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The Unfair Fight

 

Let me start by saying this was an instant classic. A breathtaking, awe-inspiring experience filled with memorable, top shelf quality moments that’ll keep both fan bases talking all summer long, and beyond, for years to come. Viewing it as a spectator may have taken three to five years off my life, but I’m glad I endured.

Now that my polite preamble is out of the way…wow. For at least half a dozen reasons, Game 2 was the basketball watching equivalent to having a sharp metal shaft jammed directly down my spine. There is no “deserving” to win in sports, but this Celtics team did just about everything possible to tie this series up at one. And behind an all-time brilliant performance from Rajon Rondo, came about as close to “deserving” a victory as anyone ever has.Remove Jordan from the conversation, and there are maybe five individual playoff performances more impressive than what we just saw. There is no hyperbole. Rondo played the entire game (53 minutes) with a burning rage. From the first quarter—where he attempted six free-throws on furious drives to the basket—a strong “there’s no way we’re losing” attitude emanated from his body like steam from boiling water. The pessimist could say he had a hot hand, and that this game was the true definition of an anomaly. But I would argue it goes much deeper than that. Sure, Rondo made a bunch of jumpers, but he also attacked and got guys open buckets in transition. He confidently placed the Celtics on his back, on the road, against one of the league’s most punishing defenses, without relenting for a single instant.

Rondo scored 44 points on 16-24 shooting (including 2-2 from deep, not including 10-12 from the free-throw line, and all 12 of his team’s points in overtime) against every capable defender Miami has—including Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem, and LeBron James. Adding to that, he grabbed eight rebounds, had three steals, and finished the game with 10 “ohbytheway” assists. Rondo roved the perimeter on defense—holding the planet’s best player to a fadeaway jumper as regulation came to a close—and was once again called upon to assume the role of go-to scorer down the stretch after Paul Pierce fouled out in regulation (on a play where Wade jumped in the air, spun his back towards the basket, and blindly flipped a shot over his head). Boston’s point guard did everything his coaches, teammates, and fans could ever ask of him, but when he woke up this morning, there was nothing to show for it but a devastating loss and two legs that feel like marmalade.

All previous displays of brilliance on par with the one we just witnessed came in winning efforts. Rondo’s didn’t, but for this it shouldn’t be marred. If Rondo someday enters the Hall of Fame, clips from Game 2 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals will proudly play in the background as he walks to the podium. This is how great he was; it was historic.

Now, I believe no single play decides the outcome of a basketball game. Within 80-100 possessions there are countless moments where plays can be made and outcomes can be altered. But unfortunately last night, the Celtics, and Rondo, were vacated their rights in a crucial sequence that significantly altered who won and who lost. With 90 seconds left, and the game tied at 105, Rondo darted past Haslem towards the basket. He went up for a reverse layup, and was smacked square in the forehead by Wade. No whistle. The Heat gathered the ball, ran the other way on a four on five (Rondo was down after, you know, GETTING SLAPPED IN THE FACE) and converted on a dunk.

It was a super obvious call resulting in a possible four point swing in Miami’s favor. (While we’re here, let me take two quick seconds to get this off my chest: The Celtics were called for 33 fouls. Three of their players fouled out, including Pierce. They went 26-29 from the free-throw line. On the other end of the spectrum, Miami was called for 18 fouls. None of their players had more than three, except Joel Anthony, who had four. The Heat went 31-47 from the free-throw line (not a misprint). In 48 minutes of play, LeBron James put the ball through the hoop a grand total of seven times, yet scored 34 points. How can this be? Well, he attempted 24 free-throws. Those numbers are probably why Danny Ainge had a nice post-game chat with the NBA’s Vice President of Referee Operations.)

This play didn’t decide the outcome of the game. There was time left, but not all that much. When it’s all said and done, the Celtics missed several opportunities they should’ve taken advantage of. One example coming in the final moments of regulation, when James grabbed his own miss, allowing the Heat to take the game’s final shot. Had the Celtics controlled the ball, as they were in position to do, they would’ve had about 10 seconds to race up the court and get a possible game winning shot off. The way Rondo was playing, I really like those odds.

