Rajon Rondo brilliantly patched together his latest triple-double, Paul Pierce played Lebron James to a draw, the Celtics killed Miami with a trillion and one backdoor cuts, and Kevin Garnett caused Chris Bosh into a performance which Miami’s third wheel described as such:
“It was just a bad, shitty game.”
The Celtics are supposed to wilt down the regular season’s closing stretch, yet it’s the boys in Green who are gelling as the season nears conclusion. It was the old Celtics who managed 15 fast-break points to Miami’s nine, who started a shooting guard born in the 1990s, who applied the clamps coming out of intermission while outscoring Miami 31-12 in the third quarter. It’s the Celtics who are 14-5 after the All-Star Break and looking quite a distance from their final breath.
“They played exceptionally well — as good as they’ve played against us in a long time,” Dwyane Wade said.
Rondo continues to be Boston’s biggest advantage against Miami (by a few thousand miles), and he showed again Sunday why the Heat should fear a healthy Rondo in the postseason. The paint was his destination, and Rondo found his way there almost whenever he wanted, breaking down Miami’s defense with buckets and dimes. Bradley cut back door for easy buckets like he always does, and his teammates — urged by Doc Rivers — followed suit.
“Usually we leave [back door cutting] to Avery, because we want different space. Today, the way they defend, we talked about multiple cutters today. They’re so good defensively, one cutter is not good enough against them,” Rivers said.
Brandon Bass quipped, “I saw what Avery was doing and how he was getting easy baskets and I said, ‘Well, let me join in.”
Bradley limited Dwyane Wade. Garnett snuffed out Bosh. Pierce played James evenly. Bass snagged a double-double. Every player who came off the bench gave solid contributions — Stiemsma took a charge, earned two steals, blocked a shot and found his way inside for a few layups, Sasha Pavlovic finished a full-court alley oop and did a solid job on Lebron, and Keyon Dooling continued to put his early-season woes farther behind him.
It was a team win, a professional win, just the way the Celtics have been thriving lately.
“Guys just prepare themselves. Doc is a player-friendly coach, so we don’t have a lot of practice time. But even on days we don’t have practice, you’ll see a whole bunch of guys in there getting their work in,” Dooling noted. “If Marquis’ number was called tonight, from a cardio standpoint, he’d be ready to play because we approach this job with a sense of pride. We all take pride in it. We all have roles. Even when you’re not playing, you still have a role, and no role is more important than the next.”
The win likely put the NBA on notice: the Celtics still have some life. Yet the Celtics were adamant that Sunday’s performance was not a statement; to them, it was a product of 15 players who are committed to the goal at hand, and have been growing into a cohesive unit since the All-Star break.
The rest of the NBA might not have considered the Celtics dead, anyway, even before Boston’s latest win sent a resounding roar into the TD Garden air.
As Shane Battier explained, “No one in this locker room counted the Celtics out. They are going to be there come April and May, they’re just too well coached and disciplined.”
And for the first time in the past three seasons, the Celtics are surging as the playoffs draw near.