On Sunday afternoon, the Boston Celtics defeated the Miami Heat 85-82 to move to 39-14 on the season (best in the Eastern Conference by 0.5 games) and 3-0 against Miami.
I must admit, I had no expectations for the Celtics in this game. Given the amount of injuries they've suffered, I didn't think the C's would be able to pull this one out.
However, short bench and all, Boston was able to capture a thrilling three-point victory behind the sheer will of point guard Rajon Rondo.
Rondo played 43 minutes, finishing with 11 points on 5-10 shooting, 10 assists, and 10 rebounds. By my count, that's his third triple-double of the season.
While his stat line was very good, what Rondo did for the Celtics today can't really be quantified. 'Jon often catches a lot of flak for playing with so many future Hall of Famers; fans often label him a product of a system.
However, without Rondo's intensity on both ends of the floor, the Celtics don't come close to a victory in this game. He was a constant pest and instigator, firing his teammates up, taking the fight to Miami, and wreaking havoc on the perimeter.
It was an odd spectacle to see, but Rondo even guarded LeBron James for large chunks of the third quarter. After a lackluster first half, Doc Rivers called for more ball pressure on whichever Miami player was bringing the ball up the floor, and Rondo took it upon himself to do just that.
While Rondo had a significant size disadvantage against James, it didn't really matter. 'Jon contained LeBron and kept him far enough away from the basket so that James wasn't able to effectively utilize his size mismatch.
Rondo was able to limit James' court vision and restrict his passing options by using his small frame and quickness to get underneath James' body and center of gravity, confining him to a strictly perimeter-oriented offensive game.
But it wasn't just Rondo who played a good game. In the words of Tommy Heinsohn, today's effort was "determination personified by everyone in a white jersey."
Nate Robinson was limited to just five minutes of play after suffering a right knee bruise against the Lakers last Thursday.
Because of this, the Celtics essentially ran a seven-man rotation with only six regulars in the mix. Von Wafer, who played 14 minutes and scored 10 points, has recently seen a spike in playing time as the result of a spinal cord bruise to Celtics wingman Marquis Daniels.
The Celtics played the entire game without a backup center, small forward, or point guard. Paul Pierce went 0-10 and is clearly still suffering from the effects of the flu.
Every Celtic who played, minus Nate Robinson and Avery Bradley (who played something like eight seconds), exceeded their season averages in minutes. Three players (Rondo, Allen, and Pierce) played over 40 minutes.
And yet, the Celtics were able to pull out a victory.
The Celtics shot just 42.3 percent (30-71) from the field, a far cry from their league leading team field goal percentage (50 percent).
Paul Pierce had one of the worst outings of his career, scoring just one point on 0-10 shooting. Today marked the first time since 1999 that Pierce played more than 10 minutes in a game and did not make at least one field goal.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, today was also the first time since 1959 that the Celtics won a game in which a player went 0-10 or worse from the field.
But they did other things well. They rebounded effectively, registering 40 boards (9 offensive), and they took advantage of the charity stripe, going 21-28 (75 percent) on free throws.
As far as wins go, this might be Boston's best of the season.
The Celtics came away with a victory against one of the NBA's best teams, despite being more than just a little shorthanded.
Sure, they could have played better, but their grit, determination and defensive intensity were arguably at their highest points all year. The Celtics hang their hats on these traits, and they'll have to play with the urgency and aggressiveness that they showed today if they want to end the season with a championship banner.
MVP's of the game: Rajon Rondo (11 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists); Glen Davis (30 minutes, 16 points, 6-11 shooting, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals).
Other Celtics News
- Delonte West is targeting a Wednesday return against the New Jersey Nets. West is recovering from a right wrist fracture. He's played in just five games this season.
- Shaquille O'Neal is unlikely to return until after the All-Star break. The Celtics are labeling his injury a sore achilles tendon.
- The extent of Marquis Daniels' spinal cord injury is still unknown. It's not certain whether or not he'll return at all this season. If he's ruled out indefinitely, don't be surprised if the Celtics make a move for a backup small forward. While a full roster makes a trade difficult, headcoach Doc Rivers has been vocal about needing a backup small forward. It's possible (and would make more financial sense) for the Celtics to arrange the buyout of another player. This is entirely speculation, but with the Suns struggling, veteran Grant Hill would make a fantastic addition to the Celtics. Hill was close to becoming a Celtic before the 2009-10 season, but he ultimately ended up resigning with Phoenix.
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