|Guess who's back in the Eastern Conference Finals? (Getty Images)|
Don't try and understand it, you'll only make your head hurt. Somehow, someway, the Celtics, left for dead after the start of the season, managed to pull it together and enter the playoffs on a hot streak. Then, they struggled with Atlanta. But then they rallied, and advanced. They were set to face the Sixers, who were thought to be outmatched in every conceivable way. Instead, the Sixers pushed them to seven games. But again, the Celtics advanced.
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The Big 3 Era Celtics have returned to the Eastern Conference Playoffs for the third time in five years Saturday night, expelling the Sixers in an 85-75 fight to the bone. The ride continues.
For a lot of teams, making it this far would have meaning. It's a sense of accomplishment in and of itself. But like their opponent, the Miami Heat, this level means nothing to them. It's nothing but a set up to the final act.
It had to end like this, you know.
The Celtics were the first superstar team up formed through front-office moves that weren't built around drafting. They kicked off the arms race in 2008, the Heat were formed two years later in 2008. Both have reached the ECF in less than perfect fashion. Both have a distaste for each other.
And to top it all off, the Eastern Conference Finals feature the two teams that have lost the past two Finals. Ominous, that.
For Paul Pierce, Garnett, and Ray Allen, it's tempting to say this is their last hurrah in the Eastern Finals. Garnett and Allen are free agents after this year, the Celtics have been delaying rebuilding efforts to give this team one more shot. Allen, his ankle in shambles, is a shell of who he is normally due to the bone spurs plaguing him, still closed out the Sixers with two key three pointers in the fourth of Game 7. They were the only two he took. Garnett, thought to be doomed due to age and Lavoy Allen's impressive defense, found just enough offense, defense, and key plays to be the difference in helping the Celtics keep the lead in a game everyone played poorly. And I mean, everyone. And while Rajon Rondo was the hero, it will still be these three that will be judged most vs. the Heat.
Boston is supposed to have a mental edge over Miami, despite last year's playoff series. They're supposed to be tougher. Even if the Heat are the better team, so what? The Hawks were arguably better. The Sixers arguably played better for the duration of the series. And yet here the three are, ready to take on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade who they have plauged over the years.
What's on the line? A second title changes quite a bit for Garnett, Pierce, and company. It puts them in another level as multiple-time champions. Most importantly, it validates the Big 3 era, which, without a second title, is honestly thought of as a disappointment. But we'll have time for that.
For now, they're here. Despite everything, despite reason and logic, the old guys are here, ready to grind it out in the mud with the most talented team in the land. No one expects much from them except themselves.
The problem is, that very scenario is how they wound up here.
The Eastern Conference Finals begin Monday at 8:30 p.m. EST.