Games like this one shouldn’t need box scores, as they don’t do justice to describe just how hard every single player worked. From Keyon Dooling to Pierce to Kevin Garnett (a great defensive effort, but couldn’t get things going below the foul line late in the game) to Ray Allen (who managed to climb out of his own grave in Game 2, spryly running around screens for 43 minutes and knocking down some gigantic threes—including Boston’s last bucket of regulation—looking as good as new.)

So it goes. There are no asterisks in the NBA playoffs. Boston just lost a game they probably should’ve won, and are down 0-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals. Despite their shrewd pick and roll adjustments that stifled Wade in the first half, forcing him to lean on isolation jumpers for most of the second half, they lost. If Game 2 were a boxing match, the Celtics had Miami on the ropes, but were cut by an illegal head-butt while the ref’s attention was diverted elsewhere. A large gash opened up, trickling blood into their eye sight. Now their trainer is screaming from the corner to shake it off. To turn back into the ring and fight. To give it everything they’ve got.

On Friday night, the Celtics legs will wobble, but their hearts will not. This proud, resilient bunch will not give up, and they will not falter. When Game 2 appeared to be winding down the same road that Game 1 had unfortunately traveled, and the Heat began to pull away on a barrage of impossible Wade jumpers and authoritative play from James in the middle of the second half, Boston fought back to regain the lead early in the fourth quarter. Their spirit is strong, their will to win contagious. With the 2012 Boston Celtics, the moment you count them out is the second they throw their most powerful punch.

Twitter: @ShakyAnkles

  • Handsome

    I love the work you've been doing recently, Michael. You do a great job of walking the fine line between fan and objective analyst and it's refreshing to read.

    Thanks for summing up my thoughts on the game more eloquently than I could ever hope to.

  • srb

    Bravo Pina. I was incredulous about that call Wade drew. He went up, realized he was doomed and spun his back for a prayer heave over his head. There was nothing about that play that could draw a foul, besides that it was Wade going toward the hoop.

    Also in my opinion they got hosed on that clear path foul. I don't know if that call is open to referee interpretation but Pietrus was more or less in front of Lebron the whole play, except when he actually committed the foul. If only he hadn't been lazy and just fouled right away.

    • Tich

      But he did miss both those free throws and they didn't score on that next shot. Was a questionable call tho. The Pierce foul hurt and that blocking foul on Dooling at midcourt (were he was firmly planted and not moving) hurt also. But if that foul against Rondo is called the game would have ended 1-1, or that's how I feel anyway.

  • masscommons

    Rajon Rondo now knows how Jerry West and Elgin Baylor felt all those years ago.

  • xXCD

    its been clear to me that the refs get instruction from stern for years.its good to see a few media guys speaking up.

  • ElRoz

    forget the refs – the whole ESPN NBA page is licking Miami's private parts, it is a shameless hyped up promotion.

    Celtics must come out and beat Miami in game 3…then do the same in game 4. They got to go in a win by quarters and never let up. Bass has got to score 15-16 points a game.

    I don't think their legs will "feel like marmalade" – they get rest on in between days.

    • greenboner

      at least mark price is gone,if he was there he would ruin van gundys attempt to expose whtas going on.he was big on lickin heat and stern nutsack.

  • greenboner

    i can picture a miami heat practice…the whole floor is covered in gym mats and they do reps of falling down and then the acting coach comes in with a camera and they practice rubbing there face and looking legitimately hurt when the ref calls the flop.seriously though dwayne wade spends as much time on the floor as he does standing up, its like the signature follow through to his jumper.dwayde and lebron are aware of the refs plan so they heavily incorporate flopping into there game.i might not watch next year.

  • jman

    If I was KG and the gang, I'd play my heart out in Boston these next two games and when they go back to Miami(if the league allows it), I'd protest the game and not even play…This is complete bullshit these last two games. Those tech calls in game 1 screwed up the momentum, and those calls last night just whatever doesn't matter…Everyone of us that knew this series was going to be like this. Anyhow the league will let the heat lose in Boston(at least one game I'm hoping…lol) Unless the spurs sweep the thunder then they'll have the heat seweep Boston. Cheers Stern

  • Zee

    Superbly written. At least Skip Bayless (and some others) had our back!

