Five takeaways: C's cool off Heat, look out for No. 1
Five takeaways: By cooling off Heat, Celtics look out for No. 1
BOSTON – Beating the Miami Heat 112-108 wasn’t the kind of decisive victory many would have wanted the Celtics to have against a potential first-round playoff opponent.
But remember, Miami has been among the hottest teams in the NBA for the past month or so and the Celtics had already beaten them each of their three previous meetings.
So in terms of incentive, easily there was more at stake for the Heat than there was Boston.
And that’s what made this such an impressive win for the Celtics.
They were facing a team that was much more desperate for a win, yet the Celtics still managed to emerge with a victory.
And unless Cleveland knocks off San Antonio on the road tonight, the Celtics will go into their next game on Wednesday against Milwaukee with the best record in the East.
The Celtics (48-26) are doing their best to downplay the significance of having the best record in the East with a couple weeks’ worth of games still left on the docket.
But it is a pretty big deal when you consider it was just three years ago at this time the Celtics were hoping to land the No. 1 overall pick because of their poor record. And here they are in a virtual tie for the best record in the East AND they have a shot at winding up with the top overall pick again.
These are good times for the Celtics and the potential for them to be even better is very much in their sights.
Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s game:
THE BOUNCE (BACK) IS REAL
They came in having won three in a row, but the 130-120 win over Phoenix was very much a hollow victory. The Celtics had a few more stretches of not-so-great play than normal against the Suns and the defense didn’t play with any kind of force for any extended period of time. That was not the case against the Heat. Boston ratcheted up its defensive intensity in the second half which proved to be crucial to them getting the win. It was the kind of performance you would expect from a team that’s playoff-bound to deliver against a team that’s missing key players while fighting just to get into the postseason.
ULTIMATE GLUE GUY: MARCUS SMART
The shooting numbers have not looked good of late for Marcus Smart which is saying quite a bit considering Smart’s shooting numbers haven’t been great during his time in Boston. But to his credit, what he lacks in shooting the ball well, he more than makes up for with his effort and unflinching desire to win. He came up with a huge rebound late in the game against Miami, a key to Boston escaping with the win. And while there were others who may have had a better game statistically, Smart continues to make the plays in the closing seconds of tight games that ultimately contribute to the team’s success.
Sometimes Terry Rozier will play, other nights he won’t. The same holds true for Gerald Green and Tyler Zeller, which is actually a positive for the Celtics. It speaks to how Stevens can cater his rotation to whatever opponent Boston faces, and do it with the confidence of knowing that guys who have not played much or in limited capacity, will be ready to contribute in a big way when called upon.
OLYNYK MORE THAN A STRETCH BIG
Kelly Olynyk’s greatest strength isn’t that he can shoot 3’s. It’s the threat that him being on the floor creates for opposing defenses. But as we have seen of late, there’s nore to his game than just knocking down 3’s. He’s putting the ball on the floor more now and taking mid-range jumpers. He continues to be in the right place at the right time defensively. But the big change in him has come on the boards where he’s no longer visitor in the paint watching others grab rebounds. He’s getting a few – quite a few – for himself. He’s averaging a career-high 4.8 rebounds per game this season. But in Boston’s past four games, all wins, he is averaging 10.5 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 63 percent from the field and 57.1 percent on 3’s.
TUNING OUT THE WHITE NOISE
The Celtics are going to hear all about how awesome they are for getting the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference. The key for them is to not believe a single word of it. Because this team is at its best when it feels disrespected and overlooked. It’s hard to do that when you’re record is better than just about every team in the East. They’ve done a pretty good job of not allowing the expectations of others get in the way of their in-the-moment goal of winning the next game on the schedule. But the higher you rise, the greater the expectations. And while they have done a good job of keeping their focus on the goals within the locker room among themselves, that challenge becomes a lot harder between now and the end of the regular season as they try to land the top seed in the East for the first time since 2008 which was when they brought home Banner 17.