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MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

Reports of Celtics' demise were greatly exaggerated

Everyone, including Boston fans, had the Celtics buried and headed for a roster breakup after a 27-27 finish to the regular season dropped them to fourth in the East. Now, after a magical four-game run against Cleveland and Orlando . . . they're baa-aack.

May 22, 2010|Mark Heisler

Who dug you guys up?

A funny thing happened to the Boston Celtics on the way to their eternal rest.

Just before the funeral procession reached the cemetery, someone looked inside the hearse and found the decedent was alive!

Now it's like one of those New Orleans funerals with the band breaking into Dixieland and everyone strutting their way home, but with the guests of honor, the Celtics, in the lead.

I actually love the Celtics, although I'm not sure it shows, judging by some of my e-mail from New England (Dear Hater, get a life, watch what we do to those hot dogs you cover, etc.).

Still, by March I had given up any chance of seeing them in the Finals, leading to some regrettable choices of words (ancient, tottering, history, Dead Celtics Walking).

Not that there's a long list of people who kept the faith, or any list.

No one gave them a chance after their 27-27 closing rush, which began at Christmas, including home losses to the Nets and Wizards.

That's n-o o-n-e, including the Celtics, themselves.

Coach Doc Rivers, reported to be leaning toward resigning by the Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett, calmed the waters with a non-denial denial, saying he would just think about it, as he always does.

In other words, Rivers was giving it a last shot, what there was left of him.

(When I saw Doc 10 days ago, I asked him if his next birthday would be his 75th. He laughed.)

Celtics fans abandoned ship en masse, led by ESPN.com's Bill Simmons, fuming at their "decrepit, non-rebounding, poorly coached, dispirited, excuse-making, washed-up sham of a contender."

It ran under the heading:

"I know the Celtics are going to lose in Round 1."

Lively as Simmons is, he's an essayist as opposed to a journalist, with his overheated-Boston-fan-in-the-stands perspective.

Still, no amount of experience or professionalism could change what seemed the facts.

After months of hearing their season would start in April, as the Celtics circled the drain, the Boston Globe's Bob Ryan, decades-long keeper of the flame, gave up the ghost.

"There wasn't much we could point to that said they could do it," Ryan said from Boston. "It just didn't look possible.

"Count me among those highly skeptical. I said, 'They'll probably beat Miami and that will be it.' "

In the unbelievable part, the real turnaround didn't even happen until the end, in Games 5-6 vs. Cleveland and 1-2 vs. Orlando.

As expected by everyone but Simmons, the Celtics took out one-man-band Miami in the first round.

They then split the first four against Cleveland with LeBron James signaling he was hurt, playing left-handed as much as right, scoring 46 points in his team's losses in Games 2 and 4 before disappearing in the pivotal Game 5, when he shot three for 14.

With a healthy LeBron, the Cavaliers sweep the Celtics, General Manager Danny Ainge is about to clean house and Rivers is getting on with the rest of his life.

To that point, the Celtics were living and dying with their whirling dervish, Rajon Rondo, the best NBA player ever who passes up open 15-footers.

Paul Pierce was 32, going on 90, scoring 13-14-11-nine in the first four games against Cleveland, shooting 32%.

Since then, he's been Paul Pierce and look who's back!

This is a team that started 71-10 before Christmas in three seasons with Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, before age and injuries became factors.

If they're not all the way back, with the explosive Rondo, the underrated Kendrick Perkins and whatever it is that Rasheed Wallace is, it's close enough to concern the Lakers.

It didn't hurt that Orlando's basketball IQ wouldn't light a 60-watt bulb.

Now it's worse with daffy Vince Carter replacing Hedo Turkoglu, who was sloppy but ran their offense and banged down their big shots, like the one that won last spring's Game 7 in Boston.

Barring turnarounds by the Magic and Suns, Christmas is coming early for the Lakers, Celtics, ABC and the NBA.

Miraculous as the Celtics revival is, they earned it with their undying ferocity and commitment, as opposed to the local hot dogs, who leave wake-up calls for April, or, like last spring, later.

Unlike the Celtics of yore, they've been humility, itself. Of course, Rivers played most of his career in Atlanta, where one could learn humility, as opposed to Boston.

Ainge, the GM, remains boyish and down to earth.

I sat with Ainge at the Pac-10 postseason tournament a couple of years ago, noting at one point I thought Stanford's Robin Lopez had looked pretty good.

"Did you?" Ainge said. "I didn't see much there."

I learned later he was hoping to get him with his No. 30 pick. Unfortunately for the Celtics, Phoenix took Lopez at No. 15.

Wherever Red Auerbach was, he dug it.

Welcome home, Celtics.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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