2010-11 Season Recap: Part 3

BOSTON – When the NBA Playoffs begin each season, every team’s record resets to 0-0. It’s a fresh start, and that’s why many teams grasp onto the notion that the postseason is a brand new season in itself.

One of those teams this year was the Boston Celtics, who finished the regular season by losing 11 of their final 21 games. The Celtics did, however, begin their playoff preparation far ahead of any other NBA team, and that’s why they headed into the playoffs savoring the fact that they had a clean slate.

After tumbling from the top seed in the Eastern Conference all the way down to third, Doc Rivers raised the white flag with two regular season games remaining on the schedule. Despite the slight possibility of catching the Miami Heat for the second seed in the East, which would have provided home court advantage in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Rivers deemed rest and practice to be more important.

That decision led to Boston’s Big Four sitting out the team’s final two games of the season, which eventually turned into an overtime loss to the Wizards and a win over the Knicks.

With all of its starters gaining valuable rest, the Celtics used their week off as a “mini training camp,” as several of the players and coaches referred to it. They held three days of practice, with plenty more informal practice time, during that week. Rivers decided to minimize the team’s playbook during that timeframe in hopes of executing a limited number of plays at a high level.

“I’m cutting out literally half of our offensive playbook,” Rivers said after the team’s first practice for the playoffs, which lasted two and a half hours. “I made a choice: I’d rather run a couple things well than a lot of things average or poor.”

The team Boston wanted to execute against was the Knicks, who were entering their first postseason since 2004. New York had compiled its own version of a Big Three with Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups and Amar’e Stoudemire. Since that threesome took the court together for the first time, just ahead of the trade deadline, the Knicks had racked up eight wins against teams that would eventually make the playoffs. New York was clearly a formidable opponent, and that was displayed in Game 1 of this much-anticipated playoff series.

On a Sunday night in the TD Garden, the Knicks jumped out to lead by as many as 12 points in the second quarter. In the second half, however, the Celtics were the ones who came out with stellar play.

Boston limited New York to just 13 points in the third quarter. The game was close from that point on, and the Knicks held onto a one-point lead with 20 seconds remaining. But as Boston fans have become accustomed to, the Celtics came through in the clutch with a Ray Allen 3-pointer that gave them a monumental Game 1 victory. (You can read more about that tight finish by clicking here.)

Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce and the Celtics walked off of the court in Madison Square Garden with a clean sweep of the Knicks in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty

The win left Boston energized and New York demoralized. Not only were the Knicks defeated, they also lost Billups for the remainder of the series due to a left leg injury he suffered in the final seconds of the game.

Just two nights later, with New York already missing one of its top players, the Celtics buried the Knicks in crunch time yet again. Rivers said his team was “lucky to win” after Kevin Garnett provided three clutch plays in span of 74 seconds.

Garnett took a pass from Paul Pierce for a dunk with 1:14 remaining to put the C’s ahead 93-92. After New York answered back, KG again delivered with a turnaround jumper in the lane to put Boston back on top. He went on to close the game out with a timely steal at the other end of the court on New York’s final possession.

Boston took a 2-0 series lead on that night despite an impressive 42-point effort from Anthony. His co-star, Stoudemire, struggled to play with a sore back and simply wasn’t the same in the final three games of the series. The Celtics never looked back from that point on and dominated the next two games in New York to sweep the Knicks out of the playoffs and advance to the Conference Semifinals.

That’s where the Celtics would run into the league’s newest power trio, which hails from South Beach. The Heat, propelled by Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, would host the first two games of the Conference Semifinals in Miami.

After a full week off between their sweep of the Knicks and Game 1 against their first game in Miami, the Celtics seemingly accumulated some layers of rust. Boston scored only 14 points in the first quarter of the series while shooting only 25 percent from the floor. Things didn’t get much better from there on out, as Paul Pierce was ejected in the fourth quarter due to two technical fouls, and the C’s scored a total of only 90 points in the game on 42.7 percent shooting. They temporarily trailed by as many as 19 points in the opening game and Miami ran away with a 99-90 victory.

