BOSTON It's only three games, not nearly enough consecutive victories for the Green Teamers to go out and get fitted for championship rings. But there's no question the Celtics are playing their best basketball of the season right now.
It's true that their success has been led by the starters, as it should be. But what has ultimately gotten them over the top of late has been a multitude of strong performances from the bench that for most of this season has been a disappointment.
What we're finding throughout the course of the season is how they seem to respond better facing some form of adversity.
Take Monday's win at New York, a game in which Rajon Rondo (suspension, his fourth in less than a year) did not play. In addition to his absence, the Celtics also had to deal with leading scorer Paul Pierce being in foul trouble.
Although Pierce finished with a team-high 23 points, it was the 16 points off the bench by Jeff Green that was just as important, considering most of it came while Pierce was on the bench.
Playing without Rondo, Avery Bradley had a season-high 13 points while three different Celtics (Bradley, Pierce and Jason Terry) each had five or more assists.
"Our bench as a whole has been big," Pierce told CSNNE.com. "You can't just point one guy out when you look at our bench."
That's how it was supposed to be when Danny Ainge assembled this group during the offseason. While it hasn't quite come together as quickly as many would have hoped, they have left little doubt that they can be the difference-makers that the C's envisioned at the start of the season.
"We just have to be consistent with it," Lee told CSNNE.com. "That's all. Just be more consistent."
They will get another opportunity tonight against Phoenix which has lost nine of its last 10 games.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The days of scoring a ton of points seems to be a thing of the past in Phoenix. They come into tonight's game averaging 96.4 points per game which ranks 16th in the league. They haven't finished outside of the top 10 in scoring since the 2003-2004 season.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Brandon Bass vs Luis Scola. Bass isn't scoring as much as he did last season, but his defense and rebounding has been solid during Boston's current three-game winning streak. Scola is a high-energy, multiple-effort kind of player so keeping him off the boards -- especially the offensive ones -- will be key for the C's.
PLAYER TO WATCH: It seems playing against the Boston Celtics brings out the best in Marcin Gortat, a player the C's may have some interest in as we get closer to the trading deadline. In the three games he has played against Boston since joining the Suns, he has averaged 18.7 points and 14 rebounds while shooting 56 percent from the field.
STAT TO TRACK: The third quarter has been decisively positive for the C's lately, and quite devastating to the Suns. In its last three wins, Boston outscored its opponents in the third quarter each game, by an average of 12.3 points per game. Meanwhile, Phoenix is giving up a league-high 25.6 points in the third quarter this season.