This picture typifies the Celtics as a singular unit - a singular team.
Over the next three quarters, the Cees scored 30, 30, and 40 points, respectively. Let those numbers sink in for a minute. The Cavaliers were one of the best defensive teams in basketball this season, and the Celtics ripped through that defense like a wet paper towel. 40 points in the 4th quarter? Absolutely ridiculous. Mind you, Rajon Rondo didn't even get his first assist until the ninth minute of the second quarter. What the Celtics did was play team basketball. Each and every player who logged minutes in this game had an impact. Five players hit double figures in scoring. Ray Allen buried three-pointers from every spot beyond the arc. Kevin Garnett simply owned Antawn Jamison, for a tidy 18 points and 6 boards. Even Perk managed to break double-digits and block two shots to go along with seven rebounds. And then the Truth shown through, as he was meant to do all series long. It wasn't a dominant performance by any stretch. But after averaging an anemic 12 points in the first four games of the series, Prince Paul let off for 21 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists. And it couldn't have come at a better time.
Going into this series, I was more than a little nervous. The Celtics were outplayed in stretches by the Heat, and facing King James and his court was giving me nightmares. After splitting the first two games, that Game 3 ass-kicking really sent me on the downward spiral. But, having put up two amazing performances in Games 4 and 5, my faith in the Celtics has been renewed. They are playing championship-caliber ball right now, and I just don't see how the Cavs can overcome them. This series is by no means decided, but the Cees have a distinct advantage over the Cavs: they're playing at home, they're playing better than they played all season long, and Cleveland has all but lost its identity. I fully expect the Celtics to win Game 6 in Boston tomorrow night, and go on to face the Magic Sunday in Orlando. It might be close, but once the Celts went up by 20 last night, somewhere near the end of the third period, this series was essentially decided.
Some things I think the Celtics must do to ensure a win, and continued success in the next round:
- Keep playing team basketball. Keep every single player involved on both ends of the floor. Glen Davis and Tony Allen have been indispensable, keeping the frenetic pace up, grabbing rebounds, and forcing turnovers. If Heinsohn were calling these games, it would be nothing but Tommy Points for everyone.
- Keep talking. KG said it in the post-game interview: keep talking, especially on defense. One of the key things I noticed last night was how few wide-open plays the Celtics allowed. Lebron's first bucket was a lob pass all the way down the court for an easy dunk. That was in the 3rd quarter. The Celtics held him in check by keeping the defensive schemes tight, and not letting the Cavs exploit any holes for easy twos. Not enough credit is given to Tom Thibodeau for the job he's done preparing the Celtics for Cleveland's potent offense. The pained look on his face when the Cees finally did give up that easy basket says it all.
- Keep Paul Pierce involved. We know Rondo can go off for a triple-double pretty much whenever he wants. We know that if Ray Allen gets a couple of shots to go down early, he's going to be raining twos and threes all night. We know if the defense can limit their foul trouble, the bigs can stay in the game and be effective. Paul Pierce really is the X-factor. As he goes, so go the Celtics. I fully expect him to make up for his somewhat lackluster performances in Games 1 through 4 by scoring more, getting hot early, and really taking control at the right moments.
Game 6 is certainly not in the bag. Lebron James doesn't want what could be his last game in a Cavs uniform to be a 32-point drubbing. He'll want to bring his team back home to clinch an Eastern Conference Finals berth, and a chance to play in the Championship. I foresee an average LBJ night: 30+ points, 10 rebounds, 6 or 7 assists. But I also see a Celtics team that has no desire to go back to Cleveland, a team that wants to celebrate at home with a deciding victory. A team that knows how deadly Lebron and Co. can be, especially at home. The only real question is, which of the Celtics will have the nastiest night? Rondo? RayRay? Prince Paul? It doesn't really matter, since the main tenant of Doc Rivers' coaching can be summed up in one word: