One more game. They play 82, and then the league gets chopped into two halves. Naismith’s peach baskets and the NBA into two halves of a peach. 16 teams in one basket, 14 teams left out in the cold rain and wind as spring enters. Those franchises waiting for the draft lottery in order to begin dreaming of better seasons to come. Of those 16 teams that move on to the bigger stage, only 5 or 6 are given something resembling a reasonable shot at claiming the title, while only three or maybe four are talked about as legit contenders. But forget about the talking and forget about June because the first round will start Saturday, and the Warriors and Spurs aren’t in the East, which means our beloved Celtics have a glimmer of hope. It’s very possible the Celtics don’t advance to the second round of the playoffs, while its also very possible that they do. Boston has played like a 55 win team and like a 35 win team, so it’s reasonable that they have won 47 as we make our way to Game 82.
Fast forward to halftime. The Celtics franchise honored their past greats from three different decades. Championship teams from 1966, 1976, and 1986 (let’s not worry about those mediocre ’96 Celtics or the misery-inducing 2006 crew.)
The 2016 Celtics were annihilated by Miami in the first 24 minutes. Down 20 points as soon as you could say “Joe Johnson Resurrection,” the Celtics groped around in the dark searching for the door to the present day. In that first half they were as lifeless as they’d been for the majority of the Hornets game, which had followed an ugly fourth quarter in Atlanta. Suffice it to say this was not the way Brad Stevens had imagined this critical three-game final week test would go. He hadn’t drawn up plays that ended in white flag waving or collapsing onto the parquet.
Finally, the mojo turned at the half. We were watching on delay, but I asked Natasha if we were dead or if we had a crazy run in us. She said 20-0 run, and then they went on a 20-0 run. Miami players started coughing up the ball due to the Celtics perimeter pressure that had been nonexistent in the first half. They were the ones looking beleaguered and antsy. Our threes were finally falling,
Boston held Miami to 5 points (franchise record) in the 3rd quarter, and a paltry 26 in the second half. By the time the 26-point comeback was complete, it seemed that the Heat had officially been snuffed out.
Sadly, so were the Hawks on this final night of the regular season, by a bitter Wizards team that would have been in the same fight for home court had Bradley Beal’s knees been happy. All four teams, Atlanta, Miami, Boston and Charlotte finished with identical 48-34 records, but due to various tiebreaker legalities, the Heat ended up with the 3rd seed, and Boston dropped to 5th, losing home court to the Hawks.
The season has been a genuine success so far, the young Celtics taking a solid step, advancing from 40-win playoff underdog to 48-win playoff possibility. Of course there are those who see nothing under a 55-win season or advancing to the second round as a successful season. Fan expectations are often unrealistic when considering a 17-title franchise, rightfully enamored with its own history. Still, climbing the ladder to contention is a process, and this season brought vertical progress in that climb.
Now on to the bigger goals. Showing that growth in late April and maybe even early May. The Sam Hinckie resignation in Philadelphia and the 35-win season in Orlando should remind Celtics fans to be grateful for genuine progress. After all, we watched those 2006 Celtics.
4. Hawks vs. 5. Celtics
GAME 1 – Celtics at Hawks, Sat. April 17, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
GAME 2 – Celtics at Hawks, Tue. April 19, 7 p.m. ET, TNT
GAME 3 – Hawks at Celtics, Fri. April 22, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2
GAME 4 – Hawks at Celtics, Sun. April 24, 6 p.m. ET, TNT
GAME 5* – Celtics at Hawks, Tue. April 26, TBD, TBD
GAME 6* – Hawks at Celtics, Thu. April 28, TBD, TBD
GAME 7* – Celtics at Hawks, Sat. April 30, TBD, TNT