A Letter to the Boston Celtics

To the Big 3 and the rest of the Boston Celtics: thank you for fighting unceasingly until the final buzzer of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. (Globe Staff Photo/Jim Davis)

Dear Boston Celtics,

Thank you.

Thank you for the 2012 NBA Playoffs. Thank you for fighting from the opening jump to the final seconds of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Thank you for keeping us riveted to our seats night in and night out.

I know how easy it would’ve been to check out during these playoffs. No one really ever believed you could win a championship. And when Avery Bradley‘s shoulder injury against the 76ers cost the team its only perimeter defender young enough to hang with the Heat, you could’ve basically thrown in the towel.

But that wouldn’t be the Celtics’ way. It wouldn’t be how Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen have approached their entire careers. It wouldn’t have been “ubuntu.”

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Celtics Fall in OT Despite Rondo’s 44

Dwyane Wade drives past Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass and Mickael Pietrus during overtime in Wednesday's Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The Boston Celtics threw everything they had at the Miami Heat in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals Wednesday night. They overcame two second-half Heat leads, played their Big 4 for 43-plus minutes each, and even got a career-best 44 points from Rajon Rondo, who played the entire game.

They did all that, and it still wasn’t enough.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined for 57 points, including 12 of the Heat’s 16 in overtime, powering the Heat to a 115-111 overtime victory over the Celtics. The series heads to Boston for Game 3 Friday with the Heat up 2-0.

Celtics Comeback Twice in Fourth

Miami reserve Mike Miller‘s three-pointer – one of Miami’s 10 – put his team up 84-77 with just under a minute gone in the fourth. Two Kevin Garnett (18 points, eight rebounds in 45 minutes) free throws and a three-pointer from Mickael Pietrus cut the deficit to one, then went up 86-85 when Rondo picked off a pass and sprinted for the fast-break layup.

The Celtics built that lead as high as five, going up 92-87 on one of 10 mid- to long-range jumpers by Rondo. He shot 16-for-24 and went 10-for-12 from the free throw line, fueling nearly all of his team’s offense Wednesday.

James kept the Heat from crumbling late, however, earning and scoring six free throws in the final four minutes. His last two put the Heat up 96-94, and Udonis Haslem‘s 18-footer pushed the lead to four. Haslem led all reserves with 13 points and 11 rebounds.

The Celtics had another comeback in them, however, with Garnett’s alley-oop from Rondo (10 assists) cutting the deficit to 98-96. Following Wade going 1-for-2 at the line, Keyon Dooling drew four Heat defenders to him under the basket before finding Ray Allen behind the arc. Allen, who rebounded nicely with 13 points after a horrific Game 1, knocked it down to tie the game 99-99.

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Celtics Implode in Second Half of Game 4; Series Tied 2-2

Andre Iguodala dunks against Kevin Garnett in Friday's Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Boston Celtics built a big lead Friday night in Philadelphia, then quit.

The Philadelphia 76ers, on the other hand, never quit. And once they pulled back into the game, that sustained effort translated into unstoppable momentum, a 92-83 victory over the Celtics in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, and a 2-2 series tie.

Game 5 takes place Monday back in Boston.

Bad Third for Celtics Keys Comeback Fourth for 76ers

The Celtics built a 17-point lead on a Paul Pierce (game-high 24 points) technical just over two minutes into the third quarter. Elton Brand picked up the technical, but his physicality ignited the previously lazy 76er defense. Over the first seven minutes of the third, the Celtics didn’t score a field goal. The 76ers, meanwhile scored 10 unanswered to cut the Celtics’ lead to 50-43.

Pierce’s three-pointer (one of four) built Boston’s lead back to 54-46 with five minutes left, but Philadelphia played the rest of the game fully confident they could win. Boston held just a 63-59 lead after three, and Philadelphia tied the game on back-to-back buckets from Thaddeus Young to start the fourth.

The two teams traded baskets throughout most the final quarter, with neither team building too big a lead. Pierce’s free throws put the Celtics up 74-72, but Young tied it again, then backup point guard Lou Williams hit a jumper for a 76-74 76er lead.

Ray Allen‘s three-pointer – his only field goal of the night – put the Celtics back up by one, and Kevin Garnett‘s free throws stretched the lead to 79-76. But the 76ers answered again, with Andre Iguodala tying the game with a three. Iguodala scored eight of his 16 total points in the closing 3:11, combining a jumper with a three-pointer to break an 83-83 tie and put the 76ers up five.

The Celtics couldn’t answer the 76ers again, and the 76ers finished the game on a 9-0 stretch. They out-rebounded the Celtics 52-38 Friday, using a 17-5 advantage on the offensive glass to extend possessions and exhaust a Celtics defense that had held them to 23 percent shooting in the first half.

