Celtics

Showdown with Heat is more than just a game

191544.jpg

Showdown with Heat is more than just a game

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

BOSTON NBA players and coaches will tell you all the time, games this time of year have little bearing on what you can expect in the playoffs.

But if you massage that theory enough, you'll see it loosen up to the point where you see that there are indeed exceptions.

Sunday's game between Boston and Miami?

That would be one of those exceptions.

At the end of the season, the win-loss tally will tell you it was just one game.

That's a lie, people!

Sunday's game is so much more than just another one of 82 on the schedule.

When these two teams met to open the season and Boston came away with the win, no one made too big a deal about.

Why?

Because the Celtics had already gone throughout the morphing from a Big Three triumvirate, to a Fantastic Foursome that now included Rajon Rondo.

Meanwhile, the Heat's Big Three of Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were too busy trying to not step on each other's toes and in the process, tripped and stumbled their way out to start the season.

When the two met for a second matchup, Miami was better - but not good enough as the Celtics once again came away victorious.

Now that Round Three between the two teams is here, the Celtics are in position to unleash the kind of mental warfare that frankly, I don't believe the Heat can come back from.

Beating the Heat once?

OK, it happens.

Beating them twice?

Still, not that big a deal.

Beating them a third time, with three of their top four centers out and a couple of banged up bodies in the backcourt?

It would easily qualify as the most impressive win of the season for a Celtics team that has already knocked off San Antonio, beat the Los Angeles Lakers in their own building, and won two out of three over the Orlando Magic.

But let's be clear.

Even if the Celtics were at full strength, Sunday afternoon's game would still be a tough one.

Miami comes in riding an eight-game winning streak.

And their win at Detroit on Friday coupled with Boston's home loss to the Lakers on Thursday, gave the Heat a half-game lead in the race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

But as much as these two teams are speeding ahead for the No. 1 seed in the East, they're battling for something that might be even more valuable.

NBA games are just as much about what happens in between the ears, as it is what happens between the lines.

Miami has not been phased by the two losses to Boston this season because in both instances, there were circumstances by which the games could have been easily dismissed.

But there is no way the Heat could explain away a Celtics victory on Sunday.

Miami's coming in with the better record.

They have a nice eight-game winning streak while the C's have lost three of the last four.

It makes for a matchup that on paper at least, heavily favors the Heat.

But this game isn't being played on paper.

It's being played on the parquet.

And the Celtics have proven repeatedly that in the games in which they are giving the steepest odds of being successful, they are money.

That's why as lopsided as Sunday's game appears to be, the C's are exactly where they need to be.

Now that Ray Allen and the 3-point record are done with, he'll continue to be his usually efficient self.

Paul Pierce will get his share of big buckets from the perimeter.

Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, all of those guys seem to be at their best in big games like this - even if they tell you it's just another one of 82.

That's a lie, people!

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Blakely's takeaways: Stevens downplays Celtics' streak

Blakely's takeaways: Stevens downplays Celtics' streak

Brad Stevens likes the fact that the Celtics have shown an unusually strong resolve this season by consistently finding ways to win on nights when they don’t play their best.
 
It’s to the point now where fans, as well as the players, feel no deficit is too steep to overcome.

MORE CELTICS

That said, there’s a level of expectations on this team now that you would think would bring about a heightened level of pressure, right?
 
They’ve won 16 in a row, the fourth-longest winning streak in franchise history.
 
Pressure?
 
Not according to Stevens.
 
“Coaching basketball is not pressure,” Stevens told reporters after Monday night’s win. “Playing basketball is not real pressure. Sometimes we overdo this stuff. We’re just trying to prepare well for the next game. That’s all we’ve done, that’s all we’ll continue to do. The streak doesn’t mean anything to me; maybe it does to the guys in the room. But it’s about finding ways to get better and finding ways to get the job done.”
 
Here are five other takeaways from the 110-102 overtime win at Dallas that extended Boston’s winning streak to 16:


 
MARCUS SMART
There may not be a player on this team – maybe in the NBA – that’s more difficult to get a read on, than Marcus Smart. He has been a historically bad shooter throughout his career in Boston. And yet when you look at their 16-game winning streak, he’s one of the main reasons for it. He plays with an edge; he’s gritty and defends at a level that few can match. He makes big plays in big moments. But he's having his worst season ever shooting the ball yet his impact when he’s on the floor has never been greater. So, what do you do if you’re Stevens? You keep playing him. Because as much as his poor shooting hurts the team’s overall scoring, he makes so many clutch plays whether it’s facilitating, defending or – wait for it – making shots. He adds tremendous value to winning, even if his shooting numbers might suggest otherwise.


