Could the Boston Celtics beat the Miami Heat in a playoff series?
Well, they couldn’t a year ago, when they managed more than 91 points just once in five games and looked a tad long in the tooth.
If Boston was to beat Miami, it appeared it would have to find a way to stall LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in transition and make every game a walk-it-up, grind-it-out affair, where the Celtics excel and the Heat are not exactly comfortable.
The Celts did just that on April 1, limiting the Heat to a season low in a 91-72 home win. That appeared to be the formula, one Boston would have to concoct four times in a playoff series, including at least once in Miami, one of the toughest places to win in the NBA.
However, the Celtics may now have a backup plan – outgunning the Heat.
In Tuesday’s 115-107 win at Miami, Boston shot a staggering 61 percent from the field. The Celtics used an eight-man rotation, and the only player to make less than half his shots was none other than sharpshooter Ray Allen, who was 3-of-7 as he continues to come off the bench.
The Celts have gone from a team on the verge of being blown up to one that was too proud to miss the postseason to one that looks ready to do some serious damage in May – and perhaps June. Boston is 18-7 since the All-Star break and 4-2 during this seven-game death march that ends tonight at home vs. Atlanta.
From Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe: “The Celtics not only needed to prove to the basketball public, but perhaps themselves, that their recent stretch of impressive play was good enough to compete with the NBA’s elite. Last Thursday in Chicago, they had nothing to show their audience in a demoralizing loss to the Derrick Rose-less Bulls. Tuesday at AmericanAirlines Arena, they displayed much improvement. Facing a Heat team promising to atone for a 19-point beating April 1 at TD Garden, the Celtics countered every Miami run with a damaging one of their own, finally quieting LeBron James and his mates in a confidence-boosting 115-107 victory. While moving Avery Bradley into the starting lineup has sparked the Celtics, the rejuvenated Kevin Garnett has been just as critical to their recent success. With Boston holding a precarious 5-point lead with nine minutes left, and the announced sellout crowd screaming for the Heat to go on a run, Garnett (11-of-14 shooting, 24 points) looked vintage, delivering four consecutive midrange jumpers as he torched counterpart Chris Bosh. The 8-point surge gave the Celtics an 11-point lead and Garnett landed a finishing blow with another turnaround jumper with two minutes left for a 110-103 lead. The Celtics shot a blistering 60.6 percent, more than 5 points higher than the previous high against the Heat, who are fifth in the league in percentage allowed. A team that has struggled scoring all season suddenly couldn’t miss. A team that was considered too old and out of condition to compete in the Eastern Conference is suddenly trending again.”
The Celtics climbed back into the playoff picture with their defense. But with the offense now clicking as well as it has all season, battle-tested Boston could be a very dangerous playoff team.
From Peter Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com: “Coach Doc Rivers takes great pride in his team’s defense. He’s convinced it’s that side of the ball that will dictate the success of the Green. But that doesn’t mean the Celtics can’t get offensive from time to time. In a meeting of two of the league’s top defenses, the Celtics scorched the floor by connecting on a season-high 60.6 percent of their shots (43 of 71) while winning a track meet with the rival Miami Heat 115-107 on Tuesday night. “We finally got all our plays down,” Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo deadpanned about a much-maligned offense that entered Tuesday’s action ranked 29th in the league with an offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 100.6. In fact, all of the headlines about the Celtics’ recent resurgence seem to center around their defensive dominance, particularly how the team has thrived since shuffling Kevin Garnett to the center spot and moving Avery Bradley into the starting lineup in place of Ray Allen. Maybe the offense was a little jealous. The Celtics missed their first two shots Tuesday night but rarely missed consecutive attempts again. Boston shot 52.9 percent in the fourth quarter and that was far and away its worst frame of the night. As Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, “None of us were expecting that, to give up 115 points on our home floor. That is not our style.” Don’t worry, Coach; it’s not Boston’s style either. But maybe that’s all the more reason for the rest of the Eastern Conference to be leery of the surging C’s.”
Meanwhile, this should be dismissed as another “doldrums” game for the Heat. Yes, they looked bored at times late last month, when they dropped visits to Oklahoma City and Indiana before being flattened in Boston. They have talked about getting back to that “deep, dark place.”
This was the ideal place to do it – national TV, revenge game, in front of the home crowd. And they got schooled.
From David J. Neal of the Miami Herald: “Two ways to look at the Heat’s 115-107 home loss to Boston — a team that looked doddering during a blowout Heat win in December and retro 2008 in dusting the Heat twice this month. One way is to consider it an anomaly. 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. Nobody from Boston seemed to miss. Not point guard Rajon Rondo. Not Kevin Garnett, who went 11 of 14 shooting with equal proficiency whether against Chris Bosh or air. When a fan hit a half court shot to win a Kia, you half expected him to plop himself down on the Celtic bench. Boston shot 58.9 percent in the third quarter. It was their worst shooting quarter of a game in which they shot 60.6 percent from the field. “They shoot like that, it’s going to be tough to beat them,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. … The other way to look at the loss is it was indicative of a team that’s 5-5 in their last 10 and on search for chemistry and consistency with the playoffs nigh. … “We’re being made to feel uncomfortable right now,” Spoelstra said. “That’s the residual of the last three weeks or so. And when you feel uncomfortable, the one silver lining out of it is our group, staff and players, are getting to know each other now on the level that is needed for us to prepare for the playoffs. We all know we have to take a big step forward as a basketball team.”
