Kevin Garnett grabbed the rebound off Dwyane Wades last second, desperation three-pointer and hurled it down court to a wide-open Keyon Dooling.
Before Dooling even caught the ball, the game was over, the Celtics were one miraculous step closer, and the questions were already swirling:
OK, so what's the story? Are we still just happy to be here? Are they still just a scrappy bunch of underdogs? Still merely defying the odds? Still playing with house money?
Or can we finally stop talking about how far the Celtics have come and turn the focus to how far they might go?
Its the same fence weve straddled since this team advanced past Atlanta. That feeling of wanting needing more, while never losing sight of the fact that what we have is already more than we ever imagined. That feeling of complete, unconditional love. Of sitting here this morning like proud parents, watching highlights on a loop, not even changing the channel when Stephen A. Smith starts to speak. Of shaking our heads at everything the Celtics have done, scratching our heads at how theyve done it and saying things like: "Who would ever thought they'd be here? Isn't this just unbelievable? What a story! What a team!"
All while knowing that in so many ways, they've accomplished nothing.
Or not enough.
It hurts to say, only in that it takes away from this morning's celebration, but its true. The Celtics have come too far to keep limiting our expectations with comparisons to their regular season struggles. Theyre no longer the lovable underdogs, but once again a team of champions with championship hopes that should be held to championship standards. Sure, we have no idea how theyve done it.
The fact that theyve beaten Miami three straight times and now sit one win away from the NBA Finals? It makes no sense.
But were far beyond making sense of this journey. Were past obsessing over the ugliness of a game like last night, and all the familiar struggles that may ultimately doom this team.
Who cares that the Celtics spent three and half quarters basically begging for a 3-2 deficit? When it mattered, Boston was better: Rondo took over in ways that only Rondo can with unscripted perfection and split second decisions that couldnt have been more precise if he'd stayed up all night cramming. Paul Pierce closed his eyes, found 2003 and treated LeBron James like he was Al Harrington. Ray Allen, one of the greatest, deadliest foul shooters in NBA history was back on the Celtics side. Mickael Pietrus equal parts 2008 James Posey and 2005 Tony Allen channeled the former and gave us the best-case scenario. Kevin Garnett basically devoured Wally Szczerbiaks pretty little face on national TV. Doc Rivers continued to dominate Erik Spoelstra from the sidelines the same way he wouldve in an early-90s game of one-on-one.
Now, the Celtics are up 3-2.
And given all they've gone through, there's every reason to celebrate.
After all, this is the same team that showed up out of shape. That limped into the All-Star break. That was nearly broken up 10 different ways at the deadline. That should have been derailed by injuries. That lost Game 1 (and their point guard) in Atlanta. That was pushed to the brink by Philadelphia. That lost the first two games in Miami and came within one wide-open Dwyane Wade three-point attempt of effectively losing this series. Now, they're one game one HOME game away from the NBA Finals.
It's a great story. It's been a unbelievable journey. But as we were reminded last night, the journey no longer matters. At this moment, the details of how they got here pale in importance to the mere fact that they are here. Results are what count. Results are the difference between 2008 and 2010. Between a feel good story that everyone will eventually forget, and an achievement that will live on forever. And to reach that level of success, the Celtics still have so much work to do. On Thursday, on Saturday and beyond. They may be at the goal line of greatness, but Demarcus Ware and Mario Williams are standing in the way. They may have nearly escaped the shark tank, but there's one foot still dangling in the water, and the sharks are effing furious.
We can talk about how much proud we are of this team right now, about the unconditional love and respect we have for who they are and what they've accomplished, but we can't deny how let down and disappointed we'll be if they don't take care of business. We can pretend this is all gravy, but deep down, we know it's not enough.
And the Celtics know it, too.
Last night in Miami, when Garnett's baseball pass finally landed in Dooling's hands, the wily vet took one little power dribble and initiated the ultimate form of last second basketball celebration. You know what I'm talking about. And if you were watching and if you're still reading this, let's just assume you were watching then you definitely thought it was coming.
Dooling wanted nothing more than to take that ball and fire it into the air.
After that little dribble, he crouched down, dipped the ball and looked about ready to take out the scoreboard. Then in a split second. He stopped.
He pulled back. Jammed the breaks on his leap, and let the ball slip innocently out of his hands. Sure it went up in the air, but only by way of natural momentum, and by the time the ball landed, Dooling was already jogging back to the locker room with his head down. Completely composed. All business. Fully aware of the reality of Boston's situation.
That while last night was great, it wasn't it enough.
That despite everything the Celtics have already accomplished, it's nothing compared to what they'll have to do next.