The Boston Celtics are not out of title contention yet.
In a meeting of two of the NBA’s top defenses, the Boston Celtics scorched the floor by connecting on a season-high 60.6 percent of their shots –on 43-of-71 shooting– while out pacing their Eastern Conference rival the Miami Heat, 115-107, on Tuesday night.
A week ago, the Celtics beat Miami 91-72 in Boston with their defense, holding the Heat to season-lows in scoring and shooting. This time, the C’s offense gave the Heat their second consecutive loss, and their second straight home loss, after Memphis snapped Miami’s 17-game home win streak on Monday. The Celtics entered Tuesday’s contest ranked 29th in the league with an offensive rating of 100.6. Boston’s 67 first half points were the most they’ve scored in any half and the most the Heat’s allowed in any half this season. All five starters for the Celtics finished in double figures, while a three-man bench of Ray Allen, Greg Stiemsma and Sasha Pavlovic chipped in 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting. Rajon Rondo posted double-digits for the 18th consecutive game, extending the NBA’s longest such streak in 20 years with an 18-point, 15-assist effort, while Paul Pierce scored 27 points and a revived Kevin Garnett contributed 24 points and nine rebounds.
The original Big Three came under fire at the beginning of the season, as the then slumping Celtics, at times appeared slow, old and unable to compete with the younger teams in the league. After Doc Rivers shuffled his starting lineup and asked his team captains to put aside their egos for the betterment of the team, Boston has been rolling. The Celtics have thrived since KG was moved to the center position and rookie Avery Bradley replaced Ray Allen in the starting lineup. With last night’s victory, Boston has improved to 18-7 since the All-Star break, and dealt Miami a blow in the race for the No. 1 see in the East. That won’t sit well with the reigning Eastern Conference champions, who ousted the Celtics in five games in the playoffs last year and could see them in the second round of the forthcoming postseason. Boston’s defense inarguably has helped the team turn its season around. But, with the offense resurging, the rest of the East can only hope it doesn’t last.
It would’ve been hard to believe at the All-Star break that Boston would have cruised into the Atlantic Division lead and within striking distance of ascending the Eastern conference standings with nine games to go. But after eight victories in the past 10, two now over Miami, this is where the C’s are. The Celtics are just two games back of the Indiana Pacers for the No. 3 seed, and between their talent and playoff experience, few teams are going to want to encounter them in May. Yes, the Celtics are still a defense-minded team, but they like reminding everyone that they can still put up big number.
Who’s going to stop them?