Posted May 29 2010 2:45AM
BOSTON - -- Dwyane Wade's season ended at the same podium a month ago. Two weeks later, it was LeBron James. On Friday, it was Dwight Howard's turn.
Three first team All-NBA selections, all of forced to sit in the same room at the TD Garden and explain why their season ended as early as it did.
No Boston Celtics were named to any of the three All-NBA teams at the end of the season. But in these playoffs, what team you're named to by the writers and broadcasters doesn't matter. What does is how well you play as a team. And that's what has the Celtics making their 21st trip to the Finals.
The questions Wade, James and Howard were asked at that podium were mostly about their own team's failures, but each had no choice but to give credit to the team that knocked them off their game.
Perhaps Wade's Heat winning just one playoff game wasn't a huge surprise. That was the one series where the Celtics clearly had the stronger roster. But the next two opponents were both stacked with talent.
Cleveland and Orlando were the two best teams in the NBA this season. The Cavs had a league-best 61 wins, while the Magic were dominant statistically.
But the story of the last two rounds isn't about how the Cavs and Magic lost. It's about how the Celtics won.
"When you go through two series like that, I think you have to be fair and say a lot of it has to do with them," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said Friday. "They're playing very, very well right now."
There have certainly been some speed bumps along the way. The Celtics lost Game 3 to the Cavs by 29 points on their home floor and allowed the Magic to make this series a lot more interesting than we thought it would be after they took a 3-0 lead. But for the most part, the Celtics have taken care of business in this postseason.
It doesn't matter who gets the shots. On Friday, five different Celtics took at least 10. And at various points in the game, it was someone else taking over. Rajon Rondo in the first quarter, Nate Robinson (really) in the second, Ray Allen to start the third, and Paul Pierce with the daggers in the fourth.
That's been the script throughout these playoffs. Combine a balanced offense with the stingiest defense in the league and you have a formula for success.
Let's be honest. None of us expected this. The Cavs and Magic were too good in the regular season to entertain the thought of one of them not getting to the Finals. And from the outside, the Celtics didn't look anything like the team that won a championship two years ago.
But to Doc Rivers, though his team was just a .500 ball club after Christmas, everything was OK. More than winning games, the priority was getting healthy for the playoffs. Kevin Garnett took all season to recover from knee surgery, while Pierce battled a myriad of injuries. So players rested and Rivers didn't stress about losses to the Nets or Wizards.
"Obviously it didn't look right because we were losing games, but guys were resting and conditioning, and I thought that was the only chance we had," Rivers said. "Because the one thing I did learn through the injuries [was] we were not good enough injured, and we had a chance healthy. There were no guarantees, but we had a chance healthy."
"The one thing that Doc said all year was I like this team," Allen added. "When things went bad, we lost things, somebody scored on us ... as players we kind of fight a little bit. We need to do this. We need to do that. And Doc would come into the locker room and say, we're not changing anything."
That unwavering belief in his team has remained throughout these playoffs. While the Celtics' opponents have struggled with adjustments, the Celtics have just kept doing what they do.
Two years ago, the goal of the regular season was getting home-court advantage, and the Celtics tried to win as many games as they could to get it. Having not been through the playoffs together before, they didn't know how they'd handle it and wanted every advantage they could get.
Now, they know what they're capable of. And the location of their games hasn't mattered one bit. They had the second best road record in the league this season and are 5-3 away from the Garden in the playoffs. Those five road wins are as many as they had over the last two postseasons combined, and they'll need at least one more to raise banner No. 18.
There's still one first team All-NBA selection still alive in these playoffs. And if the Lakers can beat the Suns one more time, the Celtics will have a chance to knock him off too.
Chris Bosh blocks Roy Hibbert's shot during the first quarter.
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