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Pierce, Rondo Help Celtics Crush Hawks in Game 4

Paul Pierce shoots against Jason Collins during Sunday's Game 4 of the Celtics-Hawks Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at the TD Garden. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

Atlanta Hawk Joe Johnson drained a jumper 19 seconds into Sunday’s Game 4 against the Boston Celtics at the TD Garden.

The Hawks never led after that. What should have been a basketball game turned out to be a massacre.

Between Paul Pierce‘s lethal shooting and Rajon Rondo‘s mesmerizing passing, the Celtics crushed the Hawks, 101-79, taking a 3-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

Pierce Lights Up Hawks Early

Pierce only played about 16 minutes Sunday, but while on the court he couldn’t be stopped. The Hawks put as many as three players in Pierce’s face, and he still knocked down jumpers using his trademark step-back shot.

Doc Rivers didn’t have Pierce waste energy guarding Johnson on defense, and Pierce rewarded Rivers with 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting. He knocked down four three-pointers, grabbed four rebounds and blocked two shots.

Pierce scored 10 first-quarter points, including the Celtics’ first basket on the first of 16 assists from Rondo. Between Pierce’s penetration and Kevin Garnett‘s domination in the low post (13 points on 6-of-8 shooting), the Celtics built a 32-19 lead after one quarter. Pierce continued humiliating the Hawks in the second, hitting two more three-pointers without even noticing defenders around him.

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Pierce and Bradley Carry Celtics Past Magic, Clinch Fifth Straight Atlantic Title

Paul Pierce drives to the basket during Wednesday's Celtics-Magic game at the TD Garden. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Paul Pierce might be nearing the finish line of a career that will end in the Hall of Fame and a spot in the TD Garden rafters. But if these are Pierce’s last games, The Truth wants to go out in style.

Pierce scored a game-high 29 points and recorded a career-best 14 assists, carrying the Boston Celtics to a 102-98 victory over the Orlando Magic and their fifth consecutive Atlantic Division title Wednesday night at the TD Garden. Avery Bradley backed up Pierce with 23 points, tying his career-high.

With home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs locked up, the short-handed Celtics can now focus on rest and recovery. Ray Allen hasn’t played in over a week, and Rajon Rondo sat Wednesday with a lower back injury.

Pierce Holds Back Magic in Fourth

Up 79-70 heading into the fourth quarter, Boston built their lead as high as 13, but a combination of outside shooting by Jameer Nelson (21 points, 3-for-6 from downtown) and dominating play inside (54 points in the paint, 17 offensive rebounds without Dwight Howard) kept Orlando in the game. Orlando cut Boston’s lead to 92-90 with three minutes left before Pierce drew a foul and sank one of two.

A Glen Davis (27 points) steal and sprint to the basket – how many times has that ever been written? – made it 98-96 Celtics, setting up the play of the game. Pierce – who split ball-handling duties with Bradley Wednesday – brought the ball to the three-point line, nearly slipping and losing control of the ball.

With the shot-clock winding down, Pierce regained control and penetrated to just outside the foul line, hitting a 17-foot step-back jumper with 7.6 seconds left in the game. He also sank two free throws in the final seconds to maintain the two-possession lead.

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Garnett Leads Celtics Over Warriors in Defenseless Third Game of Road Trip

Kevin Garnett shoots over David Lee during Wednesday's Celtics-Warriors game at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Sometimes in basketball you can win shooting worse than your opponent. You can get beat in the paint, you can turn the ball over too much. You can even do all three and still win.

Because sometimes, all you need is Kevin Garnett.

Garnett scored 24 points on 11-for-15 shooting, including a jumper with the shot-clock expiring and 5.7 seconds left in the game. The Boston Celtics beat the Golden State Warriors, 105-103. The Celtics have now won two in a row on their eight-game road trip.

Garnett’s Jumper Highlights Lights-Out Fourth

Garnett scored 12 of his 24 in the fourth quarter. No Warrior could contain him in the post or on jump-shots: Even when power forward David Lee knocked Garnett to the court early in the fourth, Garnett still sank his shot. The resulting free throw put the Celtics up 89-81 with just over 10 minutes left.

Rookie guard Klay Thompson‘s third three-pointer (part of a career-best 26-point night) helped cut the lead to three, but Garnett then scored the next two Celtics buckets on two passes – one alley-oop – from Rajon Rondo, who finished with a “serviceable” 14 assists.

Still, Warrior reserve Brandon Rush‘s free throw tied the game 95-95 with just over four minutes left. Rondo broke the tie with an offensive rebound and basket, then found Brandon Bass (22 points, nine rebounds) twice for slam dunks (plus two free throws) and a 103-97 lead.

