Celtics-Heat series proves how team play can defy stardom

Boston Celtics’ (from left) Rajon Rondo, Paul Piece and Kevin Garnett are atop of their games and have taken a commanding 3-2 series lead against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals of the NBA Playoffs. Photo by: Mike / Flickr

BY JON FRANK, Couchsideshow.com contributor

Last night I popped in for the last couple minutes of the Eastern Conference Finals and saw something a bit surprising: The Miami Heat trailing the Boston Celtics by two with about 1:30 left to play.

How? Was the first thing that came to my head. Miami’s got the three-time MVP (LeBron James), the NBA’s Batman and his Robin (Dwyane Wade), not to mention a semi-healthy Chris Bosh. Boston’s got what’s left of the Big Three and Rajon Rondo. This shouldn’t happen. It defies all notions of NBA logic. In professional basketball, superstars are supposed to strap in, go off for 30 a night and carry their inferior, but well-meaning teammates, along for the ride. But watching the Celtics win three straight against the Heat – and listening to Michael Wilbon and the boys’ postgame analysis – it made me remember how much of a team sport basketball is.

Boston is a great team. We knew they were great in years past, and most everyone expected them to do some damage. But few people expected this. Obviously, a lot has happened since people made their initial East Conference champions predictions. Namely, Derrick Rose’s ACL derailed the Bulls (honorable mention to Joakim Noah, the second best player on that team, who went down with a sprained ankle). Aside from that, how many people actually thought an aging Boston team would be on the verge of sending the ridiculously talented Super Team packing? Not me. Then again, I’m no NBA expert – not by a long shot.

Once Rose went down, it looked like smooth sailing for Miami. But it’s been anything but. A scrappy Indiana Pacers team led by a trash-talking Danny Granger almost ousted the Heat. Truth be told, if Granger and the others had toned it down a little bit, they would have had a much better shot. When the Celtics went down 2-0 to start the series, it looked like I was right. Miami would easily sail past the decrepit, still feisty, but just too old cast of veterans.

But like Magic Johnson said in the postgame breakdown, The Celtics are a team that believes. They’re a team. Rondo doesn’t make or break that squad (though he’s been playing out of his mind all postseason) and neither does anybody else. They’ve been there before and they damn well expected to win game 5. Even as their top players decline into old age. And in retrospect, why doubt them? Boston went on a tear at the end of the regular season and quietly scraped its way into the finals, despite a less-than-100 percent Ray Allen.

I remember after game 1 when Miami easily dispatched of the old-timers. Everybody was drinking the Kool-aid, giving the tired old spiel about how the Celtics are just too old to hang with the young guys. But Rondo stepped up and his team responded. Rondo’s 40+ point performance (the first of his career) in game 2 was not in vein, even though his team lost. It got them fired up. It showed his team, and all the doubters, that there is still plenty of fight left in his team.

And for anybody that’s quick to point the finger at LeBron for the three-game skid, well, look at his numbers. The biggest problem with this team is that it just doesn’t have the nucleus of role players that can step up when the game’s on the line (by no means a new theory). LeBron does it all. He passes, rebounds, plays out-of-this-world defense and scores from just about everywhere on the field. But he can’t win it by himself. Not most nights, anyway. He needs others to help, and aside from Wade, there’s nobody on that team that can step up – at least not on a nightly basis.

I’m still not sold on the C’s pulling the series out, not completely. They’re the better team and they have experience and chemistry that the Heat can’t match. But you can never count out a team that has LeBron James and Wade.

The series should make for an interesting conclusion. One thing’s for sure – I’ll be scratching my head in confusion, whoever wins.

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