    • CG12

      I don't think I want Skip Bayless getting my back.

  • High Rollers

    The one thing I think Doc would take issue with in your beautiful post is that they did just about everything possible to tie the series last night. They did a lot, and there’s a lot more where that came from (as your final exquisite paragraph rightly implies). Make a few more of those point-blank shots and layups that we saw missed time and again last night…that’d be a good place to start. And don’t stray from the D that showed obvious advantages. Simple things that in the wake of an emotional loss only a champion coach can focus on. I for one feel great for Friday. Marmalade is tasty. Suffering builds on an already strong character. And the Garden is going to be rockin’. Bring the marmalade!

  • Jen

    It was a tough call. The refs should have caught it. But we're you guys also complaining during Game 6 of the series with Atlanta when the refs missed the foul on the inbounds play that might have sent it to a Game 7? The Hawks' season ended on that play. I'm guessing not. It sucks, but the refs just miss important calls sometimes.

    • Zee

      Jen, you already stated you're a Heat fan. So please don't come in here with that. Yes, I took issue with what happened in Game 6. The Hawks were robbed on that play. I'm not like most Heat fans who ignore poor officiating. So please get out of here with that. Thanks.

      • Zee

        And by saying "I'm not like most Heat fans…" I'm saying I'm a Celtics fan who doesn't act like most Heat fans when it comes to these kinds of things. At any rate, we STILL would've won that series. You saw who we were last night. In a Game 7 we would've pounded Atlanta. So again, please get out of here with that.

        • Jen

          Who knows what would have happened in a Game 7. It's a hypothetical. The Celtics' offense has been pretty bad for most of the playoffs. The fact is that it was a missed call. Just like the call on Rondo was missed. It sucks, but it happens to everyone. And "most Heat fans" don't think anything. That's just a stereotype. I can only speak for myself. And personally, I think laming the officials when you lose is lame if you don't have a problem with them when you win.

          • Zee

            Was this about what would've happened in game 7, or about your assumption that Celtics fans having no issue with how the Hawks lost? We did have an issue with it, but what could be done? Case closed.

      • Anthony

        Jen, obviously you're entitled to your opinion and you make a somewhat fair argument. However, if I remember correctly, Boston was up 2 before the missed Horford foul. For ATL to win would mean that Horford had to make both FT (which he missed in the ensuing possession) and score in that possession (which was unlikely given that both teams were struggling to score)

        In last night's game, the missed Rondo call led to the Haslem basket. The way Rondo was playing, can you honestly think he would miss both of those would-be FTs? That was essentially a 4 point basket for the Heat.

      • Jen

        And I've already stated that the call should've been made. The fact that I'm a heat fan is irrelevant. We are not all the same. I was hugely impressed by Rondo's performance. All I'm saying is that the refs miss important calls sometimes. It is not a league wide conspiracy. It just sucks.

        • Zee

          But you called out Celtics fans. It's one thing to say that calls are missed, and another to say we didn't care about how the Hawks had an unfortunate call by the refs. Completely different.

    • greenboner

      i envy your cluelessness.

    • janos

      Do not come site this try ruin beautiful articles micheals pina by talk garbage.

    • CG12

      I certainly didn't complain about it, because it benefited the Celtics, but it was clearly wrong, just like the DWade face-whack was.

      • Jen

        Exactly. It benefited the Celtics. I'm not necessarily talk about you in particular, but I think the people who are claiming that this is a part of a conspiracy are silly because they are clearly ignoring the missed calls that have benefited the Celtics. I'm not saying don't be mad. I would be mad too. But people need to understand that the refs are not perfect, and they will mess up sometimes. Blaming the officials any time your team doesn't win is pretty lame in my opinion.

        • Zee

          You're incorrect.

