Twenty-three thoughts on an unforgettable night

Twenty-three thoughts on an unforgettable night
March 19, 2013, 3:45 pm
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In case you missed it, the Miami Heat beat the Celtics last night at the Garden to earn their 23rd consecutive victory; a victory that left Miami as the proud owner of the second longest win streak in NBA history. And if you somehow really did miss it, well . . . I hope that 2 Broke Girls/Mike & Molly power hour was worth it because you missed a great one.
 
Either way, in the spirit Miami’s streak, here are 23 highlights, thoughts and sizzurp-induced ramblings from an unforgettable night at the Garden:
 
1. It kills me to admit this, but the Celtics are currently/probably/definitely Boston’s fourth most popular professional sports team. Although, I’d say that’s as much — if not more — a product of the culture in this region than it is an indictment on the franchise.
 
I mean, think about it: The Celtics have won five straight Atlantic division titles, tying them with the Patriots (2003-07) and two other Celtics teams (1971-76 and 1982-87) for Boston’s longest run of divisional dominance since 1965.
 
Over those five years, the Celtics won a championship, they went seven games in another Finals, went seven games in an Eastern Conference Finals and have never failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs — all while having to overcome an annual stretch of devastating injuries. Currently, they have two of the best players, not just of this generation, BUT OF ALL TIME on their roster, playing their ass off (just about) every night in the name of pride and love for the game and this franchise.
 
Yet at the same time, for the better part of the last three years, Felger and Mazz has dedicated itself to tearing this team, its players and the entire NBA to shreds. And has basically done so without consequence. If anything, they’ve thrived on it. And as a result, it’s become impossible to ignore the reality.
 
In terms of overall interest, it goes:
 
1. Patriots.
2. Red Sox.
3. Bruins.
4. Celtics.
 
Those are the rankings, and there’s not too much room for debate.
 
But with that being said, there’s no question that the diehard Celtics fan base is stronger, more committed and as passionate as ever. They may not have a true home within Boston’s current sports media landscape (OBVIOUSLY OUTSIDE OF CSN’S NIGHTLY BROADCAST COVERAGE), but you know what? They don’t need one. The Garden is their home. And last night, Celtics fans did that home and this team proud.
 
From the opening tip — even before the opening tip — The Jungle was on another level. It didn’t matter that Rajon Rondo was out, or that Kevin Garnett was out, or that the Heat are in the midst of one of the most dominant stretches in NBA history — led by one of the most dominant players in NBA history — or that, on paper, the Celtics had no business being in that game. If you didn’t know better, you would have thought it was Game 7 of the NBA Finals. And even though the C’s fell short, the fans’ effort wasn’t in vane. They may not have left happy, but they left proud. And they’ll keep coming back, even if the rest of the city doesn’t give a crap.
 
2. So, Jeff Green had 43 points.
 
Jeff Green had 43 points.
 
Jeff Green had 43 points.
 
How many times do you I think have to type that before it stops looking so weird?
 
Jeff Green had 43 points.
 
Jeff Green had 43 points.
 
Nope. Still weird. And do you know what’s also weird/legitimately scary?
 
Jeff Green is still a very raw talent.
 
He still has only one post move (that little jump hook); he still can barely use his left hand (or just doesn’t choose to); he has nothing even remotely resembling a mid-range game. Outside of the occasional three-point barrage, Green does most of his damage with pure speed, strength and freakish athleticism. And often times, even that looks a little awkward. He must lead the league in points scored after jumping off the wrong foot.
 
By the way, I’m not trying to be negative. I don’t mean to pick this guy apart after the biggest and most inspiring performance of his career. I’m just saying, you can only imagine what Green will be capable of once he crafts a legitimate game around his uncommon physical gifts.
 
The bottom line is that there’s still so much more for him to learn and far greater heights within his reach. The only question is whether he can maintain the focus, confidence and motivation to get there. If he can, who knows? Maybe someday “Jeff Green had 43 points” won’t look so weird.
 
3. Another a thought, re: Jeff Green, focus and motivation —
 
At what point does Doc Rivers consider finding Green a permanent spot in the starting line-up? By a permanent spot, I obviously mean Brandon Bass’ spot. But seriously, isn’t worth a try?
 
Of course, you run the risk of pissing off (and potentially losing) Bass, and no one wants that, but in terms of figuring out what’s best for the future of this franchise, Brandon Bass’ psyche isn’t high on the list of priorities.
 
