Time is running out for them
It’s been done before. Eight teams have come back from 3-1 deficits to win an NBA playoff series. Two of them wore Celtic green.
I’m not betting on the Morgan Freeman Five. It feels like we’re watching the final days of the great run we’ve witnessed since Danny Ainge assembled the New Big Three in the summer of 2007.
The hated Heat earned a 98-90 overtime victory over the Celtics last night to take a commanding lead in what has evolved into an epic Eastern Conference semifinal series.
You can have your Bulls and Hawks, Grizzlies and Thunder, Mavericks and disgraced Lakers. Celtics-Heat is Where Amazing Happens. Commissioner David Stern was in the house last night and he could have just declared that this is the NBA Finals. NBA Future meets NBA past. It’s not going to get better than Boston-Miami.
Unfortunately for Green Teamers, this might be the last roundup for the second coming of the Big Three.
“There’s a lot of basketball to be played,’’ said Doc Rivers, who tomorrow night may be coaching his final game with the Celtics (yeah, we said that last year). “It’s going to be extremely hard. If we’re not up for that, we’ll lose.’’
Back in 1968, an aging Celtics team was able to beat the Philadelphia 76ers (hello, Wilt Chamberlain) after falling behind, 3-1. The Larry Bird Big Three came back similarly against the Sixers back in 1981, when Boston’s stars were young.
The task is tougher now. The Celtics don’t have Bill Russell and Sam Jones. They don’t have Larry Legend, Chief, and Kevin McHale. They have three Hall of Famers in their mid-30s. They have Rajon Rondo playing without his left arm (hyperextended elbow). And they have absolutely no center. Rivers went with three guards in important stretches of Game 4. Shaquille O’Neal played 3 minutes and 31 seconds, committing two fouls and doing nothing else.
It’s over, people. Much as it hurts to admit, it looks like the Heat have evolved into the Monsters we feared they’d become when LeBron James elected to take his talents to South Beach. King James scored 35 last night. Running mates Dwyane Wade (28) and Chris Bosh (20) gave him plenty of help. That’s 83 points for the Miami trio. Meanwhile, Kevin Garnett shot 1 for 10 and scored 7 points.
Ouch. It was so much more fun when we could rely on the Heat to spit up their dinner on the parquet.
“What we went through during the regular season has helped us in the postseason,’’ said James.
The Celtics had a chance to win it at the end of regulation. Boston had the ball (thanks to a James turnover) with 19.5 seconds left and the score tied at 86. After a timeout, Paul Pierce (27 points) had the ball out top while the clock wound down. He waited until the final ticks, then missed an off-balance fallaway as the buzzer sounded.
“We didn’t execute the play,’’ said Rivers. “I’ll just leave it at that. Ended up leaving Paul on the island.’’
“I don’t think we got a great shot,’’ admitted Ray Allen. “We’re kicking ourselves over that.’’
The series was decided over the ensuing five minutes.
Rivers went with his Big Three, plus the guard combo of Delonte West and Rondo. Big Baby has played himself onto the bench and Nenad Krstic has back-to-back DNPs and is scoreless for the series. The Heat outscored the Celtics, 12-4, in overtime.
James struck first with a ridiculous turnaround jumper while wearing Pierce on the left baseline. After Allen missed, the Heat scored on a beautiful Wade-to-James-to-Bosh play. Tinker to Evers to Chance. When Wade drained a bomb over West, it was 92-86 with 2:00 showing on the clock; a two-minute warning on the Celtics season.
Rivers called time and drew up plays for one last gasp. It felt like we were watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, holed up and bleeding while the Bolivian Army waited to kill them outside a cafe.
The Celtics cut the lead to 3 in the final minute, but the game was won when heretofore fraud Bosh tapped home a James miss to make it 95-90 with 24.2 seconds left.
Painful. The Celtics were so close to taking this series back to Miami with a 2-2 tie. They could have played the Mind Games again, put doubt in the Heat. They could have stolen a game in Miami and won the series in seven.
But now they are asked to do the impossible. They have to win three straight, two in Miami, where they have lost three in a row since the ill-conceived trade of Kendrick Perkins.
The Heat aren’t afraid of the Celtics anymore. And the Boston basketball season is about to run out, probably in South Beach tomorrow night.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.