  • http://CelticsHub Matt

    Good read. The 3 biggest calls in the game all go the way of the Heat, shocking. Keep fighting C’s!!

  • High Rollers

    Jen, that’s why no matter how much the players allude to bad calls they rarely put a loss on the refs. Especially this team. The kind of pride and character the have just won’t allow it. But don’t be surprised when fans stick up for their teams and players (like Ray) stick up for each other. Just like Atlanta experienced in the first round, last night Boston needed a few more better executed, smarter possessions to get the job done–and a true fan can’t help but add–the way that game was called.

    • noche

      Well stated sir.

    • Jen

      Very well stated. I completely agree. It was a bad call. No sane person can deny that. But I don't think it was intentionally bad. And any good, proud team should think that they are good enough to withstand a missed call here and there. So yes, Celtics fans should be mad that such a huge call was missed. But to call it a conspiracy is to ignore numerous calls that have benefitted the Celtics in the past.

  • guest

    BOSTON FUCKING SUCKS

    RIVERS SHUT THE FUCK UP

    Leon Powe, a second year bench player, and 9-13 from the line in 15 minutes of play Over the course of the game, Leon Powe shot 13 free throws while the Lakers shot 10.

    • Batman

      I think you should be more angry that you gave up a 24 point lead

    • James Posey rules

      wa wa Lakers are gone and your owner is cheap!

  • James Patrick

    This isn't just about one call. It's about both games and the fact that it's becoming more and more apparent that the NBA has an agenda. This isn't conspiracy theory talk. This is reality. There is too much money riding on these games now, too much invested in the Heat. Stern will scoff at the idea, but there are far too many people taking note of this. I love my Celtics so much, but if they don't even get a fair shake, after a game like that where they did just about everything right… What's the point? I'll just watch ESPN classics and enjoy the glory days before David Stern corrupted the game.

  • Batman

    I will say this now: Dwyane Wade plays with a different rule book than other NBA players
    Thats all there is to it, No other player would draw that idiotic backwards foul on Pierce other than Wade

    • http://twitter.com/M_DeVelaine @M_DeVelaine

      And not get called for clearly hitting someone other than Kobe in the face.

  • CelticsBIG3

    It really is tough to watch. What more can they do to get a win? The thing that is most telling for me is that the league sits SILENTLY to Doc stating "it was the worse technical of my career" and Ray outwardly stating that the refs blew the call on Rondo. Where are the fines Stern? Never does anyone get away with talking about officiating in this league until now? People can say what they want but in my eyes the writing is on the wall. Complete and total BS. I have spent thousands of dollars on Celtics merchandise and tickets and this is how the fans are thanked.

  • craig

    Get your foul facts right. By my math the Celtics averaged 1.6 free throws per foul. The Heat averaged 1.4 free throws per foul. Simply put, the Celtics got more high yield free throws (shooting fouls) then the Heat did. The Celtics are a JUMP SHOOTING team. The fact that they got 29 free throws (almost all shooting fouls) itself is staggering. You didnt get robbed, you choked. You blew a 15 point lead which by the way, wasnt lost cause Miami was shooting free throws but because they played lazy defense. Actually, given the awful free throw shooting of the Heat (and the awful shooting of Paul Pierce), the highest yield defensive thing you did in the second half was foul and the highest yield offensive thing was getting the ball out of Paul’s hands

    • Anthony

      Fact is 3 officials couldn't see Rondo face getting swiped but somehow they needed to stop the game to review Pietrus' clear path foul on Lebron. Why do the ref have vision problem only on the Boston side of the floor? The issue isn't that Miami took a lot of FT but that Boston didn't take an equal amount despite being just as aggressive.

      What stat do you have on the technicals called in Game 1?

    • http://twitter.com/M_DeVelaine @M_DeVelaine

      Another Heat troll who's using stats to try to explain things they don't know a lick about.

  • skeeds

    I'm always skeptical of conspiracy theories. Especially after 2010. That year, if Stern meddled even a little he'd could dictate where Wade and Lebron would go in the offseason. Yet who made it to the Finals? us. Who says fouls called and free throw attempts should be even? that's absurd. We're a jumpshooting team, they have a freak athlete league MVP, and a smaller version freak athlete sidekick.

