It had been a long time since the Celtics had won a playoff series in fewer than six games. The year was 2002 — Kevin Garnett was still in Minnesota, Ray Allen was in Milwaukee, and Rajon Rondo was a wee sophomore in high school, back in northern Kentucky.
Doc Rivers was down in Orlando, just starting out his career as an NBA head coach. It wasn't until Tuesday night, eight years later, that he got his first taste of a swift playoff victory. He probably wishes he could get used to it.
"I don't know what this feels like," Rivers said Tuesday night after the Celtics won Game 5, 96-86, over the Miami Heat at the TD Garden. "I'm not used to this. I just know it's nice to get a day off tomorrow, because we need one. And it is nice to take care of business. That was great."
There was a collective sigh of relief among the Celtics, players and coaches alike, as they came out strong on Tuesday night and finished off the Heat in five games. For one brief moment, they could feel all the doubts about their season subside, as the team reflected on a strong first-round series. Short and sweet — for a change.
"The last two years, we've gone to Game 7 in the first round, and it can wear on you," Allen said. "This first round, we were tested defensively. Offensively, I thought we were solid and consistent for the most part. Throughout the series, of course we hit adversity, but I'm glad that we did take care of business in five.
"We would have loved to [win] in four, down in their building, but just to have the resiliency bouncing back tonight from the Game 4 loss down there was good. It will only be a struggle from here on."
Now, the Celtics can look ahead to the future. They've got a date with destiny this weekend, in the form of a second-round matchup with the mighty Cleveland Cavaliers. And while there may never be a good time to face a team that led the NBA with 61 wins and is headlined by the best player in the universe, LeBron James, the Celtics are as prepared now as ever.
"Listen," Rivers said. "If you want to win it, you've got to play them all at some point. So you know, why not now? We're there. We'll be waiting. We'll be ready. And I'm sure they will be."
The Celtics have renewed confidence coming off of their round one victory, and they really couldn't be in better shape going into Cleveland on Saturday night. They're healthy; they're confident. And just as you'd expect with a well-coached veteran team come playoff time, they've come together to work toward a common goal.
"If you want something to work, you have to grab everybody, get everybody on the same page and then work toward that goal," Garnett said. "I thought that's exactly what we have been doing since the beginning of the season. We have always talked about getting better, and I can honestly sit here and say that I think we have been doing just that."
From here, the goal is not to get complacent. A five-game win in round one is nice, and the Celtics have a lot to be proud of. But they can't let up now — not with three rounds to go, and not with King James lurking in the next one.
"Obviously, things don't stop here," Garnett said. "We have to continue to push a little more going into the second round, because it's not going to be easy."
At this point in the postseason, it never is. All's well for the Celtics so far, but what they do next is of far greater importance.
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