And of course, there’s also the issue of rebounding, an area in which Bass has proven to be a somewhat consistent contributor, while Green has proven to be the exact opposite.
 
But at the same time, Green had seven rebounds last night. He was all right — at least better than he’s been in Boston — on the glass back in OKC. Above all else, he’s got the physical tools to be consistent rebounder. It’s just a matter of lighting a fire under his ass and putting him in the best position to connect the dots and put those tools to use.
 
All I know is that from the second Green arrived in Boston he made it clear that he’s more comfortable as a starter. In May of that year, Danny Ainge even went on the radio and threw out the idea of bringing Paul Pierce off the bench so that Green could get in the line-up. And this year, in two of Green’s four starts he’s gone for 31 points, seven rebound, four assists and five blocks against Phoenix, and 43 points, seven rebounds and four blocks against the Heat.
 
Obviously, two games is two games. And it was two games without KG. But at this point, what does Doc have to lose?
 
Nothing compared to what he has to gain.
 
4. With 8:26 left in last night’s game, Jordan Crawford pulled a 30-footer out of his rear end to give the Celtics a 96-83 lead. At this point, the crowd went bonkers, Miami’s back was against the wall, and it looked like that wall — along with their 22-game winning streak — was about to disintegrate.
 
Anyway, on the next Heat possession, LeBron hit a three to cut the lead to 10, at which point the Celtics delivered a painful dissertation, uncreatively titled: “How To Blow A Double Digit Fourth Quarter Lead.”
 
Here’s the running shot chart from the two minutes after LeBron’s trey:
 
7:39 - Jason Terry misses 25-foot jumper
7:16 - LeBron James misses layup
7:07 - LeBron James makes dunk             
6:41 - Jordan Crawford misses 26-foot jumper
6:22 - Chris Bosh makes a shot from two feet out.       
6:07 - Jordan Crawford misses 24-foot jumper
5:48 - Jason Terry misses seven-foot jumper
5:33 - LeBron James makes driving layup
 
To summarize: The Celtics went 0-4, while taking one shot from inside 24-feet. The Heat went 3-4, while taking only lay ups and dunks. Coincidentally, the lead went from 10 to four, and Miami had new life.
 
So what happened? We all know what happened. The Celtics know what happened. They let their guard down. They got careless. They forgot who they are. They forgot who Miami is. And while that spelled disaster last night, you can only hope that Boston will be better for it in the long term.
 
5. With 2:40 left, Miami finally took the lead (101-100) on a Mario Chalmers three, and I know I’m not the only one who thought that was the dagger; that with the comeback complete, the Heat were ready to take things to another level and slam the Celtics back down to Earth.
 
Instead — after a bad Jason Terry turnover — Green made a defensive stop on LeBron, and on the next Celtics possession, Paul Pierce found Avery Bradley in the corner for a wide open three.
 
Bradley caught the ball, and didn’t hesitate for a second. He launched a three, held his follow through like Sydney Deane, and watched as the rock tore through the net. He then turned, raised three fingers in the air and jogged back down the court as if he’d been doing this for years.
 
Celtics 103, Heat 101.
 
The shot was lost in the chaos of everything that transpired afterwards, but there’s no way it was lost inside the mind of Bradley. He knows he took it, and he knows he made it. And he’ll be ready to do the same thing the next time that opportunity arises, regardless of the stage.
 
Honestly, while Green's long term Celtics success may still be somewhat of a wild card, I think we’ve reached the point where it’s fair to say that health and durability are the only things standing between Avery Bradley and a very significant NBA career.
 
On that note: Extend him Danny! Do it now.
 
6. All that being said, Bradley’s ball handling continues to be exposed every time the opposition decides to pressure him. There were a few occasions last night when Mario Chalmers Avery’d Avery, and the more that shows up on film, the more pressure he can expect to see — especially once the playoffs roll around.
 
This isn’t that big of a long-term issue, because Bradley isn’t the point guard of the future and won’t have to carry that load once Rondo’s back. But if there’s one thing he needs to improve upon moving forward it’s his ball handling.
 
Well, ball handling and defense. He’s starting be a serious liability out there.
 
