Looking Back at the Streak as C's Close Out 2010
In their storied history, the Celtics have posted longer winning streaks, but perhaps none were as impressive as the team's 14-game stretch at the end of 2010. As a shorthanded and banged-up team that saw several players miss multiple games, the Celtics went unbeaten for a month between Nov. 22 and Dec. 22, running their record to an Eastern Conference best 23-4.
The streak started when the Celtics were desperate for a win. Playing without starting center Kendrick Perkins (knee surgery) for the remainder of 2010, the C's were already undermanned to start the year, and then Jermaine O'Neal went to the sidelines with a knee problem of his own.
Injuries appeared to be derailing a team that looked poised for juggernaut status on Opening Night after they downed the self-celebrated Miami Heat at the TD Garden. Just a month into the season, at 9-4, the Celtics appeared to be losing their way. They were coming off back-to-back losses, dropping a Friday night tilt to the Kevin Durant-less Oklahoma City Thunder, then falling in a Sunday matinee in Toronto, 102-101.
Point guard Rajon Rondo hurt himself late in the game against the Thunder as Russell Westbrook lit up the C's for 31 points. Rondo sat out the Raptors game, and while Nate Robinson filled in nicely despite the loss, the injuries were appearing to mount and the C's looked like they were in trouble.
Still, banged up or not, Paul Pierce would later say that the team was furious with itself.
"The whole bus drive from Toronto to the airport to customs - even this morning's shootaround - you just saw the focus," Pierce said. "Guys were (ticked) off. That's the way we should be every night. We should never have to use losses to motivate us."
Whatever it was that motivated the C's, it worked. The team ripped off 14 consecutive victories and re-established itself as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. Here's how it all went down:
1 – Celtics 99, Hawks 76
After the back-to-back losses, the 9-4 Celtics wasted no time getting themselves back on track, destroying an Atlanta Hawks team that's traditionally played them tight over the past few seasons.
The C's dialed up the defensive intensity for this one, getting back to their team identity and stifling the Hawks' attack. Boston held Atlanta to just 35 percent shooting from the field on the night.
"When we play like that, we're a really good team. It was interesting [Monday] morning," Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said after the win. "I felt that we would compete defensively. The question is, can we do it every night with a veteran team? It just seems like at times we start counting how many more games we have to pay."
2 – Celtics 89, Nets 83
Perhaps Shaq thought it was 2002. Maybe he found the Hot Tub Time Machine. Whatever the reason, he dominated the New Jersey Nets at the Garden, playing his best game as a Celtic, hanging 25 points and 11 rebounds on the Nets in the win.
The only downside to this one? Delonte West injured his right wrist while hitting the floor after a layup attempt. A doubled-over West clutched his wrist and screamed in pain on the parquet. He went back to the locker room with his right wrist dangling in his left hand and disbelief scrawled on his face. West would miss the rest of the calendar year rehabbing the injury.
Still, the win was pretty meaningful to Shaq, who had high praise for his mates in postgame.
"This is a great team. The best team I've been on. We've got a lot of weapons on this team. On any given night, anyone can be the leading scorer; it's a very unselfish team. Great game, great team effort, we just have to keep it going."
3 – Celtics 110, Raptors 101
And keep it going they did. The Celtics wanted to prove a point and avenge their previous loss to the Raptors from five days earlier, and they wasted no time in doing it. KG and Rondo teamed up to dominate the Raptors in this one, as Garnett posted 26 points and 11 rebounds while Rondo, returning to the lineup after sitting out the last three games, handed out 14 assists like he didn't miss a beat.
Meanwhile, Shaquille O'Neal posted another impressive 16 points and nine rebounds in the victory, as the Raptors had no answer for him in the paint.
"We watched the tape and understand what our advantage is, and that's what we did," Pierce said. "We knew we could attack the inside. We were able to go inside against these guys."
4 – Celtics 106, Cavaliers 87
The following Tuesday, the Celtics avenged their opening night hangover loss to the Cavs with an dominant performance at Quicken Loans Arena the night before LeBron James would make his homecoming in Cleveland. Rondo attacked the basket and dominated the Cavs from wire to wire, hanging 23 points on them to go with his 12 assists and five rebounds.
The C's also neutralized J.J. Hickson, who torched them for 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting in their Oct. 27 loss, holding him to just one point in the rematch.
5- Celtics 99, Blazers 95
The Celtics survived a late scare in this one, as they nearly squandered a 16-point fourth-quarter lead in the last five minutes of the game. Leading 96-80, the C's offense fell asleep while Portland rattled off 15 unanswered points to close within one point with 42 seconds to play.
Ray Allen had struggled all night, scoring just six points on 2-for-11 shooting through the first 47 minutes of the game. But when he found himself wide open in the left corner with 10.7 seconds left, Allen buried a 3-pointer that sealed the victory.
"He's one of the greatest shooters of all time," Pierce said of Allen after the game, wondering aloud how he continues to be left open at the end of games. "When you need him most, he's going to be there."
