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June 1, 2008

Celtics finally — and luckily — found themselves

Bill Burt

To steal the theme from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who said she found her "voice" in New Hampshire, the Boston Celtics found their "voice" in the Eastern Conference championship.

After belly-flopping their way through series against the Atlanta Hawks — remember that motley crew? — and then LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, probably surviving both because of their regular season record and Game 7s in Boston, the Celtics became a champion over the last few days.

Whether they win the world championship remains to be seen, but at least now we know that the Los Angeles Lakers are going to have to earn every Kobe Bryant possession over the next two weeks.

Before wondering what took so long for games like the one played Friday night in Detroit, wonder no more.

The regular season and the playoffs are different animals. Maybe even different species.

The games in late April, May and June are different. The pace is slower. The fouls are harder. The bench is shorter (fewer players are used). And the fans are louder.

When you add in the fact that these Celtics, the oldest team in the Eastern Conference with an average age of 28.8 years, led the league in new additions from the season before, you have a little more understanding.

Every newly assembled team in every league suffers some sort of growing pain, except, we figured, the 2007-08 Boston Celtics.

They jumped out of the box with eight straight wins in November. By the time they had lost their fourth, on Jan. 9, they had already won 29. By April they were drawing comparisons to teams led by Bill Russell and Larry Bird.

All of the accolades were deserved. They swept the state of Texas twice (6-0). They dominated the "better" Western Conference (25-5). And they took care of their home court (35-6).

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