In professional sports, there is no such thing as silver linings.
But when the Boston Celtics walked off the parquet at TD Garden on Monday night after a frustrating loss to the reigning world champion Miami Heat, they had gained something more substantial than that mythical pacifier – respect.
Losing sucks, there’s no two ways around it. Just knowing that you hung in against that enormous south beach talent is not enough to soothe the burn. Knowing that you had them – you had them – and it slipped away as the inevitable happened for the 23rd consecutive game isn’t a potion to break the fever…
…and perhaps that’s key. Not that the Celtics were playing short-handed, their second in a row without Kevin Garnett, not that they had built a 17 point 1st half lead, nor that the Heat came all the way back – but because when the comeback was complete early in the 3rd quarter and all was even, the Celtics played them straight up, bucket for bucket.
And in the end it took another game winning shot from the high point by LeBron James to overcome Jeff Green’s career game, Avery Bradley’s manic defense and a talented Celtics’ team that is growing into a beast right before our eyes.
The 105-103 score in Miami’s favor may have seemed inevitable to the layman’s eye, but to those that were paying attention, the Heat had to fight for this one. James had his typically huge game with 37 points seven boards and 12 assists, but it was his supporting cast that put him in position to deliver his dagger with 10 seconds left…
…Particularly Mario Chalmers, who answered every big shot that the Celtics nailed with one of his own, scoring 21 including shooting 4 of 5 from trey land. There was Dwayne Wade who turned it on when he needed to, scoring 16 and Chris Bosh whose defense and two blocked shots were every bit as important as his 13 points and five boards.
But none of them had an answer for Green.
The 6′ 9″ power forward turned the game of a lifetime, scoring 43 points on a ridiculous 67% shooting, including 5 of 7 from the parking lot – but it was his aggressiveness in driving to the hoop that frustrated the Heat, as he delivered buckets on just plain sick moves in the paint, to the point that in the final frame, James didn’t leave him to help out under the basket, opening up a little space for the Celtics to operate in the key.
Paul Pierce had 17 points and 8 rebounds and helpers each, while Courtney Lee was the only other Celtic to reach double figures with 13. Jason Terry had 9 points, Jordan Crawford 8 and Bradley seven plus his usual stifling defense, including a block from behind on Norris Cole as he was about to jam a fast break dunk – the transition producing a Pierce three that got the Garden rocking.
And with eight and a half minutes left in the game, the Celtics took a 13 point lead that looked like the end of the Heat’s winning streak, but the Heat persevered as they always seem to – and the Celtics were left with nothing but Miami’s respect…
…and they have no choice but to settle for that for the time being. Right now they’re locked in a three team dogfight for the Atlantic division title, just 3 1/2 games behind the New York Knicks with 16 games to play – but their road isn’t easy. Boston plays 6 of 8 on the road to close out March, starting in New Orleans on Wednesday, then a visit to Dallas on Friday and Memphis on Saturday.
The Heat may not lose again this regular season, given their cupcake schedule, their 52-14 record 11 1/2 games better than the second seed Indiana Pacers and bound to grow with only a couple of games with the Bulls and a test at San Antonio seemingly the only road blocks to a record winning streak to close out the season.
Oh, and they get the Celtics again the last week of the season, and they might just meet in the playoffs at some point – and if they do, they surely won’t take these Celtics for granted.
Not these Celtics. These Celtics they respect.