The Celtics won the 2007/2008 NBA Championship as the team with the best record and home court advantage throughout the playoffs. In the first two rounds, they looked like a team playing on cruise control. They sauntered through the playoffs with the presumption of the divine right of kings. The Celtics took four of of seven against the Atlanta and Cleveland by winning every game at home and losing every game on the road. It was frustrating to watch the 2008 Celts struggle against inferior teams after they had amassed 66 wins in the regular season. But then they "flipped the switch" against Detroit and L.A. showing they were the best in the NBA because they were the best defensive team.
The last two years saw the Celtics playing much of the season with injuries to the "big three" and a depleted bench. Finally, the whole team is healthy and the bench is deeper than it has been since June 2008. The team still showed gross inconsistency in the home stretch of the "preseason" -- as we are now once again accustomed to think of the prelude to NBA playoffs in Boston. The team has been insisting that they were running on cruise control, protecting the health of their starters for the playoff run. During that time, it has been frustrating to watch them blow big leads in the fourth quarter running out of steam after showing flashes of brilliance and dominance early in games.
Can they flip the switch again? Can a team with tired old legs turn on the defensive prowess they showed in 2007/2008 and make a run all the way to the finals? The regular season showed that Boston is capable on any day of being the better team against any opponent either at home or on the road. But can they do it for 16 wins in the playoffs?
If game one against the Heat was any indication, then we see in the fiery indignation of Kevin Garnett something like the transformation of Prince Hal into King Henry V:
O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars and at his heels,
Leash'd in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. - Henry V. Act 1. Scene 1.
Here's the key. The Celtics need to finish off the Heat in four or five games and enable their starters to rest for a few days. Then as the fourth seed, they will find themselves squared off against the best team in the NBA, the Cleveland Cavaliers, in the second round. It's simple matter of getting past the second round. Then they have an even shot at an 18th banner. (The Celtics don't hang anything but World Championship banners in the Garden.)
Kevin Garnett is out tonight with a suspension. If the Celtics can win game two at home, having a rested Garnett for the next two games in Miami will be a plus. This is it. With the Bruins not likely to go too far in their playoff run, it's the best chance for another world championship in Boston.
At least until October, that is.