That step needs to be taken soon, with visits to Chicago on Thursday and New York on Sunday. There also is a home meeting with the Bulls on April 19 and a trip to Boston on April 24.
As for the Bulls, they also have stumbled a bit lately, dropping three of their last five games. Chicago got back on track with a 98-86 home win over the New York Knicks that again came without Derrick Rose but featured the return to prominence of backcourt mate Richard Hamilton.
From K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: “One of Tom Thibodeau’s favorite sayings — “We have more than enough to win” — applies no matter the injury, no matter the circumstance. The Bulls’ 98-86 victory over the Knicks on Tuesday night at the United Center not only avenged Sunday’s difficult overtime loss but supported that theory once again. Playing without Derrick Rose and again using Richard Hamilton for only limited minutes, the Bulls received another strong effort from The Bench Mob to improve to 16-7 without the league’s reigning most valuable player. Hamilton’s 20 points led a balanced attack as 10 Bulls scored and they enjoyed ridiculous advantages of 51-33 on the boards and 25-5 on second-chance points. “We watched the film (of Sunday’s game) this morning during shootaround and it was such a downer,” Kyle Korver said. “We came out with a bad taste in our mouths and wanted to change that. I thought we played great, with a lot of energy.” Hamilton scored 18 points in the third quarter alone, playing the entire period. Though he didn’t return and again played just 20 minutes, he also finished with five assists. “Guys did a great job setting screens so I could get to my sweet spots,” Hamilton said. “I still missed easy shots that I normally make 90 percent of the time. But it’s coming together.”
The Bulls signed Hamilton in the offseason, believing his timely shooting would be the missing piece in their push for a championship. Thus far, Hamilton has pretty much been missing, sitting out 38 games with groin and shoulder injuries. His play Tuesday was what Chicago envisioned – alongside Rose, of course.
From Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com: “The best sign for the Bulls moving forward is that without Derrick Rose, Hamilton finally showed how dangerous he could be in short spurts. The Knicks could not slow him down in the third quarter, and he was able to open up the floor for the rest of his teammates. Tom Thibodeau has said over the past week that he would like to start getting more time for Hamilton on the floor, but he played just 20 minutes yet again. It will be interesting to see if and when Thibodeau decides to start sticking with the veteran shooting guard more. If he continues to play like he did on Tuesday night, and stays healthy, the Bulls are in good shape.”
The same cannot be said for the Knicks, who took a step back after stealing an overtime win from the Bulls on Sunday. They face their biggest game of the season Wednesday as they travel to Milwaukee to take on the Bucks, who are one game back in the race for the final playoff spot in the East. The winner will hold the tiebreaker.
From Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News: “The Knicks’ setback doesn’t mean that they can’t catch the Celtics, although that’s looking like a long shot now. And it also doesn’t mean the Knicks are falling out of the playoff race and the Sixers are making it. But it does put more of an emphasis on their game Wednesday in Milwaukee, which is also vying for a playoff berth and is right on the Knicks’ tail. “It’s a must-win game for us,” said Tyson Chandler, after the Knicks were pounded on the glass. “We have to treat it like it’s Game 7 of a playoff series.” But that’s exactly how the Knicks should have treated this game. We understand, a lot of teams haven’t beaten the Bulls when Rose hasn’t been on the floor during his nightmare season. They’re now 16-7 without him, which is simply astounding. Still, when you’ve still got big plans for the playoffs and you don’t have to contend with one of the NBA’s premier players on his home floor, you’ve got to get the game. Somehow. Some way. “We struggled all night,” said Mike Woodson. “We didn’t flow into anything. That’s the first time I’ve seen that since I’ve been coaching this team. It was like everyone was trying to beat them by themselves.”
- Sixers coach Doug Collins made good on his promise to shake up his lineup and got the results he wanted, a 107-88 road win over the Nets. Center Spencer Hawes was benched in favor of rookie Nikola Vucevic, who had five DNPs in the last 10 games. Hawes had 19 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in 23 minutes. Guard Evan Turner was benched for Jodie Meeks, but Turner scored just two points in 19 minutes. Philadelphia ended a four-game skid and moved one game in front of New York into seventh place in the East.
- Dwight Howard sat out again with back spasms, and the Magic lost to the Wizards, 93-85. Howard has missed four of the last six games since purportedly being punched in the back by Dallas center Brendan Haywood, and Orlando is 1-3 in those games, with losses to Detroit and Washington. France’s Kevin Seraphin took full advantage of Howard’s absence with career highs of 24 points and 13 rebounds for the Wizards.
- In the only game involving Western Conference clubs, the host Mavericks handled the Kings, 110-100. Dallas had six players in double figures – none of them named Lamar Odom - as it inched into seventh in the West, a half-game behind Houston and a half-game ahead of Denver. The last defending champion to miss the playoffs was the 1999 Chicago Bulls.
- When I mentioned in my column two Sundays ago that the Bobcats had to lose all of their remaining games to break the record for the worst single-season winning percentage, I didn’t realize that Michael Jordan’s team would take it as a challenge. Their 103-90 loss at Cleveland was their 13th in succession. Charlotte has 10 games remaining, including home contests vs. Detroit, New Orleans and Sacramento and a visit to Washington.