A fired-up Nate Robinson (20 points, 11 assists) helped tie the game 103-103 with 30 seconds left, setting up Garnett’s eventual game-winner. Paul Pierce used up most of the shot-clock, penetrating inside and drawing in several defenders before kicking it out to Garnett.

Garnett had just over a second to beat the buzzed, and he swished his shot from 20 feet away. He didn’t miss a single second-half shot.

The Warriors got off one more shot, but Robinson missed from deep, and Garnett grabbed both it and the game-ending inbound pass.

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Celtics Starters Dominate Bucks, Win Second Straight

Rajon Rondo shoots the ball against Milwaukee Buck Ersan Ilyasova during Wednesday's game at the TD Garden. Rondo finished with his 16th career triple-double. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Boston Celtics have heard the same criticisms over and over this season: Their starters are too old. They can’t put up big scores. They can’t rebound.

Wednesday night at the TD Garden, at least for a night, they silenced their critics.

Every Celtic starter scored in double digits, and the Celtics grabbed a season-high 18 offensive rebounds, beating the Milwaukee Bucks, 102-96. The Celtics scored 100+ points for just the third time in February. They’re now 8-1 historically on Feb. 29, having not lost on Leap Day since 1984.

Dominant Third Carries Celtics

The Celtics came out of halftime down 54-50. The deficit could easily have been worse, but Rajon Rondo hit a layup with eight seconds left in the second quarter and, following a lost ball by Bucks small forward Carlos Delfino, found Keyon Dooling behind the arch for three more points with 0.8 seconds left.

The Bucks maintained their lead through the first three minutes of the third, with point guard Shaun Livingston hitting a jumper to go up 60-55.

The Celtics, led primarily by their starting five, responded with a 22-7 run for the remaining 8+ minutes of the third. Kevin Garnett began the run with two baskets inside the paint to cut the Bucks’ lead to one, and Brandon Bass – who struggled badly in the first half but scored nine of 16 total points in the third – hit a 15-footer to give the Celtics their first lead since the first quarter.

Strong Celtics defense held the Bucks scoreless for nearly four minutes following Livingston’s basket, and the Celtics’ offense missed just two shots during that stretch (one of which led to an offensive rebound). They built their lead to 71-64 on baskets by Rondo (who posted his third triple-double of the season with 15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists), Ray Allen (15 points, including 29-foot three-point bank-shot with the shot-clock expiring), Paul Pierce (10 points) and Chris Wilcox.

The Celtics took a 77-67 lead into the fourth, building their lead as high 15 points at times. Their best play was a give-and-go between Dooling and Garnett that ended in a Dooling dunk and an 84-71 lead.

The Bucks used a 13-0 run – highlighted by point guard Brandon Jennings‘ only two baskets of the game, both threes – to cut Boston’s lead to 98-96 with under 20 seconds left in the game, but Garnett hit four free throws to put the game away. Garnett finished with a season-high 25 points on 50 percent shooting and 10 rebounds, plus two steals and two blocks. He’s averaged 22 points and 10.3 rebounds over his last three games.

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Nowitzki, Mavericks Crush Shorthanded Celtics

Dirk Nowitzki takes a shot against Chris Wilcox during Monday's Celtics-Mavericks game in Dallas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Hmm… let’s see. The Celtics struggled badly with rebounds Monday night against the Dallas Mavericks. They also couldn’t move the ball offensively, find open shots or accomplish anything in the paint.

The Celtics played the Mavericks without Kevin Garnett (family matter), Brandon Bass (knee) and Rajon Rondo (two-game suspension). They lost to the Mavericks, 89-73.

For some reason, I can’t help but think the two previous paragraphs are related.

Nowitzki’s Double-Double Highlights Celtics Struggles

Without Garnett or Bass, the Celtics had few options for defending Dirk Nowitzki. Whoever Boston sent at Nowitzki, he made that defender look silly.

It didn’t matter if Nowitzki was in the low post, high post, top of the key, whatever. Nowitzki scored 21 of his game-high 26 points in the first half, including a run of 10 consecutive points in the second quarter. A particularly abusive move on Jermaine O’Neal highlighted that run.

Along with all those points came 16 rebounds and two blocks. The Mavericks out-rebounded the Celtics eight, grabbing 13 offensive rebounds to the Celtics’ five. They also out-scored the Celtics 32-18 in the paint, getting a solid nine points from reserve power forward Brandan Wright.

Wright scored an alley-oop bucket from reserve guard Jason Terry (16 points on 6-of-11 shooting) in the second, then added an emphatic dunk in the fourth. He also grabbed two offensive rebounds in the same possession, eventually kicking it out to Terry for a three-pointer that put the Mavericks up 40-26 in the second.

