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Kevin Garnett still makes noise at 36, but after slipping past Sixers the aging Celtics face much stiffer test in Heat. Getty
MIAMI â" It took the Celtics the full seven games to send the eighth-seeded Sixers home for the summer, a bad sign for Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers and everybody who thinks the Big Three have one last championship run in them. It should have taken them no more than five games, but they had to play the two extra games, which is usually death for an older team on its last championship legs. And now, with Ray Allen hobbling around on gimpy ankles and Paul Pierce still showing the effects of a sprained knee, they get the Miami Heat off one day of rest.
Did someone say mismatch?
If not for the fact that Miami wonât have Chris Bosh for perhaps the entire Eastern Conference finals, starting here Monday night, this might be over as quickly as last yearâs Celtics-Heat playoff showdown that went all of five games.
âIt felt like a nine-game series,â Miamiâs Dwyane Wade said Sunday after practice. âBut this is what basketball fans want. It should be the finals. After Chicago went out, you thought it would be us and Boston in the East.â
Everyone would like this series a lot more if the Celtics werenât showing so much age and if Bosh were healthy enough to take on Kevin Garnett, who seems oblivious to the fact that he turned 36 a few weeks back.
If all that was happening, then perhaps everyone wouldnât already be thinking that the winner of the Western Conference will waltz in the Finals.
The Celtics have the mercurial Rajon Rondo, hero of their Game 7 win over Doug Collinsâ Sixers Saturday night, but theyâre coming in on fumes. Wade and LeBron James are well-rested after sending the S-O-F-T Pacers home with the best three-game stretch theyâve had since James decided to take his talents to South Beach.
But the Heat is not looking ahead to a Finals matchup with the Spurs or Thunder quite yet. Miami has too much respect for Rondo and Bostonâs Big Three, who might not even have gotten this far if Atlanta had Al Horford the whole way in their first-round series.
âNo one can figure out how to defend Rondo,â said James, who figures to be guarding the Celticsâ playmaker down the stretch of these games. âHeâs a unique player.â
The fact that Miami needed seven games to dispose of a Sixers team bereft of anyone resembling a star told you a lot about the current state of the Celtics, although the spin coming out of the Heatâs practice was focused on how well the Sixers had played.
The Celtics found that they were in the fight of their playoff lives in the second round. Past champs or not, theyâve got more age rings than a sequoia. At this time of the season, when older teams have to play extra games, it usually catches up when they find themselves against a better opponent. As the Celtics do now.
They took a beating from the Heat in the playoffs last spring, after Rondo suffered a dislocated elbow in Game 3. The Celtics won three games off Miami in the regular season, after Rivers moved Garnett to center and turned his teamâs fortunes around.
But that seems like ages ago now. This is a different Miami team. Not as good without Bosh. Not a championship team without its best big man. But the Heat has the two players performing at the highest level still playing in the playoffs.
âMissing Chris, heâs a big part of what we did last year when we beat them in five,â Wade said. âSo weâve got to figure out a way to make up for his absence.â
You figure they can. You figure this is it for Bostonâs Big Three.