Somerville, I owe you an apology. I’ve covered enough games at gorgeous Dilboy Stadium to know you boast a strong sports culture, but in nearly five months of 52 Games columns, I haven’t once gotten to an event – live or televised – within your city limits. How dare I call myself an explorer of Boston sports culture and not once venture into a city whose high school helped me become the sports writer I am today?
For Wednesday’s Game 6 of the Celtics-76ers series, I had to find a place in Somerville. When I discovered a bar there named “Olde Magoun’s Saloon,” I knew I’d hit paydirt.
I walk into Olde Magoun’s Saloon on Medford Street near Broadway, and it’s packed. Many have probably come for the special “Bacon Palooza” menu, but I see enough green shirts and hats to give me hope. The Celtics, after all, have a chance to knock off the 76ers and win the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Before the game starts, Turkish-basketball enthusiast Allen Iverson gets introduced. The Wells Fargo Center greets him with rapturous applause, which pisses me off. I get that 76ers fans have had like no one worth rooting for on their team since Iverson’s departure, but c’mon: Iverson? One of the most self-centered, underachieving basketball players in the last 30 years? This guy?
For my money, Allen Iverson is the second-worst thing ever nicknamed “A.I.” And that’s only because of the stupid robot-alien-things at the end of “A.I. Artificial Intelligence.”
Through the first half of the game, it appears as if both teams are saving something for the second half. Both teams can mount big comebacks, and neither team wants to show any over-confidence in the first 24 minutes.
The 76ers head to halftime up 33-31. The Oklahoma City Thunder, in their second game of the playoffs, scored 32 points in the first quarter. Just saying.
A small push is all that’s necessary to win this game, but the Celtics never make one. Their offense stops penetrating (giggity), their defense can’t stop Jrue Holiday and the 76ers from penetrating (less giggity), and the game becomes a frustrating assortment of misses, turnovers and easy Philly buckets.
“They looked like they were playing at 85 percent,” a bartender remarks. The rest of the Olde Magoun crowd groans, curses and shouts as the Celtics fall apart in the second half. If the bartender’s right, the Celtics play about 50 percent better than they shoot (33.3 percent accuracy).
I realize in the third quarter that the Celtics aren’t saving anything. They have nothing left to save.
This game is the price the Celtics pay for how they’ve approached the playoffs. All those 40-minute games from Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, all those feisty defensive schemes and tough rebounds, all that incompetence from the bench and lack of depth among the bigs – it all coalesces into this total crapout of a game. The crowd loses interest, but I really can’t blame them: the Celtics don’t even seem that interested.
Even Rajon Rondo, who should have plenty of gas left in that lanky body of him, looks out of sorts. Layups the Somerville Highlanders could covert with ease roll off the rim for Rondo, and those misses really sting in a game where leads rarely reach double-digits.
“Can’t do that in the playoffs,” says Josh Kawka, Olde Magoun’s Saloon’s Twitter admin. “You can’t miss those soft layups.”
The Celtics lose, 82-75.
The loss proves somewhat unimportant to the series itself, as the Celtics handle business at the Garden Saturday night, beat the 76ers in Game 7 and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics lose a few days of rest, but not much else.
The Celtics’ Game 6 loss might not matter to THIS series, but it kills any lingering hopes Celtics fans have of getting another championship out of this Big 3.
The incoming Miami Heat are even stronger, even faster and even tougher than the 76ers, and the 76ers tore through this exhausted Celtics defense like tissue paper. What will LeBron James do to Pierce and Garnett? After all, he’s already done this, and that was on a shittier team against a younger Celtics squad:
I leave the bar thinking a better game would’ve produced a better crowd. Lots of people came with lots of energy, but the team never ramped up their play enough to merit a loud reaction. Instead, the Olde Magoun’s Saloon crowd witnessed the death knell of Banner 18, at least for this season. How could they react with anything but exasperation and frustration?
Whether an appropriate reaction or not, I really hope Celtics fans don’t bring this negativity to Game 3 of Celtics-Heat. The Heat are going to win. It’s going to happen, and nothing short of an injury to Dwyane Wade or magic spell from former Celtic Kazaam can save the Celtics.
But the Celtics deserve nothing but admiration for how they’ve played this postseason. The NBA and NBPA’s “mine’s bigger” contest wrecked this season, and with it these creaky Celtics’ chances of one last title.
A championship became impossible, but they still refused to curl up and die. Instead, the Celtics have defended their home court, come right at their younger, stronger opponents, and played with the grit and determination Boston sports fans love.
“This run defies the traditional concepts of aging in basketball,” says McMahon.
All that heart might produce a few more stinkers like Game 6, but so what? The Celtics will go down swinging, and that makes this last swansong postseason run inspiring, no matter how it turns out.
52 Games explores the ins and out of the greatest sports city in the world: here! Last week, Matt Goisman spent a day at Patriot Place, watching soccer both on TV at CBS Scene and in live from the Gillette Stadium seats. This week, he caught Game 6 of the Celtics-76ers playoff series at a sports bar in Somerville. Keep up with him here.