LeBron James must hate this.
Like, I’m sure when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen came to Boston, he figured the Celtics would be a threat for one year (maybe two) and that would be the end of it.
But the Celtics, who were still missing several key role players, moved to 3-0 against the Miami Heat this season on an afternoon when they only shot 43% from the field. There’s still an inevitable playoff series to go, but it kinda sounds like the Celtics are in LeBron’s head, right?
“We know we’re making strides but at the same, we’re competitors, we want to win. It’s going to take time. I have the same feeling right now as I had when I was in my third and four year and we played Detroit, and we just could not get over the hump. Regular season and playoffs, we couldn’t get over the hump. It took us a long time to finally get over the hump. I’ve been in this position before, where you just go against a team and you play well, you continue to play well, and a ball doesn’t go your way and you lose the game. You just got to keep pushing.”
Keep pushing LBJ. As for today’s game, the Celtics started out like a team that was physically/emotionally drained from playing 3 significant home games in the past week, plus traveling to Charlotte for a disappointing road loss. The game had a very lazy feel to it in the opening minutes. The Celtics couldn’t buy a shot in the first quarter (6-20 FG), and there was a brief stretch when I thought the C’s were in for a long afternoon. But fortunately, the Miami Heat had no interest in hanging on to the basketball, committing 12 turnovers in the first half alone and more-or-less keeping the Celtics in the game.
Then the 3rd quarter started and the Celtics finally got it going.
*The Celtics scored 35 points in the 3rd quarter, turning a 4-point halftime deficit into a double-digit lead. You had to love just about everything from this quarter. Rajon Rondo challenging LeBron defensively and sneaking into the Heat huddle. KG standing up for Rondo by setting a vicious screen on Mike Miller (yes he lowered the shoulder). Kendrick Perkins getting involved in the post. Big Baby Davis and Von Wafer coming up big off the bench. Throw in a terrible Flagrant call on Dwyane Wade, and that quarter just about had it all.
*Aside from it’s depth, Boston showed why its defense separates them from the Heat right now. Don’t get me wrong, the Heat are a very good defensive team. LeBron doesn’t get enough credit for how exceptional he is as a one-on-one defender (although he did today from Jeff Van Gundy). But watching the Celtics move collectively as a defensive unit, particularly in the last 3 minutes of the game, is truly a great sight, especially now with Perkins back in the mix. Here are Doc’s comments on his team’s late-game defense:
Defensively, you know it was a tough stretch for us because Kevin (Garnett) had five fouls that entire time and we were trying to spend our time moving him around so he can stay off of (Chris) Bosh so he wouldn’t pick up a sixth. And the whole thing was for us to stay in the paint, clog the paint, make them shoot over you. They make shots over you then you can live with it. You know, LeBron is so powerful the one time we got to the line and missed the one free throw, that was just a grown man making a move, very tough to get out of his way.”
*As easy as it would be to say that the 3rd quarter was the sole difference in this game, I thought the real turning point occurred throughout the 2nd quarter. After that dreadful 1st quarter, it was obvious that the shots weren’t falling. Paul Pierce was missing open shots. Ray was missing open shots. Doc said he liked the looks that his team was getting, it was just a stretch of bad luck. Well considering the Celtics are the best-shooting team in the NBA, it would have been easy to go back out there and hope for better luck. But instead, the Celtics adjusted the game plan and started attacking the basket. Several consecutive possessions ended with cutters getting an attempt at the rim. We even saw a beautifully executed play where Nate Robinson fed Perkins en route to the basket and ended up getting fouled. The 2nd quarter quietly set the tone for the rest of the game, and if the Celtics didn’t make this early adjustment they potentially could have shot their way out of the game by halftime.
* Is it just me or did anyone else know for a fact that Big Baby was going to miss that dunk/layup the whole way? Just looked extremely awkward as he was approaching the basket. I honestly didn’t even react all that much after he missed it. I just shrugged my shoulders and said to myself, “Yup, that seemed about right.”
*Much love for Von Wafer, who had another solid contribution for the Celtics with 10 points in 14 minutes. And of those 10 points, he hit two big 3-pointers at a crucial point in the game that really helped keep the momentum on Boston’s side. I don’t know how much longer Wafer will have the hot hand (or how many more opportunities he’ll get with Delonte West due back Wednesday), but it’s great to see a guy from the end of the bench have an impact on games like this.
* I really like the idea of putting Rondo on LeBron for about 5-6 minutes a game, perhaps for a stretch during the 3rd quarter. I know during the sideline interview Doc seemed a little “iffy” about it, but here’s why I think it’s a good idea: