Beating the Odds: Celtics Moving On

BOSTON – The final minute of Boston’s first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks was a microcosm of the series as a whole. The Celtics needed a lot to go their way to come out on top, and it did.

Boston battled through injuries, suspensions, not having home court advantage and playing against a younger, more athletic team to get to where it is right now. The C’s have bucked all of the odds and now step into the Conference Semifinals, which begin on Saturday.

The taxing first-round series between the Celtics and Hawks opened up in on April 29 in Atlanta. The Hawks won that game and Rajon Rondo was ejected late in the contest, resulting in a one-game suspension to be served in Game 2.

Such a scenario left everyone in the nation believing that Boston’s back was against the wall. It had no chance of winning Game 2 and, as a result, would need to win both of its home games in order to even up the series at 2-2.

But this, my friends, is why they play the games.

Rajon Rondo

Rajon Rondo was ejected from Game 1 and suspended for Game 2, but that didn't prevent the Celtics from winning their first-round series.
Grant Halverson/NBAE/Getty

The Celtics may not have the most talent on their bench, but they have savvy players who can step in and deliver quality minutes when their names are called. They needed that in Game 2 and received strong performances from reserves Keyon Dooling and Marquis Daniels. With the help of 36 points and 14 rebounds from Paul Pierce, Boston shocked the NBA world by pulling off a dramatic win in Philips Arena without their All-Star point guard and Ray Allen.

“Game 2 still was the biggest game,” Doc Rivers said shortly after discarding the Hawks from the postseason. “Not having Rondo and winning that game was huge for us.”

With momentum on their side, the Celtics returned home and swept the next two games, but neither of those victories arrived in smooth fashion.

Rondo and Allen both returned to the lineup for Game 3 and performed at extremely high levels. Rondo went off for a triple-double, and Allen, playing in his first game in nearly a month, dropped in 13 points and six boards off the bench. Still, though, the Celtics needed to impose their will in an overtime session to notch a 90-84 victory.

Game 4’s final score of 101-79 in favor of Boston would indicate a much easier night for the C’s, but Rivers was quick to dispel that notion after the contest.

“We had a lot of things going on on our bench today with bodies,” Rivers said after the May 6 win, which put Boston ahead 3-1 in the series. “You know, MP’s (Mickael Pietrus) hamstring, we had to take him out. Avery’s (Bradley) shoulder, Paul’s knee, Ray’s foot. The whole game you just felt like – I mean, you just kept looking down there (wondering): was there enough guys to put in the game?”

There were just enough players to finish that game off in blowout fashion, but the Celtics flew down to Atlanta for Game 5 with injuries abound. Four of the team’s most important rotational players were dealing with serious injuries, and it showed Tuesday night in Atlanta.

The Hawks pulled off a strong 87-86 victory with their backs against the wall and pulled the series to 3-2 in favor of Boston. With the win, Atlanta effectively put the pressure back on the shoulders of the Celtics.

The pressure mounted and mounted as Game 6 wore on Thursday night, particularly when the Hawks led by three points with 2:23 remaining in the contest. Boston was 143 seconds away from staring down a Game 7 on the road against a team that had just won two in a row. The pressure was on, but this group of Celtics has learned to thrive in these situations.

“We’re not a team that’s going to panic, just being in that situation a number of times,” said captain Paul Pierce. “You know, I didn’t look up and say, ‘We’re going to Atlanta again.’ “

It’s a good thing he didn’t, because the Celtics are not heading back to Atlanta anytime soon.

A crazy final minute began with an offensive rebound from seldom-used Ryan Hollins, a player known around the league to be the antithesis of a glass-crasher. Kevin Garnett put the Celtics ahead on the ensuing possession after Hollins’ rebound and the team never looked back from there.

The oddness of the final minute did, however, continue when Allen missed a free throw that could have sealed the game for Boston. Shortly thereafter, Al Horford choked at the free-throw line with 2.3 seconds left in regulation when he could have tied the game.

As was stated about 750 words ago, a lot needed to go Boston’s way in the final minute of Game 6 in order for it to clinch the series. The C’s overcame the odds yet again, just the way they had all series long.

Now Boston is moving on to the Conference Semifinals – with home court in tow.

“Obviously part of the goal was getting through the first round,” Kevin Garnett said after his fiery performance in Game 6. “Anytime you go through a series and you’re able to come out on top it’s always a plus. Now we have home court, that’s another plus.”

This team already figured out a way to dicard one playoff opponent with an iffy poker hand. Now, against the eighth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, it seems as if the Celtics are finally being dealt a hand that places the odds in their favor.