Tuesday, April 10, 2012
After Winning In Miami, The Celtics Are Absolutely A Contender In The Eastern Conference
What made tonight even better was that the Celts (33-24, 13-15 away) went down to American Airlines Arena-where the Heat (40-16) were 24-3-and topped them 115-107.
It's one thing to blow out a team on your home court (91-72 on April Fool's Day at TD Garden), a common occurrence in the NBA, but it's another to pick up your biggest win of the season on the road against a true NBA Finals contender and a team that lost in the Finals last season. Boston has won eight of its last 10 games and sports a 4-2 mark after an insanely difficult stretch of games.
For whatever reason, these teams appear to be going in opposite directions with the playoffs just a few weeks away. Boston is 18-7 since the All-Star break while Miami is 13-9 in that same time period. I can't explain why (maybe cause it's truly their last title push?) but Kevin Garnett (24 points, 9 rebounds) and Paul Pierce (27 points, 7 rebounds) have been particularly sharp during that run.
It also helps that Rajon Rondo (18 points, 15 assists) is racking up the assists. He reached double-figures in assists for the 18th straight game. Hell, he's even taking and making numerous jump shots now. Brandon Bass had the other double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds while Avery Bradley scored 11.
Only three guys played off the Celtics bench but they still combined to outscore Miami's five substitutes 23-16. Ray Allen had nine points, Greg Stiemsma put up eight points and seven rebounds while Sasha Pavlovic added six points.
LeBron James (36 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists) was a beast for the Heat but Dwyane Wade (20 points) wasn't himself and Chris Bosh (13 points, 9 rebounds) continues to disappear against KG and/or in a meaningful contest. Mario Chalmers scored 18 points for Miami, who led by six early in the first quarter but were forced to play from behind the rest of the way.
The numbers in the box score tell the whole story: Boston shot 60.6% from the floor, 64.3% (9 of 14) on 3-pointers and 80% (20/25) from the free throw line. You'll never lose with a complete shooting performance like that. We all know that the Celtics can hit shots but they also pulled down six more rebounds than the Heat (40-34) and dished out four more assists (23-19).
Really the whole key to the game was that the C's got off to a hot start, leading 33-22 after the first quarter. However, unlike earlier in the season, they didn't let it get away. Sure, the Heat made the NBA-sanctioned comeback but every time it looked like Miami would take control, the Celts would hit a big shot or make a play. It was uncanny.
Boston was up by as much as 18 points in the second quarter before Miami cut it to 65-57 at halftime thanks to a LeBron 3-pointer at the buzzer. Still, it was the most points the Heat had given up in a first half all season. The two teams mirrored each other with 24 points in third quarter and 26 in the fourth quarter.
Miami will get one more chance to prove that Boston isn't in their heads (Celts lead the season series 2-1) as they face the Celtics in the penultimate regular season game on April 24 at the Garden. Until then, I will say that the Celts should have nothing to fear if they meet the Heat in the playoffs; they look like a better all-around team at the moment.
There's no time to celebrate this victory though as the C's are back at the Garden tomorrow night to face the Atlanta Hawks. Boston won 79-76 on March 19 in an ugly but satisfying win in Atlanta.