The Celtics showed moments of offensive consistency that led to moves in the paint, in particular a fast-break dunk by Ray Allen followed by a dribble-penetration from Paul Pierce that made it 44-34 late in the second. But overall the Celtics never looked in rhythm, throwing up crazy shots in the lanes or running anemically into defenders for easy blocks.

Pierce (20 points), Allen (15) and Avery Bradley (12) did their best, but with Bradley running the offense the Celtics lose most of the fluidity Rondo typically brings. And with so few second-chance scoring opportunities, the Celtics’ stiff, disjointed offense just meant more minutes on defense.

The Celtics didn’t lead at any point during Monday’s game. Their five-point deficit after one quarter became 10 after two and 17 after three.

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Celtics Twice Nearly Claimed Knicks’ Jeremy Lin Off Waivers

Had either of the Celtics' two waiver claims on the Knicks' Jeremy Lin gone through this offseason, he and Kevin Garnett would have been teammates instead of opponents. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

Apparently, some dude on the Knicks is having a decent season. Jerry something-or-other. Played for Yale, I think.

Were he a Celtic, I might show more enthusiasm for point guard Jeremy Lin and the seven consecutive wins his team has rattled off since his move into the starting spot. And it appears I nearly got my wish… twice.

Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald reported Thursday that the Celtics twice submitted waiver claims for Lin when the Golden State Warriors cut him prior to the start of this season. The Houston Rockets claimed Lin ahead of the Celtics, cut him, and then the Knicks took him, again ahead of the Celtics. The rest is media-magnified history.

But oh, what might have been.

Lin Would Have Thrived in Boston

Though overall a feel-good story, Lin’s sudden success still bears a small shadow: the return of Carmelo Anthony. When Anthony returns, Lin will have to give back many of the 17-plus shots per night he’s averaged over the last seven games. The arrogant, needy Anthony will demand the ball whenever he’s on the court, and the humble Lin will probably give it away willingly.

If this works, the story dies. But if it fails, and Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni has to take the ball away from Anthony, a schism could form in the locker room that derails a Knicks season that finally looks back on track.

Unlike the Knicks, the Celtics don’t play selfishly. Rajon Rondo usually passes to the open shooter, whoever that may be. While that doesn’t always work – there’s really no reason to ever pass to Jermaine O’Neal or Marquis Daniels – it creates a system that rewards humility and team effort over individual skill-sets.

Lin would have succeeded in such a system. He’s said that despite scoring 20 points or more in six of the last seven games, he still sees himself as a distributor. No one distributes like Rondo does, and Lin would have learned infinitely more about passing from Rondo than garbage Knicks guards like Mike Bibby and Toney Douglas.

Lin also would have provided a scoring threat off the bench, something the Celtics have especially lacked since the loss of Brandon Bass. Lin would have covered some of the scoring lost with Bass’ knee injury, and once healthy, Bass, Lin and Chris Wilcox would have found openings in just about any defense. Just as the Celtics’ starters dominate when they play complimentary basketball, so too would the second unit.

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Strong Start Powers Celtics to Second Preseason Win Over Raptors

Rajon Rondo shoots against the Toronto Raptors during Wednesday's preseason game at the TD Garden in Boston. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

Doc Rivers gave his starters the first half of Wednesday’s home game against the Toronto Raptors, then turned it over to the bench.

The Boston Celtics bench played virtually the entire second half, maintaining a large first-half lead to beat the Raptors, 81-73.

A two-game preseason might not say much, but the Celtics finished theirs undefeated.

Rondo Runs the Offense, O’Neal the Defense

Missing Paul Pierce due to a heel injury, Rajon Rondo took over as the Celtics’ primary scoring threat. He set the offensive pace immediately, knocking down an 18-foot jumper to open the scoring, then doing it again from almost the same spot three minutes later to cap an 8-0 Celtics run to start the game.

Rondo’s second basket followed a block from Jermaine O’Neal – O’Neal’s second in the game’s opening four minutes. O’Neal may be the Celtics’ only center, but Wednesday night he showed he might have what it takes. The Raptors could never get an interior game going with O’Neal on the court, having to settle for long-range jumpers and three-pointers they couldn’t sink with much better than 30 percent accuracy.

Rondo and O’Neal hooked up again later in the first, with Rondo driving through the paint before kicking it out to O’Neal in the low post. O’Neal caught the pass, then in one motion fed it back to Rondo, whom the Raptors left under the basket. Rondo easily laid it in, putting the Celtics up 14-7.

Rondo finished the game with 17 points in 23 minutes. O’Neal didn’t score, but he blocked four shots and pulled down two rebounds in just 12 minutes.

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