Game 2 was a bit different, at least for the first three quarters. The Celtics and Heat went toe-to-toe through the first 36 minutes of the game, with neither team leading by more than eight points. The game was tied up at 80-80 with less than seven minutes remaining, but the Heat took over with a 14-0 run down the stretch and won 102-91.

When the home team wins the first two games of a seven-game series, it’s often referred to as “taking care of business.” The Heat took care of business in AmericanAirlines Arena, and the Celtics would need to do the same in TD Garden in order to make this a series.

Rajon Rondo

Rajon Rondo overcame a dislocation of his left elbow during the Game 3 and returned to play the remainder of the series, essentially with a fully limp arm.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty

Boston capitalized on its first opportunity to bounce back in front of its home crowd thanks to a dominant performance that featured 28 points and 18 rebounds from Kevin Garnett. The Celtics destroyed the Heat and won Game 3 by a final score of 97-81. The game was highlighted by a warrior-like return to the floor by Rajon Rondo in the fourth quarter after he suffered a gruesome dislocation of his left elbow earlier in the half. His return, coupled with Garnett’s impressive night, helped to provide Boston with an opportunity to tie the series up at 2-2 in Game 4.

It seemed destined that the C’s would do just that, as they led for nearly the entirety of Game 4 despite a limited impact from Rondo. The All-Star point guard gritted through en entire game while essentially playing with just one arm. His numbers did not indicate a substantial impact, but his presence was certainly felt.

But so was James’, and in a big way.

The man who had won the league’s previous two MVP awards made the biggest shot of his life with two minutes left in Game 4. James drilled a 3-pointer with two minutes remaining to tie the game up at 83-83 just moments after Ray Allen sent the Garden into hysteria when he drilled his own 3-pointer at the other end. The contest would eventually go to overtime after James hit another critical basket, and Miami finished with a 98-90 win.

That victory served as a springboard for James and his teammates. Nabbing Game 4 in the Garden, in that fashion, was monumental for Miami’s psyche. The Heat’s stars had experienced minimal success against the Celtics, particularly in Boston, and had been known throughout the season as a team that couldn’t finish games. Those notions were debunked with that Game 4 victory.

While Miami basked in the glory of finally stealing a game in Boston, a game that held incredible importance, the Celtics were left staring at a 3-1 series deficit with a road game on tap two nights later. The odds certainly did not play into their favor.

Still, the possibility remained that Boston could make the dramatic comeback. All it needed to do was win one game, Game 5, and bring the series back to the Garden, where the team and city’s energy level would be at the max.

Game 5 tipped off on May 11 in Miami, and it seemed like déjà vu all over again for the Celtics. They came out with a similar level of energy to the previous two games and took a 24-16 lead in the first quarter. Wade, who scored 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting in the first half for Miami, was literally the only reason why the Heat were not blown out in the first half. Boston led 49-47 at halftime.

The Celtics led by as many as 10 points in the second half thanks to great team play and solid shooting from Pierce and Allen. They held onto a six-point advantage with 4:29 remaining, and that’s when the negative side of that déjà vu kicked in.

Even with several future Hall of Famers on board, Boston’s offense sputtered in crunch time yet again. Its only points over the final five minutes came via a jumper from Nenad Krstic.

The Heat finished the contest on a 16-0 run while the Celtics went completely silent. The final ten points came from James, who drilled two 3-pointers and scored two more baskets in the paint.

Without the ability to score in crunch time, Boston fizzled in the final games of the series. They outplayed Miami for nearly all of Games 4 and 5, but instead of taking a 3-2 series advantage and heading back to Boston for a close-out opportunity, the Celtics’ season came to an abrupt end.

Their playoff run began with promise, making Rivers’ master plan seem as if it would lead the team to yet another improbable run to the Finals. But James and the Heat played the role of buzzsaw and delayed the Celtics’ acquisition of Banner 18 for at least another year.

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3