So it has come down to this. One game for it all. Do or die. Win, and go home champions. Lose, and fall bitterly short.
For this Celtics fan, Game 6 was a big disappointment. But it also had the feeling of inevitability that this NBA Finals was destined to go seven. Why would this team make anything easy? The only time they did that was in their much-noted 23-5 start in November and December (a beginning that joins, in my mind, the 29-5 record the original Big Three posted in the 1989-1990 season, in the late Larry Bird era).
Then, during the long winter months and into April, the Celtics struggled mightily. They had four three-game losing streaks, and twice each won three games and four games in a row, respectively. But mostly they eked along, stepping forward, then stepping backward.
Watching the Eastern Conference standings was a slow bit of torture. Cleveland’s lead for first place became insurmountable, but second seemed easily attainable. Home court is key for the playoffs; these guys knew that. But second slipped away, too, and then the Celtics went 5-8 to close the regular season, practically handing the Hawks third place in the conference. To the lure of avoiding LeBron James until the conference finals, they basically responded, “whatever.”
They were a team of aging Hall of Famers and talented supporting players who could not pull it together. They only won 50 games. In the Western Conference, this would have tied them for sixth through eighth place. Danny Ainge rightly said they were a disappointment. They should have won 60.
And then the playoffs began, and they won one, two, three games in a row against the Heat, and closed them out in five. They faced those damn Cavaliers, were thrown to the ground in their worst home playoff loss ever in Game 3 — and came back strong enough to send them packing. They rolled on against Orlando, caused a fair amount of anxiety as their 3-0 lead was cut to 3-2, then eventually beat them too.
What limped into the postseason as an underachieving team really did turn it on at the right time. That was the only hope as the season dragged on and they piled up losses against the Bulls and Pistons and Bucks and Nets. But in the world of sports, hopes often fall hard. This time, incredibly, the wish came true.
It’s important to remember that tonight, as the minutes count down to what should be an epic Game 7 against the Lakers. This team has been full of mistakes, full of inconsistency. But they’ve also played with a lot of emotion, heart, and skill, and that has taken them to this moment, to this chance.
They don’t need to be perfect in Los Angeles tonight. Just better.