7. Doc Rivers has taken a fair amount of criticism for his play call on the C’s game-winning shot attempt, because that’s what tends to happen when an extended “officials” time out results in 6-2, 180-pound Jason Terry setting a screen on 8-6, 400-pound LeBron James for the purpose of freeing up an exhausted Paul Pierce for a fade-away three.
 
And it’s true. That wasn’t Doc’s finest moment. But on the bright side, rest assured that that play's been torn up, burned to ashes and thrown onto the same scrap heap that houses Darko’s contract and the remnants of JaJuan Johnson.
 
8. Speaking of Pierce: This past weekend, I was watching Larry Bird’s 50 Greatest Moments on NBA TV, and in between fits of uncontrollable laughter and amazement, there was one clip that had me thinking about The Truth.
 
It was an interview with (then coach) Chris Ford in the aftermath of Bird’s heroics in Game 5 of the Celtics 1991 first round series against the Pacers. You know, the game when he smacked his head on the parquet, went back to the locker room, emerged possessed and sent the Rifleman and Co. packing.
 
Anyway, Ford was asked about Bird’s performance and was essentially at a loss for words. I mean, what more could he say?
 
Here’s what he said:
 
“(Bird’s) a leader. He’s a leader of the Celtics and will be until he retires.”
 
I was reminded of that quote again last night, watching Pierce lead the C’s into battle against the NBA’s best, alongside Jason Terry and bunch of guys who were still in elementary back when Pierce started this ridiculous Celtics career.
 
“He’s a leader. He’s a leader of the Celtics and will be until he retires.”
 
9. Remember when they used have actual halftime shows at the Garden? I’m talking about classic acts like Red Panda, Quick Change and all kinds of other ridiculousness. Honestly, it wasn’t so long ago that halftime at a Celtics game was one step below a carnival freak show . . . and it was amazing!
 
At the very least, it was more entertaining than a random seventh grade girls travel team sling bricks for 15 minutes while Coach Willie May screams at the top of his lungs.
 
Seriously, where’s Red Panda?!
 
Is it a matter of cost? If so, I’ve got a great idea for the C’s to raise some extra dough.
 
10. Pay Per View KG Cam.
 
Come on, like you wouldn’t pay $10 for a live feed of Kevin Garnett watching the Celtics from the training room, at home on his couch, in a dark cave or wherever he is when he’s not in uniform. That thing would have 100K subscribers faster than you can say Alaa Abdelnaby (and much faster than you can spell it).
 
That’s a million dollars.
 
That’s a whole lotta Red Panda.
 
11. There’s no greater indication of the absurdity last night’s game than the fact that Ray Allen’s return is barely worth a mention.
 
In fact, that sentence should just about do it.
 
12. Last night on Twitter, I suggested that with a little more consistency, Jason Terry’s Jet Arms might supplant the Walker Wiggle as my favorite post shot celebration in Celtics history — and that suggestion was met with outrage.
 
And I get it. The Walker Wiggle is an institution.
 
But I give Terry credit for his strategic use of Jet Arms.
 
While Antoine would miss eight straight threes and then Wiggle after he draining his ninth, Terry only extends his arms when the time is right, and it always adds to the moment. And . . .
 
Eh, who am I kidding. Nothing will ever beat the Wiggle.
 
13. Chris Andersen was relatively awful last night for Miami. In fact, Birdman was -18 in 11 minutes of action, during which he took zero shots, picked up three rebounds, three fouls and committed two turnovers.
 
Still, every second that he was out there, I found myself wishing that he was in Green. After all, the Celtics have been in need of a big man like Andersen since the moment Darko split town. In other words, for the entire season. And month after month, Birdman — a 6-10, high energy, board-crashing, defensive minded big man — was there for taking. He was exactly what the Celtics needed.
 
On January 20, he signed a 10-day contract with Miami. Then he signed a second 10-day contract. Then the Heat locked him up for the rest of the season, and he’s since worked his way into rotation — playing 13-15 minutes a night for the entire extent of this 23-game winning streak.
 
He’s got a little Avery Bradley in him, you know? He’s wild. He’s spastic. He’s irritating as hell. He’s a great role player on a great team. And now he’s in line for ring.
 
14. Speaking of random Heat role players, here’s a quick shout to Udonis Haslem. After all, you have to respect anyone who manages/elects to spend his entire career with one team; even if that team is the Heat.
 
And especially when said player hasn’t missed a single mid-range jump shot in 10 years. Or so it seems.
 