6 – Celtics 102, Bulls 94
Kevin Garnett played perhaps his most dominant game since returning from his knee surgery in this one, as he torched the Bulls for 20 points, 17 rebounds and six assists, while Rondo tuned up Derrick Rose for 12 points and 19 assists.
"The biggest difference [between this season and last season] is not only just above the rim, but out in space for KG," Rivers said of his power forward's return to form. "Last year, Kevin couldn't get to the ball in those areas, this year he can. It's huge for us."
7 – Celtics 100, Nets 75
With Rondo sitting out another game, it was a redux of the "Shrek and Donkey" show as Nate Robinson and Glen Davis combined for 37 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists en route to the C's blowout win in a Sunday matinee at the Prudential Center. No Nets starter scored more than 10 points.
"I just go about things the same way," Robinson said after scoring a game-high 21 points to go with six assists as the starting point guard, replacing Rondo. "I just play the same way as if I was coming off the bench."
8 – Celtics 105, Nuggets 89
The C's blew out their second straight opponent, this time dismissing a Denver Nuggets team thanks to a 28-point effort from Allen. Rondo attempted just three shots and handed out 13 assists. Oh yeah, did we mention that Carmelo Anthony was a game-time scratch and didn't play?
9- Celtics 102, Sixers 101
The C's came out sluggish for this tilt on a Thursday night in Philly and nearly gave away the game, but an alley-oop from Rondo to KG with 1.4 second to play saved the game, stole a road victory and kept the Celtics rolling at nine straight games.
"Rajon threw a perfect pass and I just banked it," Garnett said. "The crazy part about all that is that I messed that play up so many times in practice. It's only right that the basketball gods gave it to me tonight. It was a good win for us, a grind-out win. This team has been playing unbelievably."
10- Celtics 93, Bobcats 62
Despite Shaq sitting out, forcing Semih Erden to play more than 40 minutes at center, the C's dismantled the Bobcats on the road in Charlotte with balanced scoring and solid bench play to win their 10th straight game.
The crowd at Time Warner Cable Arena was littered with green jerseys, as owner Michael Jordan watched his team get blown out of their own building before delivering a postgame diatribe to his troops. Larry Brown was out as Bobcats coach shortly thereafter.
11 – Celtics 118, Knicks 116
Perhaps the most memorable victory of the streak, the Celtics took their 10-game stretch into Madison Square Garden to face a surging Knicks team that was riding some incredible play from Amar'e Stoudemire. The Knicks' new star was in the midst of a string of 30-point plus performances, setting a new franchise record and generating some early season MVP buzz.
But after trailing for most the of the game, the Celtics rode Paul Pierce to a comeback win, as he dropped 32 points, but no two bigger that the step-back jumper he canned over Stoudemire with 0.4 seconds to play.
Pierce then did a victory lap around the MSG floor after stunning the crowd. "The Knicks are playing great basketball, can't take anything away from them, and I actually thought Amare's shot counted," Pierce said, referring to Stoudemire's final shot, a 3-pointer that would have won the game had it been released before the final horn. "I would have been stunned there for a minute, especially after all the theatrics, so I'm glad we got the win."
12 – Celtics 102, Hawks 90
Six Celtics scored in double-figures and Garnett posted a classic KG game – 8-of-10 FGs, 17 points, 14 rebounds – en route to a 102-90 win over the Atlanta Hawks. While injuries continued to be the overarching story, Pierce was quick to point out that the Celtics still had three healthy All-Stars, and as Rivers noted, they were basically the only healthy guys on the squad.
"What are you going to do?" Garnett asked. "Quit? Put your clothes on and go home? That's not what we do here."
No. What the Celtics do is dismantle inferior opponents and find ways to win tight games. They'd been doing it now for 12 straight contests.
13 – Celtics 99, Pacers 88
Paul Pierce likes to say, "I give the game what it needs." While playing point forward for the C's in Rondo's absence, Pierce dropped his seventh career triple double, his first in four years and first in the Big Three era as the C's fought off the Pacers on a Sunday afternoon at the Garden.
Afterward, Rivers was effusive in his praise for the Captain and his triple-double.
"We're putting him in Rondo's spot, and making him the facilitator," Rivers said. "With this team, especially with the injuries we have, he's been a great utility guy."
14 – Celtics 84, 76ers 80
The last game of the streak happened at the Garden, where the Celtics have lost just once to this point this season.
To win it, the C's had to pull out a late comeback and overcome some poor shooting, as they connected on just 39 percent of their field goal attempts. And defense down the stretch helped them pull out their 14th consecutive victory.
"Usually, when you're on a winning streak, everybody's healthy, everybody's playing well and you're rolling," Rivers said. "You could make the case it's the opposite with us."
The C's took the streak into their Christmas Day game in Orlando, but struggled greatly on the offensive end of the floor. The new-look Magic, just a week removed from a series of trades that reshaped their roster, knocked off the Celtics with an ugly 86-78 win on their home court and halted Boston's remarkable streak.