Game Preview: Heat at Celtics
BOSTON – The Boston Celtics (36-29) are no strangers to snapping opposing teams’ lengthy winning streaks. We’ll see if they can play the role of spoiler yet again when they host the streaking Miami Heat (51-14) at 8 p.m. tonight in TD Garden.
Miami arrived in Boston last night having won 22 consecutive games, which is tied with the 2007-08 Houston Rockets for the second-longest win streak in NBA history. Houston's streak was snapped by the Celtics exactly five years ago today.
How's that for ironic?
While circumstances surrounding this game may be ironic, the Heat’s winning streak certainly is not. It’s not a surprise, either, seeing as their superstars and role players are clicking on all cylinders.
“Everybody’s doing everything great right now,” Doc Rivers said of the Heat’s players. “LeBron (James) is playing at a different level, and (Dwyane) Wade is healthy now. I think that’s the biggest difference than when we saw them earlier in the year; Wade is a different player. LeBron has been the same – he’s been dominant – but now Wade is being dominant as well, and everybody else is just feeding off of them.”
While the Heat’s role players have been feeding off of their leaders, the Boston Celtics have been feeding off of their home crowd. They have ridden that crowd to 11 straight victories in TD Garden, a streak that they will put on the line tonight. That stretch ironically began on Jan. 27 against, you guessed it, the Miami Heat.
“I didn’t even realize we had won 11 in a row until yesterday. I was surprised by that actually,” Rivers said on Sunday. “I just think we’re playing well, and I think our team has a lot of confidence, and it’s good to have it at home. But I think overall they just are a confident group now.”
Confidence isn’t difficult to have when guys like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are around. The problem is that only one of them is likely to be on the floor for tonight’s game.
Garnett missed Saturday’s game and Sunday’s practice with a strained left adductor. His status for tonight’s game remains up in the air, but the outlook seems relatively bleak.
Asked on Sunday about the chances of seeing KG play tonight, Rivers replied, “My guess is 50-50, at best.”
Garnett’s possible absence wouldn’t necessarily ruin Boston’s chances of winning. The Celtics are 2-0 this season without KG with an average margin of victory of 21.0 points per game.
With or without KG, there will surely be plenty of fireworks tonight in TD Garden. A 22-game winning streak is on the line for Miami. An 11-game home winning streak is on the line for Boston. This is the definition of a heavyweight bout.
Pressuring the Ball
Without mentioning any names, Rivers sent out a clear call to Courtney Lee on Sunday. He needs Lee to bring his A-game on the defensive end tonight.
“I think against [the Heat] it’s gotta be more than one guy that pressures the ball,” Rivers said. “That’s the way it works with Miami, because they have three guys that can bring the ball up. So if only one guy is doing it then they’re just going to throw the ball to someone else. So it’s going to take multiple guys at least to do it.”
In other words, it will require ball pressure from both Bradley and Lee. Both players are more than capable of making it happen, and that’s why their teammates call them the “pit bulls.”
If KG Isn’t There...
There is no doubt that the Celtics are a worse team without Garnett. He is one of the greatest players of all time and is a defensive stalwart. His absence would be felt, but it would not drastically change Boston’s rotation.
The Celtics play small against Miami nearly every time these teams meet. As Rivers said on Sunday, he almost always uses a lineup against the Heat that features only one big man. If Garnett plays, he and Brandon Bass would rotate at center while Jeff Green would eat up minutes at power forward. If Garnett doesn’t play, everything would remain the same but Rivers would need to use a different big man to rotate with Bass at the center position.
Bradley vs. Wade
No Celtics fan will ever forget Bradley’s monster block against Wade last season. Neither of those players will forget it, either. It is just one example of Bradley pestering Wade into poor performances over the past couple of years.
One of those games was on Jan. 27, when Wade shot a woeful 6-of-20 from the field, committed six turnovers and finished with the worst plus/minus rating (minus-nine) of the game during a two-point Celtics win. It’s no surprise that when Wade played well against the Celtics on Oct. 30, logging a game-high 29 points, the Heat came out on top.
At this point of the season, it’s almost impossible to stop James, so Wade is the next target. The responsibility falls on Bradley to force Wade into a poor performance. That task may be the most important one in this game.