An ultimately futile stand.
When LeBron James and crew travel to Boston to take on the battered Celtics, they're well aware of what's at stake. After defeating the Toronto Raptors 108-91, the Heat won their 22nd straight game, tying the 2007-08 Houston Rockets for the second-longest winning streak in NBA history.
Miami also understands that no contest against Boston is going to be an easy one. The pace-domineering Celtics are able to thwart even the most explosive of factions, courtesy of an aptitude for controlling the game's tempo.
The Heat themselves have already fallen victim to the Celtics' gritty style of basketball. In Boston's first game without Rajon Rondo following his ACL injury, the Celtics took down Goliath at home, taking Miami to overtime and emerging with a 100-98 victory.
Is Miami destined for a similar fate this time around?
Boston is 24-9 at the TD Garden on the season, the third-best home record in the Eastern Conference behind the Indiana Pacers (26-8) and the Heat themselves (30-3). Miami is also 0-5 in Boston during the regular season since 2010, forcing the team to reverse a surprising trend if this historical run is to continue.
And it will continue.
Including that Rondo-less victory over the Heat in Boston, the Celtics are 16-6 in their last 22 games. They've won seven of their last 10 and are fresh off two blowouts over the Raptors and Charlotte Bobcats.
Most notably, they've won their last 11 home games and are not intimidated by what Miami is currently doing (via Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com):
Asked whether he wants the Heat to still be carrying that streak on Monday, Pierce offered, "I really don't even care. I hope they lose every game the rest of the season. I just worry about what this team does."
But Rivers maintained the company line about the streak.
"I don't really care," he said. "We're going to play them one way or another, whether they have a streak or coming off a loss. We'll be ready; I'm sure they will be."
As a veteran squad that is wielding a fourth-ranked defense, the Celtics aren't going to have lost sleep at the prospect of facing a streaking Heat. Paul Pierce and the rest of Boston aren't going to fear what their bout against the reigning NBA champions may or may not have in store for them.
Yet, perhaps they should.
Kevin Garnett's status for Boston's bout against Miami remains up in the air, with Doc Rivers calling him 50-50 at best. Most can't imagine a strained adductor preventing the fiercely competitive Garnett from playing in a game as big as this one, but a physically impaired Garnett (however slightly) doesn't bode well for the Celtics against a surging Heat.
Like we alluded to earlier, Boston's primary line of defense is its actual defense. The Celtics are currently allowing 94.5 points per 100 possessions at home and per Forsberg, opponents are averaging just 89.6 points on their turf.
To put that in perspective, the Pacers top the league with just 99.2 points allowed per 100 possessions. Boston's showing at home trumps that.
At the heart of said defense, however, is Garnett. The injured Garnett.
Overall, the Celtics are allowing just 99.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor (which would rank second in the league) compared to 106.3 with him off (which would rank 18th). If Garnett is unable to go, the Heat are liable to have an offensive field day.
Miami ranks second in points scored per 100 possessions (112.7) and is averaging 105.5 points per game over the 22-game winning streak. The Heat are difficult (if not impossible) to defend as it is. Forcing the Celtics to go nose-to-nose with their offense sans Garnett paves the way for disaster.
Say Garnett plays, though. Say he doesn't have to persevere through any pain and is as close to 100 percent as he's been. Will the Celtics derail the Heat then?
Boston is on a run of its own. Doc Rivers' combine is 9-3 against teams above .500 during its current 16-6 streak, and seven of those wins can be accounted for at home.
Even so, the Heat are just playing on a whole other level, one that even a thriving Celtics team can't breach.
Obviously any time we play Boston in Boston, it is a tough place to play. They play very well versus us (and) have been playing very well as of late. It is a challenge, a great challenge and I think we will be ready for it. We have to get our rest and we know we are going to have a dog fight on our hands.
That very "dog fight" Wade made reference to is supposedly the problem. Miami isn't necessarily concocted to successfully navigate those abrasive, tortoise-like genres of battle.
South Beach's finest is posting 105.5 points per game during their 22-game tear and they've scored the fourth-most points overall during that stretch, but to that, most would point to the Celtics' defense yet again.
They've relinquished an average of 94 points per game over their last 22, the fifth-most stingiest mark in the league. Should this turn into a grind-it-out contest (you know it will), their defense is built to withstand it.
But so is Miami's.
Over the last 22 games, the Heat are allowing opponents to drop an average 93.8 points per contest, the fourth-best mark in the league. They're defensive performance is just as prepared for a low-scoring affair as Boston's.
This isn't the same version of the Heat the Celtics beat back in January or rather, this isn't the same version of their defense.
Miami has held opponents to under 100 points in 17 of the last 22 victories, and it has had to win under similar, equally as brutal circumstances against tempo-dictating convocations like the New York Knicks, Memphis Grizzlies and Pacers. They're ready for this.
To say that the Celtics don't stand a chance or that the Heat will traipse their way to victory borders on inane. It's certainly a possibility that Miami rip-roars through the battered Celtics, but if we buy into recent history and either side's styles of play, we're in for a grueling matchup.
A laborious contest that favors the Heat winning and making even more history.
Dog fight or not.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports, 82games.com and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.
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