Celtics fans, take another day to soak up the green-tinted euphoria from the last game played on the parquet this season. That was a quite a send-off you were given by your hoops heroes, who sojourn back to Southern California one win away from Banner No. 18.
Before they turned out the lights at the Garden, the Celtics shot the lights out in a 92-86 victory over the Lakers in Game 5, shooting a post-season high 56 percent from the floor and putting the entire Core Four in double digits. Their final field goal of the game was an inbounds play that looked like a game of ultimate frisbee, featuring a pair of sensational snags by Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. Bill Belichick, who was in attendance, probably wanted to leap out of his seat and sign both Pierce and Rondo to compete for the Patriots' third wide receiver role.
Yes, there was plenty of cause for celebration on Causeway Street. Now, it's time for some pause. Sorry to interrupt your gloating, but this series isn't over. Not by a long-shot, which is certainly not what the Lakers are in this series, not with two games on their home floor, starting with Game 6 tomorrow. I don't care what the historical numbers -- 19 of the last 25 teams to win Game 5 have won the Finals -- say.
The Celtics became the first team to win two in a row in this series, but now they have to become the first (and only) team in the series to win two games on the road or they're returning home without the title. Seems fitting because this redoubtable bunch has taken the road of greatest resistance all season long.
Close-out games on the road have not exactly been the Celtics forte since Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen revitalized the franchise. Boston's starting five has never lost a playoff series (7-0), but only once have they closed out one on the road -- the 2008 Eastern Conference finals in Detroit. The Celtics are 1-7 in put-away away games over the last three seasons, and may I remind you the last time they lost a playoffs series, which was sans-KG last season, they were up 3-2 on the Magic and that was without the added burden of the 2-3-2 Finals format putting the final two games on somebody else's floor.
This series is close with a capital C. After five games, the teams are collectively separated by just one basket -- the Celtics have scored 464 points and the Lakers have scored 462. The team that has won the rebound battle has won each game.
The Celtics are averaging 47.8 rebounds per game to the Lakers 47. The Lakers are averaging 38.4 rebounds per game to the Celtics 37.2. (Due to an incorrect Game 5 post-game stat sheet, the rebound numbers were revised.)
Rondo, who has shown a maturity beyond his years in these playoffs, showed sagacity that belied his age in assessing the State of the Finals.
"It's still anybody's series," said Rondo. "They're the defending champions. I'm sure they're going to come out and fight hard, so it's not over -- the series is not over yet."
A commonly held theory in the NBA is that bench players and supporting players usually play better at home. The Lakers can't wait to return to the land of palm trees, celebrities and paparazzi. Much-maligned Lakers forward Lamar Odom, was already eagerly anticipating sleeping in his own bed after Game 5. There is a significantly greater chance of the cavalry arriving for Kobe Bryant, who dropped 38 in Game 5 and is averaging 30.2 points per game in this series, at the Staples Center than a reprisal of his lone gunman act at the Garden.
Despite getting just 48 points from the non-Kobe Lakers, who shot a collective 35 percent from the field, LA had its chances late in Game 5. Ron Artest missed a pair of free throws with 43.3 seconds left and the Celtics clinging to a five-point lead (87-82).
Lakers forward Pau Gasol, who spoke with his back against the wall in the visitor's locker room, his appearance metaphorically mirroring his team's, said if you presented the current scenario to the Lakers at the beginning of the season they would have snapped it up faster than you can say TMZ.
"We are in a good situation," said the circumspect Spaniard. "As tough as it is losing these last two games we're going to fight for a championship at home. That's a position that we all would be happy to be in at the beginning of the season."
Clearly, this is a case of the irresistible force and the immovable object because the Celtics have played their best on the road all season, with more than half of their 50 regular-season victories coming as visitors. The Green tied Cleveland for the second-best road record in the NBA this season at 26-15.
The Lakers meanwhile were one of the best home teams in the NBA. Their 34-7 mark tied them with Orlando, Atlanta and Denver for the second-best in the league behind the LeBrons. The Lakers hadn't lost a home playoff game until the Celtics broke their serve in Game 2 of the Finals. LA is 9-1 at home this postseason.
Of course Philosopher Phil Jackson probably stresses to his team that home is really more of a metaphysical locale found in the recesses of the mind than a physical place of bricks and mortar existence. Either way, it's been a good place for the Lakers.
The team to whom these Celtics are most often compared, the 1968-69 rendition of the Green, had to win its title in Los Angeles at the old Fabulous Forum in Inglewood, Calif., Pierce's hometown. Somebody is going to win an NBA title on their home turf, Pierce or the Lakers. Either way it's not going to be easy.
"This will probably be the hardest game of the season, if not of the series, if not of everybody's career," said Garnett.
The season is over at the Garden, but as for the Finals they're far from it. About 3,000 miles from it.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.