Game 7s in this league are won not by three-point shooting, but how you score inside the paint and rebound. The Celtics averaged 105 points per game, their offense only throwing up one real stinker and that was mostly due to Jaylen Brown having his lone bad playoff game out of eleven. Meanwhile, Toronto averaged a mere 99 points 7. This series shouldn’t have gone seven. A recurring event of critical shots and assistance from the zebra striped menaces infecting games with their personal stamp stretched this should’ve been one sided affair to the fifteenth round.
This series could have ended in five, if the referees called a defensive violation on Kyle Lowry in the last seconds of game three. Lowry stood in the paint far beyond the three-second limit. The rules said a technician foul should have been issued against the Raptors, and the Celtics head to the free throw line for one shot and the ball. Assuming whomever takes that shot makes it, the Raptors would have to foul. Maybe the OG Anunoby miracle shot still goes in, but it only sends the game to overtime. Kemba Walker had his best outing in game three. I’m confident the C’s wouldn’t have been shaken.
This series could have ended in six. Kemba drives to the rim in the last seconds of regulation, game tied 98 all. Old friend Anunoby hacks Walker and infuriatingly the refs swallowed their whistles yet again. Instead of free throws and an assured series win, the Raptors again are given life.
Luckily, none of that matters now. Well, not really. Fatigue is a lingering issue. While the Celtics are younger than Miami, their series vs Toronto was more intense than the Heats deconstruction of title favorites Milwaukee. What we saw these last two weeks was the two best eastern conference teams dueling until the very bitter end. Miami stands to benefit from their second round opponent seemingly committing seppuku.
The entire Celtics staff gave it their all, risking their bodies. Brown sprained his groin. Smart took so many hip checks he’s basically a hockey player. Tatum hasn’t had a good whistle since Nick Nurse bitched to the media after game two. A rare occurrence where complaining about how the officials are managing the games warrants you getting a better whistle.
Toronto defended their crown with honor and a resiliency I did not expect. How I hate them and am glad Lowry, Fred Van Vleet, Serge Ibaka and OG are out of my life forever. Only player I’ll miss is Pascal Siakam and his spin move creating no separation as the rookie Grant Williams locked him up. For all the admiration Nurse received these past two seasons he surely made two stupid decisions that fundamentally ruined his team. Not playing Matt Thomas after he made his first three-point attempt. He was fresh legs and the C’s didn’t have a prayer in chasing him down. And running isolation after isolation for the pedestrian Siakam because a rookie was guarding him.
Unlike Toronto, the Celtics didn’t have three-point marksmen that could cut a deficit in a lightning strike. The Celtics had to rely on their drive and kick game, which generated open shots – as they always do, but couldn’t knock them down. Brown had an awesome game, scoring 21 on 17 shots, but hit just one of his 7 three-point attempts. Kemba was harasses yet again and Stevens could never free him. Kemba made a couple crucial buckets when it mattered most and all we needed from him was 14.
Tatum soared to the occasion, notching 29 points and 12 rebounds. He’s a star. And perhaps in the next two weeks we’ll be crowning in the best player in his conference as he stands opposite LeBron or Kawhi Leonard in a finals that’ll surely make us forget society is crumbling all around us.
Of course, this is the NBA. Unless you have LeBron there is no guarantee you are to get to the final dance. Shit happens. While the East is better than when LeBron was here, it’s become more egalitarian. Last year Milwaukee and Toronto were the final two when everyone had Boston. A year later, nobody had Boston and Miami as the final two standing. Milwaukee and Toronto meeting their ends in the second round.
Maybe Jimmy Butler is too much for the Celtics. Maybe Erik Spoelstra is a superior tactician than Brad Stevens. Maybe Jae Crowder and Iguodala lock up Tatum and Brown. Whatever happens, this season was a success. Be happy. Enjoy it.
That being said, the Celtics are either jumping out to a 2-0 series lead or faltering to an 0-2 deficit. There is no middle ground.