Vets Step Up To Spur Seven-Game Streak

BOSTON - Seven straight wins after Rajon Rondo’s season was ended, the Boston Celtics are officially – and astonishingly – the hottest team in the NBA.

The C’s didn’t get to practice Saturday thanks to the Weather Gods dropping two feet of snow on Boston, and it was probably a blessing in disguise on Sunday, considering that the Basketball Gods dropped a triple-overtime contest on them. The Celtics responded with an inspired 118-114 win over Denver, and Paul Pierce dropped his seventh career triple-double on the Nuggets, including one of the most ridiculous shots of his 15-year career.

Pierce’s off-balanced, leaning 3-pointer forced triple OT and capped his 27-point, 14-rebound, 14-assist masterpiece, but as impressive as the shot and Sunday’s win were, what’s more remarkable is the streak that the Celtics have amassed without their best player and floor general.

Terry, Pierce, KG

Boston's three oldest veterans are leading the way during a seven-game winning streak.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images

When it was determined two weeks ago that Rondo was lost for the season, observers knew the Celtics, at the time 20-23, would become a vastly different team. That point was further emphasized when Jared Sullinger’s season was terminated days later due to back surgery. But the Celtics being different, as in ripping-off-seven-straight-wins-different, was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind.

Pierce, who has bookended the current streak with a pair of triple-doubles, has clearly shifted into distributor mode since Rondo was sidelined. The captain has always had a versatile game, and he’s quick to remind reporters that he tries to “give the game what it needs.”

Right now, the Celtics need everything Pierce can give them. He’s obliging nicely.

“Roles expand. I know what I’m capable of, but when you have a guy like Rondo, not as much is needed from you because you have another guy who can do so many things also. So I think with him out the roles are gonna change,” Pierce said.

“I’m gonna be more of a facilitator for this ball club, and you know it’s got to come from not only me, it’s got to come from a number of guys. So it’s not only me, it’s everybody whose roles change, and (they will have) to do more with the injuries that we have.”

While Pierce’s assist numbers have ratcheted up, what’s more notable is his rebounding totals. Pierce has grabbed double-figure rebounds in five of the seven games since Rondo went down. Sullinger, who appeared to be evolving into a legitimate NBA force on the glass in the month of January, played 22 minutes against the Heat two weeks ago but left the floor after just four minutes the following night against Sacramento.

Still convalescing, Sullinger watched Sunday’s game from the sidelines in street clothes.

Meanwhile, Kevin Garnett, who’s no longer the same guy who led the NBA in rebounding from 2004 through 2007, has also stepped up his work on the glass. His 18 rebounds against the Nuggets were a season high (he previously grabbed 13 against the Wizards on Nov. 7) and the most he’d gathered since a May 7, 2011 playoff victory over the Miami Heat.

Garnett recently said he “bleeds Green” and his play throughout the streak backs up that claim nicely. After 47 minutes against the Nuggets, he may not have much left in the tank Monday night when the Celtics visit the Bobcats seeking their eighth straight victory. Still, his 20 points, 18 rebounds, six assists, three blocks and three triple-OT jumpers against Denver added up to a dominant performance.

Avery Bradley told reporters afterward that, “KG looked at everybody and told us, ‘We’re not going to lose this game.’"

Talking about the shots the Big Ticket hit in the third overtime, Jason Terry joked that KG was “50 years old,” but he was clearly impressed with Garnett’s gas in the third extra session.

“For him to make those shots that he made when we direly needed them was tremendous for us,” Terry said.

For Terry, who’s looked like the pot to Garnett’s aging kettle at times this season, it’s easier to crack jokes thanks to his recently improved play. The veteran shooting guard, called “no spring chicken” by Garnett moments later, is finally finding his own groove. Terry has connected on 57 percent (30-for-53) of his field goals over his last six games. Despite missing on nine of his 14 3-point attempts on Sunday, Terry canned the go-ahead 3 with 1:16 left in the final overtime, came up with the game-sealing steal and put the cherry on top with a break-away layup at the buzzer.

With the top three old school veterans cranking their game up, there’s plenty of pressure to fall in line.

“It forces everybody to play with the same intensity or even higher,” said Jeff Green, who’s taken heat throughout the season for not being aggressive enough. “Those are our leaders, and they lead the way and we’ve gotta follow suit.”

Green’s been up and down for most of the year, until the last eight games, during which he’s been consistently providing offense off the bench and dunks in people’s faces. Green has scored in double-figures in seven of his last eight games.

“I’m just trying to take what’s there,” Green said. “If the shot’s there, take it. If the drive’s there, take it.”

As 34 Boston assists revealed on Sunday, there were plenty of open shots to be had against Denver, thanks to some rejuvenated ball movement. While they averaged a shade over 23 assists per game in their first 43 contests with Rondo, the Celtics have posted 25.6 assists a night in their last seven games without him. While missing their point guard, the C’s have no choice; they’ve got to share the ball.

For his part, Doc Rivers has kept his team believing in itself as a unit, rather than allowing them to dwell upon their missing parts.

"This is who we are. We're going to mix and match," Rivers said. "We knew this was going to be that type of game anyway with what they do, and then we're winning games; we've got to keep it going.”

The streak will eventually die. All streaks do. But if the Celtics continue to play the same brand of inspired ball they’ve shown over the last two weeks, their season will remain very much alive and well.