Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big storyline. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
But, in front of a leather-lunged crowd that spent much of that Sunday afternoon on its feet, the Celtics, without Rajon Rondo, fought to an emotional double-overtime win.
Including that game, the Celtics have won 16 of their last 22, reversing a season that before the Miami game seemed headed nowhere, as Boston’s record then sat three games below .500.
That win also began an 11-game home winning streak, the Celtics’ longest such streak since they won 13 straight home games during the 2008-09 season.
But Miami soon began its own streak. After splitting their next two games, the Heat kicked off what has stretched into a 22-game winning streak, tying them for the second-longest streak in NBA history with the 2007-08 Houston Rockets. (The longest is 33 games in a row by the ’71-72 Lakers.)
“I just think, right now, this is a place that we don’t feel like we should ever lose,” Celtics captain Paul Pierce said. “Just that feeling that, like in the old days, like the first couple years together [for Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen], we just felt like this is a building we should never lose in. When teams come into the Garden, they have to know that this is going to be their toughest game of the year. And that’s the feeling and the swagger that we’re bringing each and every day here at the Garden.”
The Heat know that all too well, having lost 10 straight regular-season games in Boston. The last Miami win in Boston predates the Big Three era (April 6, 2007). According to Elias Sports Bureau, that’s Miami’s longest current road losing streak (and it’s not even close, with six straight losses to the Hornets second on the list).
[…] This season Boston’s defensive rating is nearly 10 points better at home (94.5) than on the road (104.3). Opponents shoot nearly 2 percent worse in Boston (42.6 percent) compared to the road (44.9) and average 7 ½ fewer points per game in Boston (89.6, as opposed to 97 on the road).
Over the 11-game streak at the Garden, Boston’s opponents are averaging a mere 86.8 points per game while shooting 41.4 percent from the floor and 27.5 percent beyond the 3-point arc. The Celtics’ defensive rating during the stretch is a minuscule 91.1 (with a net differential of 11.8 when paired with their robust offensive rating of 102.9).
That’s a lot of streaking.
The Celtics have 11 straight home wins. The Heat have 22 straight overall wins. And the Heat also have a 10-game regular season losing streak in Boston. So… something’s got to give.
To me, it hinges on Kevin Garnett. If he plays, the Celtics get the win. If he doesn’t… man… that’s going to be tough. And Paul Pierce is approaching this like KG won’t play.
“Right now, we don’t expect him to be back. Right now, that’s the mindset we have to take. If he’s back, that’s just an added bonus for us to play Miami. So, right now, as of today, we have to get in our minds that this is the team that will [play] against Miami and we have to get ready to play.”
For what it’s worth, Sean Grande said on Celtics Stuff Live last night that he thinks KG is better than the 50/50 the team is making him out to be.
It’s one thing to beat Phoenix and Charlotte without Garnett. It’s another entirely to face the Heat, who are playing at a ridiculously high level right now. But It’s tough for me to count this team out of any game because that’s been done a few times this season and all the team has done is creep closer and closer to the top of the standings.
How can they beat the Heat? Let’s start with Jeff Green vs. LeBron James. The last time they played, in a double-ot win, we were all raving about the defensive job Green did on LeBron. Sure, LeBron finished with some monster numbers, but Green did about as good a job as you possibly could to make LeBron work for those numbers and not slip into takeover mode. The season numbers reflect the job Green does on LeBron (via NBA.com)
You’re never going to stop LeBron, but Green has done a decent job making life a little harder. And Green is up for another challenge tonight.
“It’s always a challenge,” Green said at Sunday’s practice. “He’s one of the best players. It’s always a challenge guarding him and I take on the challenge of guarding him. I enjoy it.”
But Green knows he won’t be able to stop James all by himself. He can be the first line of defense and work to cut off James’ lanes to the basket, but he’ll need his teammates working and communicating behind him to help bolster the attack. Communication on defense could be thrown into even greater focus on Monday if Kevin Garnett — Boston’s best talker on defense — is still out with a strained left adductor. Doc Rivers said at Sunday’s practice that KG is “50/50 at best” for Monday night’s game.
“I can’t do it alone,” Green said. “He’s going to get past me sometimes, but that’s why you count on your teammates to be there.”
This is where the loss of KG will hurt maybe more than anything. If Garnett can’t go, you’ll lose a guy who can anticipate plays as well as anyone in the league. You’ll then need to turn to unproven entities like DJ White and Shavlik Randolph to clog the lane on LeBron drives. That doesn’t give me a warm, fuzzy feeling.
The pressure tonight is also on Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee to make live hell on the Miami backcourt. Doc may choose to have Bradley start on Mario Chalmers and try to force Chalmers into some turnovers and easy Celtics points, which puts the taller Lee on Dwyane Wade.
As much as I’ve focused on Green in this post, the true key to the game, especially without KG, lies with the Pit Bulls. Bradley is going to need to get up on Chalmers and play him as tight as he’s played anyone. Lee is going to have to make it tough for Wade to even catch the ball, and when he does, not get it where he wants it.
LeBron might just end up bringing the ball up, which is fine. The C’s will just have to deal with that. And honestly, as long as the C’s aren’t turning the ball over, LeBron walking the ball up to set the half court offense isn’t the worst thing in the world.
It will be an interesting chess match. If the C’s can take care of the ball and win the turnover battle, then they might be able to make this game ugly enough to win and end yet another 22 game winning streak.
The rest of the links:
ESPN Boston: Terry Diary on Heat, KG, plane rides