Those who root for the compelling story cannot lose.
If the Celtics win Thursday or on Saturday in Miami, they will have shrugged off the weight of time to extinguish the Heat with a combination of determination, composure, and coaching guile.
If Miami, losers of three straight, can manage to win Games 6 and 7, we will have seen them turn the corner toward perhaps fulfilling the promise LeBron James celebrated – excessively, some might say – when he left Cleveland for South Beach.
Like the best series that stretch teams to six or seven games, this one resists prediction. Who would be surprised to see the Celtics – specifically Ray Allen and Paul Pierce – regain the shooting touch absent for long stretches in Game 5? If they did that and could hold their own on the boards – they were outrebounded, 49-39 Tuesday night – who would be surprised to see them grab an early lead big enough to discourage the Heat, a team that, for all the assembled talent, has demonstrated that they can be discouraged?But how many times have LeBron James and Dwyane Wade taken over games by sheer might? They combined for 57 points on Tuesday night. What if they’d combined for just a couple more? Who’d be silly enough to suppose that they couldn’t do that, even in Boston? Even on Thursday?
Whatever story line this series describes from now until its conclusion, when it’s over, lots of the analysis will begin with confident assertions that it couldn’t have ended otherwise. The great and sustaining thing about today is that nobody knows what will happen. The series could end in any number of ways, some of them perhaps unimaginable.
A reminder of that truth to be cherished was evident late in Tuesday night’s game, when, at least according to delightfully candid ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy, Mickael Pietrus of the Celtics dove to the floor for no reason other than his proximity to Mario Chalmers of the Heat. Van Gundy called the flop the way he saw it and announced that for tricking the referee into calling a phantom foul, Pietrus should be fined a million dollars.
Heat fans were no doubt outraged by the play. Celtics fans were certainly delighted. Those among them of a certain age could probably hear scratching screaming of the ghost of Johnny Most demanding Van Gundy’s apology, if not his hide.
Maybe we’ll get a similarly bizarre moment Thursday night. It’s one of the reasons we watch.