Celtics

Nothing beats overtime playoff hockey

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Nothing beats overtime playoff hockey

Yesterday in Washington, for the fifth time in the last two seasons, the Bruins stared elimination in the eyes and smacked it upside the head.

Thanks to their 4-3 victory, Boston will live to see another day. And while theyre still on the brink of elimination, the game has changed. Yesterday, the Bs had their back against the wall, and a knife to their throat. On Wednesday, the knife will be in Bostons hands, with more than 17,000 fans there ready to help deliver the Capitals a deathblow.

But before we move on to Game 7, I think we need to come down from Game 6. Because holy crap playoff hockey.

Overtime playoff hockey. Elimination overtime playoff hockey!

Is there anything like it in sports?

Id say the closest thing we have is extra innings of an MLB playoff game something like Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.

You know that feeling you get in the bottom half of every inning? When you know that each pitch could be the last; that one swing can end it all and turn an entire region of capable human beings into an army of angry zombies?

That was every second of yesterdays overtime. Only worse.

In baseball, at least they take turns. In the bottom half of the 10th, the home fans sit on the edge of their seats, eagerly anticipating every pitch. Meanwhile, the away fans watch through their fingers, curled up in a ball on the couch. The home team is the only one that can win, the away team the only that can lose. Its insanely one-sided. Or maybe the away team is up by a run, and the home team has a rally going in the bottom of inning? In that sense, there's something on the line for both sides. But the pace is different. It's somehow so much calmer.

In hockey, things move so fast that its a dual possession. You can never step back and think: Phew. Were safe for now. No ones safe! Youre at all times on top of the world and six feet under. You're like one of those crazy (and annoying) guests at the hotel pool who keeps jumping back and forth between the hot tub and the regular water. Your body doesn't know what to do with itself.

The only way baseball could ever recreate that kind of drama would be to have two mounds, two plates and two sets of fielders out their at the same time. OK, guys. First run wins. Go! (By the way, Bud Selig should have this passed by 2015.)

In football, every playoff game is an elimination game, but its not the same. While there are examples (Tebow vs. the Steelers, Hasselbeck vs. the Packers) where theres one big play that sneaks up and decides the game (and for the losing team, the season), its far more methodical than hockey. The teams generally spend as much time setting up for field goals as they do going for the jugular. (Also, overtime games are pretty rare in football. We may have had two this past postseason, but they were only the 28th and 29th playoff overtimes since 1958.)

The NBA is probably the closest thing we have in terms of changing possessions and a constant back and forth, but the lack of a sudden death element limits the drama to a certain extent. Plus, between fouls, timeouts, reviews and everything else, it's just so drawn out. Even if more can happen in a shorter time in basketball, it's so regimented. Theres still so much build up and anticipation before every play; time to brace yourself for whatever might happen next.

In hockey, there's nothing. No commercials, very few whistles. You just sit there, straddling the fence between victory and defeat, waiting for the fate to be decided.

Next thing you know, Krejci intercepts the puck. Before you can even process it, hes flipped it to Lucic, whos already found Seguin, who just juked Braden Holtby out of his skates and catapulted the Bruins from the edge of disaster back into the driver's seat.

And there's nothing like it.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

WATCH: Celtics vs. Hawks

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Hawks

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Hawks in Atlanta. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: C's defense looks to keep up historic pace

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C's defense looks to keep up historic pace

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C's defense looks to keep up historic pace

As the wins continue to pile up for the Boston Celtics, so does the praise and adulation from others throughout the league. 

It’s a double-edged sword if you think about it. 

Acknowledging how good the Celtics are, is indeed a sign of respect. 

But it also means Boston plays every game with a large target on its back unlike any of Brad Stevens’ previous Celtics teams. 

And that means every game they play, even those like tonight’s matchup at Atlanta where they will be heavily favored, are dangerous matchups.

Because for some teams, the next best thing to competing against the champ (Golden State) is facing the team with the best record who just knocked off the champ. 

That will be one of the dynamics at work tonight when the Celtics (14-2) kick off a three-game road trip against a trio of sub-.500 teams beginning with the Hawks (3-12).

Boston has shown tremendous focus and attention to detail during their 14-game winning streak. But in that span, the Celtics have never had a trio of teams right behind each other that struggled as much as the Hawks, the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks have this season. 

Not including games played on Friday, Boston’s next three opponents are a combined 11-33. 

All three of those teams would love to be the one to knock off the Celtics, the kind of victory that could significantly shift the direction of their respective franchises from their current downward spin. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics will look to continue to play with the kind of defensive temperament that has catapulted them to the top of the NBA’s defensive standings in several categories. 

“The way they’re beating teams it ain’t pretty,” a league executive texted NBC Sports Boston. “But they win. Last I checked, that’s what matters most.”

And that success has to a large degree, put a bigger bullseye on the Celtics than ever. 

“Now that we have a reputation, I think everyone is coming for us,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Now we have to come play even harder, and I think we can do that. I think we are more than capable.”

Especially if they continue to defend at a level we haven’t seen in years. 

Boston has a league-best defensive rating of 95.4. A key component in Boston’s strong play defensively has been their ability to win the battle of the boards. They come into tonight’s game with a .530 rebounding percentage which is second in the league to Portland (.539).

And that defense, while praised for how it functions collectively, it also consists of some pretty good individual defenders as well. 

Among guards averaging at least 20 minutes per game, Boston has four players ranked among the top 10 in defensive rating (Marcus Smart, 93.5 defensive rating, 2nd); Jaylen Brown (93.6, 3rd); Terry Rozier (95.0, 5th) and Kyrie Irving (96.4, 8th). 

When you look at forwards, Brown headlines a trio of forwards that includes himself, Al Horford (94.2, 3rd) and Jayson Tatum (96.1, 7th). 

Aron Baynes has the best defensive rating (90.6) among centers, followed by Horford (94.2).

“Our guys are locked in and really trying and again we can really play some pretty ugly basketball at times,” Stevens said. “But I do think that we are competing which is really good.”