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Bob Ryan

Feel great about the Celtics despite the loss

Miami's Dwyane Wade and the Celtics’ Paul Pierce scrambled for a loose ball in the second game of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals Wednesday.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Miami's Dwyane Wade and the Celtics’ Paul Pierce scrambled for a loose ball in the second game of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals Wednesday.

I woke up Thursday and I felt good.

Disappointed? Sure. I had watched that epic Game 2 as a fan, just as you did. There was none of that phony-baloney I’m-a-writer-and-I-just-root for-the-story pomposity. I wanted the Celtics to win, and not solely because it would have made the Eastern Conference finals a real series. Who doesn’t know that 1-1 coming back home is a whole lot better than being 0-2?

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The point is, I felt great about the team and great about the sport. Game 2 was why we’re sports fans, wasn’t it? There was exhilaration. There was agony. There was frustration. There was competition. There was classic ebb and flow.

This being NBA basketball, there was a typical loser’s lament on the subject of officiating (opponents needing about 10 more years to get the historical scales balanced against the Celtics). And, oh my God, was there ever brilliance.

Rajon Rondo now has the award for Best Celtics Performance in a Losing Effort, and I mean, ever. If I have to amend that to Best Post-Cousy Era Performance in a Losing Effort, well, that’s fine. Then we’re only talking 49 years and not 62. I can live with that.

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But nothing like this has ever happened on my watch. I saw Larry Bird get 50 in a losing effort one night in Dallas (I can still see Danny Ainge backing behind the arc right in front of me and giving Brad Davis a killer three), but the stakes were far different.

I really can’t recall anyone playing as well as Rondo did in either a playoff game or a game against a prime rival such as New York, Philadelphia, or Los Angeles and not being rewarded with the victory.

And all those jumpers - where did they come from? Practice, of course. But Mr. Rondo has never had a game like this. He must have been feeling something, because on his very first opportunity, he pulled up and hit a jumper as if this is what he’s been doing all his life. A typical Rondo jumper has been something reluctantly taken with the shot clock running down.

It was like a prime-of-life Ozzie Smith having a three-homer game.

So what does it mean in the Big Picture? Is this the way it’s going to be? If it is, then move over, Chris Paul. Hello, Derrick Rose. How ya doin’, Tony Parker? Step aside, Deron Williams. We have a new candidate for the league’s best point guard. But I think we all need to see a little more before we reach that conclusion.

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel 10 times better about the entire situation than I did before Game 2. By that, I do not mean that I think, or ever did think, the Celtics were going to win the series. What I’m saying is that Game 1 was troubling, because the Celtics were competitive in only one of the four quarters. They did not put up a fair fight, and if that’s the way it was going to be, it was going to get ugly.

In Game 2, however, they did themselves proud. And, please, don’t succumb to the ignorant notion that they “blew’’ a 15-point lead. You know what a 15-point second-quarter lead is in this league? A nice start.

Doc Rivers is fond of saying the NBA is a “make-miss’’ league, and he’s right about that. It is also an ebb-and-flow/momentum shift league, as anyone knows who watched a postseason in which the same Clippers team won a game after being down 27 (and 24 with eight minutes left) and lost a game in which it was up by 24. Stuff like that routinely happens in this league.

You know what the Celtics did by getting ahead by 15 on Miami’s floor? They forced Miami’s great players to be great; that’s what. LeBron James continues to play at a transcendent level known only by a hallowed few people we casually identify by first name only: Oscar, Elgin, Jerry, Wilt, Kareem, Larry, Magic, Kobe etc., the only exception being a certain No. 6 whom we fondly remember as “Russ.’’

But the guy who decided he had enough when his team fell down by 15 was Dwyane Wade. That final drive was one for the ages.

The Celtics had their say. The Heat had their say. The Celtics had another say. The Heat had the final say. Was Rondo fouled going to the basket? Yes. Jeff Van Gundy must have said it 25 times. Was that a foul on Rondo when he and LeBron went for that loose ball? No, that was a no-call.

I caution you, however, that if we review every play on which Paul Pierce has willed himself to the hoop in the last 10 years, a few Celtics victories would have to be reversed. The Celtics had their chances; deal with it.

So now the Celtics are home Friday, and either they win or the season effectively is over. Don’t worry about them being “devastated’’ mentally by what happened Wednesday. It was a lost opportunity, no more, no less.

Of far more relevance is their physical state. Rondo, who played all 53 minutes of Game 2, is young and strong. He’ll be fine. But Kevin Garnett (45), Pierce (43), and Ray Allen (43) are not geared to play that type of heavy minutes in a quick-turnaround circumstance. Some auxiliary player must earn his paycheck Friday night.

I think we can assume the Celtics will continue to compete, and if they lay it on the line as they did Wednesday, I can live comfortably with any outcome, even a sweep. They acted like Celtics the other night. There’s no higher compliment than that.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.
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