    Anyway. This was some bad, BAD officiating last night. And as usual, Wade was the main beneficiary of this. You often hear about "stars earning respect" and getting away with calls. Pierce's tricky footwork grants him a free 3-step pass at least once every game. KG rarely gets called on his wide-standing, lowering shoulder or moving screens. And Kobe won't get called for grabbing a guy by the balls, let alone hand checking (that he does maybe 20 times a game).

    But Wade gets the most absurd calls his way. Because he's small, too aggressive, too reckless, and to be fair, he really does get fouled 9/10 times. But I've never seen him contest a shot completely cleanly, and if they dared call all his offensive fouls while driving to the basket, he'd average 5 points a game. (extended off ball hand, driving with an elevated knee, pushing the blocker's hands away, bunny hopping, are all offensive fouls for small guys too, not just centers).

    I expect some loose officiating in game 3, which suits our style. The refs know the first 2 games where bad. And they'll try to even things out.

  • Tristan

    If I'm the Heat I'm worried about what Rondo brings in Game 3, it could be better than game 2!!!

  • Tos

    Jen, Re-read Mr Puna’s article. The No Call for Wade is the one that sticks out but it’s the rest if the math that doesn’t quite add up. Tge foul discrepancy is undeniably in Miami’s favor… You are kidding every single person ( including heat fans) if you don’t see that.

    Conspiracy? I don’t know, but favoritism hell yes.

    And some are calling for a make-up ge or two in Boston, and I don’t want that. Frankly, I just want to watch a game in which at no point do I even notice the refs, that’s what basketball is about – THE PLAYERS. I want to watch great players play a great game, not a game marred by questionable calls and controversial referee bullsh*t.

    I don’t think I’m asking for too much.

    • Zee

      Tos, it's not even worth trying to reason with her. She's missing the point.

  • Chris Nordenlöw

    Is it only me that dislike D-Wade more and more for each playoff game between MIA-BOS? Actually I liked him a couple of years ago.

    • http://twitter.com/M_DeVelaine @M_DeVelaine

      I had a lot of respect for the man until he intentionally pulled Rondo down in Game 3 last year… Since then, he's played more and more like a punk instead of the consummate gentleman he used to be on the court. I blame LeBron.

  • http://twitter.com/M_DeVelaine @M_DeVelaine

    Y'know, I wonder if I'm the only one who seems to think the foul on Dooling at half court while he was standing next to and eventually floored by LeBron was also a missed call? To me it clearly looked like Keyon had a legal defensive position, and that LeBron levelled him while turning toward him instead of the other way. That was still in regulation, and I don't remember if Miami scored on that possession, but with the way Rondo was shooting that night… It may well have been more points for Boston and prevented OT in the first place…

  • Tom

    Enough with complaining about the refs, the celtics lost, plain and simple yet i think they will bounce back and win game 3! i wrote all about the celts on my site with a link to a site that tells u how to bet it here http://nbawagers.com/2012/05/if-there-was-any-dou

  • Gurpreet

    stop complaining celtics fans, the only way the old celtics can guard wade and lebron is by fouling and if you dont believe that, your in denial. Paul pierce is a relic. You think he can stay with a prime lebron james? Hes not even close to the best player of his generation and dont even bring up ray allen with his broken ankles trying to guard wade.

    • A-Thek

      Lebron and Wade know that they are going to get fouls called for them when they take ridiculous and stupid drives to the hoop. They initiate ALL of the contact, which should never merit a foul call. LEbron also is called for fouls the LEAST even though his defense is incredibly physical (1.97 fouls per game this season which is RIDICULOUS). The cool thing about Michael Jordan was that he actually scored after getting SMASHED, and he didn't create contact like an out of control bull that Lebron is. So Lebron's cute stats that are clearly blown up because of free throws aren't all that impressive once you factor out those fouls that he creates. The league just needs to learn to stop calling fouls for him, especially when he's just shoulder-charging into the lane.

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