 
KYRIE FOR MVP?
When you’re getting “M-V-P! M-V-P!” chants on the road, you know you’re ballin’ hard. Kyrie Irving wowed the Dallas crowd with 47 points, 10 of which came in overtime as Boston rallied after facing a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter. If the numbers continue to climb along with the win total, Irving will continue to cement himself as a top-five MVP candidate. 


 
REBOUNDING
One of the few constants in Boston’s string of success has been their rebounding. Against the Mavericks, the Celtics once again won the battle on the boards, 53-45. And it hasn’t been one or two players, either. Against Dallas, the Celtics had five players grab at least four rebounds with no one securing more than nine. That kind of rebounding balance makes Boston an extremely difficult team to out-work on the glass.
 

AL HORFORD
The scoring punch we’ve come to expect lately from Horford just wasn’t there against Dallas. Instead, he seemed more consumed with getting others (mainly Irving) involved offensively. He missed four of his five shots from the field and scored just three points. But he almost had a double-double in rebounds (eight) and assists (seven) along with blocking a couple of shots. And as always, his plus/minus was among the best on the team with the Celtics being +7 when he was on the floor.
 

FOURTH-QUARTER TATUM
While Irving was delivering one big shot after another down the stretch, one of his running partners in late-game situations this season has been Jayson Tatum. He ranks among the league’s best shooters in the fourth quarter and Monday’s victory only solidified his status. Against the Mavericks, Tatum had six points and was a perfect 3-for-3 from the field. According to NBA.com/stats, Tatum is shooting 64.1 percent in the fourth quarter, which ranks eighth in the NBA among players who take at least two field goal attempts per game in the fourth. Right ahead of him is teammate Marcus Morris (65 percent).

'Resilient' Celtics continue to find ways to win

'Resilient' Celtics continue to find ways to win

We have seen the Boston Celtics play less-than-stellar basketball for long stretches, only to turn it on in the second half and escape with a win.

But Monday night’s game at Dallas was different.

Usually it has been Boston’s offense that has kept the game closer than expected, but on Monday it was the team’s defense that struggled more than usual.

MORE:

But this team continues to show an ability to withstand all in-game struggles to eventually emerge victorious which was exactly what happened as the Celtics rallied from a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit to knock off the Mavericks 110-102 in overtime.

The Celtics (16-2) have now won 16 in a row which ties the fourth-longest winning streak in franchise history.

But this win, like so many of its predecessors during this historic run, was not one to celebrate afterwards.

“Quite a resilient comeback in the fourth,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Not our best foot forward before that. Of all the comebacks, that did not look good for a long time. We found a way to win it.”

Kyrie Irving scored a game-high 47 points, 10 of which came in the overtime period.

But his performance was just one of many Boston needed to extend its winning streak.

“In a game like this, you have to do whatever it takes, both ends of the floor,” Boston’s Jayson Tatum told reporters afterwards.

And he did just that.

In the final seconds of the fourth quarter, Tatum’s defense forced a Harrison Barnes miss that would have won the game for Dallas.

And in the fourth quarter, Tatum’s rebounding was critical to Boston (16-2) extending its stay atop the NBA standings.

The 6-foot-8 rookie had a near double-double with 15 points and nine rebounds, with four of his boards coming in overtime.

Boston also got another strong game from Jaylen Brown (22 points, nine rebounds) and Marcus Smart, whose shooting was well off the mark most of the night (3-for-15) but like he has done too many times to count, Smart managed to make a positive impact on the game.

He led the Celtics with eight assists off the bench, in addition to a slew of hustle plays that included a desperation save of a ball going out of bounds that managed to find its way into the hands of Kyrie Irving, who drained a much-needed 3-pointer late in the game.

“Those are worth more than whatever the shot goes in,” Stevens said. “That’s why it’s hard to quantify Marcus Smart.”

The same can be said about Boston’s winning streak, which has come about despite several stretches, every game seemingly, where the Celtics struggle.

But to their credit, they don’t allow the in-game setbacks take away from their focus night-in and night-out and that’s to find a way, any way possible, to emerge with a victory.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE