearance in the last five years. It's what I predicted last week in this space, even when the Celtics were down two games.
I was ready to write about the “Old guard” Celtics going against the young guns from the Midwest – Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
I was ready to write all about team bigger than stars. I was ready to write how Doc Rivers made Erik Spoelstra look bad – really bad.
Then LeBron James happened Thursday night at the Garden. The NBA MVP scored 45 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and dished five assists in perhaps the greatest playoff performance since Wilt Chamberlain in 1964. Heat 98, Celtics 79. Hold up on those balloons and streamers and confetti -- for now, at least.
Now, being tied 3-3 heading back to Miami after blowing the chance to clinch the East at home feels worse than being down 0-2.
Hey, it still might happen.
The Celtics might go into American Airlines Arena and do what they did in Game 5 and own the second half, own the fourth quarter and go all “clutch” in the final 60 seconds and walk away with the most improbable of series wins, arguably the most improbable in the long and illustrious history of the franchise.
But I’m here to tell you one thing for sure, win or lose Saturday: The Celtics are already champions in the hearts and minds of the people that know them the best – their fans.
That’s what was so stirring about the “Let’s Go Celtics” chant that began with just over two minutes left in the train wreck that was Game 6 at TD Garden Thursday night.
It was equal parts “Go get ‘em Saturday night in South Beach” and “Thanks for the memories” in a season that almost never was.
Even more, I had the distinct feeling that this wasn’t so much “Good Job, Good Effort” as it was “You guys were awesome” this season.
And for the “Big Three” it might have been one final moment in the sun, a moment the Celtics fans didn’t want them to ever forget.
The players sure didn’t.
In the Celtics locker room, Paul Pierce and then Kevin Garnett - 40 minutes after trainers put him “back together” - came out and spoke from the heart the way the fans did just an hour earlier.
“We have the best fans in the world,” Pierce said. “Down 20, at home, in the playoffs, and they cheer us off the court. And that’s just awesome. That’s why we have the best fans in the world.”
“I just wanted to say to all the fans- I knew it was going to be a crazy day- it took me three hours to get to the Garden today, that’s unusual,” Garnett said, referring to the horrific traffic that snarled Boston for hours Thursday afternoon.
“I want to say to all the fans, thank you guys. I’ve never in my life experienced anything like this- in any sport. I’m just truly blessed to be a Celtic and be a part of the city of Boston. That’s what’s up to all the New Englanders around here. It’s [expletive] crazy.”
The emotions were so raw. It’s not often that you stand in the locker room as a reporter and feel equal parts intensity and sadness but that was the unmistakable presence inside Boston’s dressing room as the clock struck midnight.
Then – not to be forgotten – there was the third member of the “Big Three” speaking at the podium.
“Kevin was sitting next to me, and I said these are, I know I'm biased, but they're the best fans I've ever played in front of or ever seen in my life,” beamed Ray Allen. “They understand the situation that is before us, and we understand it. And that was basically them sending us off, letting us know, hey, this is still well and alive. We need you guys to go down there and get a win for us. We all felt it on the bench.
“I know the game was going on. It seemed like that three minutes lasted forever. It was special. I'll talk about that forever, just knowing being down 20 and these people are still standing up,cheering us on, because they know we just have to win one game.”
Watching the Oklahoma City Thunder dispatch of the SanAntonio Spurs Wednesday night gave me a further reality check on my expectations for Banner 18.
Listening to Thunder coach Scott Brooks talk about “family” in his Western Conference trophy acceptance speech instantly made me think of the Celtics and Ubuntu.
The Thunder have so many more weapons and so much more poise than the Heat.
In short – if the Celtics even get there - my heart says Celtics in seven but my head says Thunder in six. The Celtics have already won a permanent spot in the heart of the most loyal Boston and New England sports fan.
These Celtics belong in any discussion with the 2001 Patriots, the 2004 Red Sox and the 2011 Bruins. They have overcome more than all of those teams combined to land the most improbable NBA finals berth since the 1999 Knicks made it, only to lose to Tim Duncan and the Spurs in five unremarkable games.
The reality is beating LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Heat proves what kind of heart they have. The Celtics have shown they are the champions of “grit and balls” basketball. But the inconvenient truth is that probably won’t be enough against the Thunder.
So, how do the Celtics - if they win Game 7 - go about winning over the minds of the experts, many of whom also game them no shot against the Heat?
Slow, slower and slowest. Any type of track meet, and the Celtics are dead. They cannot under any circumstances make this an athleticcontest. They succeeded against the Hawks and 76ers. But neither of those teams had Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. And zone defense – lots and lots of zone defense – because there's almost no chance the Celtics can match up man-to-man. They'll be annihilated if they do.
Neither the Hawks nor the Sixers had Derek Fisher and James Harden – NBA 6th player of the year – coming off the bench. For that matter, neither do the Heat.
And the Hawks, Sixers and most definitely Heat could not match the home court that the Thunder will have behind them for Games 1 and 2, and possibly Games 6 and 7.
That sounds like too big a mountain to climb with not enough oxygen to get to the summit.
But first things first, let’s all just try and enjoy one more Game 7 – even if it’s a last hurrah.
The sentimental love for the Celtics was certainly reflected in the Trags Bag: What makes this Celtics team so special, win or lose Saturday night?
@0_LayDX no matter how much of a pounding they take, they can still come back, & show play that I haven't seen from any team so far.
@KiashBaiby coaching. Nobody believed in them including themselves at times.. Doc has reenergized them and made them a confident bunch
@GregCabana Simply put, they have overachieved. Exceeded my expectations. And what's not to like about that? #GoCeltics
@MathyThugLite passion and heart, the famous #CelticsPride
@BR_Rollin C's team is special 'cause KG is playing best ball maybe same for Rondo. And none of the big 4 is scared of the last shot.
@CSWriters Ability to adjust. Whether it's KG moving to the 5, Pietrus having 2 step up defensively in replace of Avery, Rondo doing everything.
@BostonGaL4Ever Fighting through injuries. Perseverance. And last but certainly not least, Doc Rivers.
@GriffinMorrow HEART #BleedGreen