15. Jordan Crawford has undoubtedly exceeded expectations with the C’s, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever be comfortable with the idea of him playing significant minutes in Boston. The dude’s an absolute trip, like Tony Allen in Tony Delk’s body.
 
The craziest part of the Crawford experience is that every shot attempt is bittersweet. On one hand, he takes a shot, and you’re obviously hoping that it falls. On the other hand, you know that for every shot that goes in, there will be at least one horrendous shot to follow.
 
You ever play one of those video poker games where they give you the option to play double or nothing after every winning hand? Well, Crawford goes double or nothing after EVERY WINNING HAND. And doesn’t stop until he craps out.
 
16. In his post-game press conference, Doc Rivers cited Boston’s 20 turnovers as perhaps the biggest factor in their loss. But here’s another:
 
15-24 from the foul line — “led” by Crawford’s 1-4 and Pierce’s 3-6.
 
Moving forward, free throws are the least of Boston’s worries. They’re shooting 77 percent on the year, which is good for ninth in the NBA.
 
But you’re not going to beat the Heat by losing 20 turnovers and giving away nine freebies. (Although I guess they almost did.)
 
17. LeBron on Terry vs. DeAndre on Knight.
 
Who got it worse? Who gave it worse?
 
I’m not sure, but I can tell you this: If you want your son to grow up to be a viscous dunker, throw a “lower case ‘e’ followed by any capital letter” combo into his first name. He’ll be posterizing before he can walk.
 
18. Now that I brought up the dunk, I guess I should finally mention LeBron and the most effortless 37-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist, two-steal, two-block, game-winning fadeaway jump shot performance these eyes have ever seen.
 
The craziest and scariest thing about LeBron these days is the word “steady.”
 
Steady is typically a pretty modest word, right? It’s the kind of word use to describe a consistent role player or reliable train schedule. But LeBron has taken steady to the extreme. Sure, there are thunderous dunks and ridiculous blocks, but more than anything it’s just steady, unwavering dominance. He controls every aspect of the game. He’s more dominant in ways that go entirely unrecognized.
 
And he should have every Celtics fan in the world thanking Jeebus that the C’s picked up that title when they did.
 
19. The previous entry might render this question insignificant, but is there any chance this winning streak might negatively affect Miami’s title hopes?
 
I mean, I know the Lakers won the year they ripped off 33 in a row, but that streak ended in January and that was at a time when media coverage consisted of small handful of beat writers and negligible national presence.
 
But for the Heat to withstand all this insanity and round the clock coverage so close to the playoffs? You wonder if it might start to take it’s toll.
 
You wonder because it might be the rest of the NBA’s only hope.
 
20. Which do you think would have been the better long term outcome for the Celtics: To lose last night’s game the way they did, or to have beaten Miami with KG in the line-up?
 
My instincts said a win, because a win is a win. Especially against Miami.
 
But the more I thought about it, the Celtics already know what they can do with KG. They’ve already beaten Miami with KG. But to have him out of the picture and open the door for Jeff Green’s explosion could very well mean a lot more down the stretch.
 
For all we know, it could be a turning point in Jeff Green’s career.
 
Although that might be the sizzurp talking.
 
21. But the more important question is this: Did last night’s loss REALLY do anything to change the dynamics of potential Boston/Miami playoff series?
 
Are Celtics more likely to eliminate the Heat for almost beating them without Kevin Garnett?
 
If anything, I’ll just repeat what I wrote yesterday after KG’s status was called into question:
 
The lesson, as always: When these two teams get together, you throw reality out the window. It doesn’t matter who’s playing or who’s sitting. Who’s coming down with a sudden case of torn ACL or who’s resting his groin in the comfort of his own home, pacing around the apartment and tearing apart pillows while his teammates are in the heat of battle.
 
The bottom line: These teams are going to find away to make this a classic game. A part of the drama might die with KG not on the floor, but the rivalry will live on.
 
It always does.
 
22. I should probably take a second and show some respect to the Heat for this ridiculous stretch. As much we all hate them here in Boston, we also have a great respect for greatness, and that’s the only word that fits.
 
23. Thanks for sticking it out, everyone who did.
 
Stay tuned for the next edition on April 13, the day after the Celtics make their trip to Miami.
 
I’m already dreading having to come up with 36 of these.