Showdown with Heat is more than just a game

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Showdown with Heat is more than just a game

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

BOSTON NBA players and coaches will tell you all the time, games this time of year have little bearing on what you can expect in the playoffs.

But if you massage that theory enough, you'll see it loosen up to the point where you see that there are indeed exceptions.

Sunday's game between Boston and Miami?

That would be one of those exceptions.

At the end of the season, the win-loss tally will tell you it was just one game.

That's a lie, people!

Sunday's game is so much more than just another one of 82 on the schedule.

When these two teams met to open the season and Boston came away with the win, no one made too big a deal about.

Why?

Because the Celtics had already gone throughout the morphing from a Big Three triumvirate, to a Fantastic Foursome that now included Rajon Rondo.

Meanwhile, the Heat's Big Three of Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were too busy trying to not step on each other's toes and in the process, tripped and stumbled their way out to start the season.

When the two met for a second matchup, Miami was better - but not good enough as the Celtics once again came away victorious.

Now that Round Three between the two teams is here, the Celtics are in position to unleash the kind of mental warfare that frankly, I don't believe the Heat can come back from.

Beating the Heat once?

OK, it happens.

Beating them twice?

Still, not that big a deal.

Beating them a third time, with three of their top four centers out and a couple of banged up bodies in the backcourt?

It would easily qualify as the most impressive win of the season for a Celtics team that has already knocked off San Antonio, beat the Los Angeles Lakers in their own building, and won two out of three over the Orlando Magic.

But let's be clear.

Even if the Celtics were at full strength, Sunday afternoon's game would still be a tough one.

Miami comes in riding an eight-game winning streak.

And their win at Detroit on Friday coupled with Boston's home loss to the Lakers on Thursday, gave the Heat a half-game lead in the race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

But as much as these two teams are speeding ahead for the No. 1 seed in the East, they're battling for something that might be even more valuable.

NBA games are just as much about what happens in between the ears, as it is what happens between the lines.

Miami has not been phased by the two losses to Boston this season because in both instances, there were circumstances by which the games could have been easily dismissed.

But there is no way the Heat could explain away a Celtics victory on Sunday.

Miami's coming in with the better record.

They have a nice eight-game winning streak while the C's have lost three of the last four.

It makes for a matchup that on paper at least, heavily favors the Heat.

But this game isn't being played on paper.

It's being played on the parquet.

And the Celtics have proven repeatedly that in the games in which they are giving the steepest odds of being successful, they are money.

That's why as lopsided as Sunday's game appears to be, the C's are exactly where they need to be.

Now that Ray Allen and the 3-point record are done with, he'll continue to be his usually efficient self.

Paul Pierce will get his share of big buckets from the perimeter.

Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, all of those guys seem to be at their best in big games like this - even if they tell you it's just another one of 82.

That's a lie, people!

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Al Horford makes his mark on Celtics win with defense

Al Horford makes his mark on Celtics win with defense

BOSTON – Al Horford had the kind of game that stands out because of the way he scored from so many different spots on the floor. 

But the true measure of his value to this team usually lies in what he brings to the floor defensively. 

Horford had one of his better games defensively in Boston’s 97-92 win over Sacramento on Friday, a game in which he had a season-high six blocked shots. 

For the season, the four-time All-Star is averaging a career-high 2.9 blocks per game.

He’ll be looking to do more of the same tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers. 

While Philly doesn’t have a player as dominant and difficult to contain as DeMarcus Cousins, their top post player Joel Embiid has been impressive even with a minutes restriction after having missed the last two seasons with injuries and recovery. 

Against Sacramento, he had a season-high six blocked shots which was one short of tying his career high which came against the Kings during the 2010-2011 season. 

Although Horford has ranked among the NBA’s top big men when it comes to blocking shots, the Celtics knew when they signed him to a four-year, $113 million contract they were adding a player who could help with rim protection. 

The biggest play in the Celtics’ win over Sacramento came in the closing seconds when Horford was credited with blocking DeMarcus Cousins’ shot. Horford was fouled and went to the line and made his free throws to secure the victory. 

“Playing at the power forward position it really frees me up defensively,” Horford said. “I feel like I can run around a little more and have more impact. When you are a center a lot of the times you get caught up with the bigs and it’s a little harder to get out to shooters and stuff. I’m just trying to be active, as active as I can.”

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas who was among the Green Teamers to recruit Horford to sign with Boston, seeing him protect the rim the way he did on Friday was no surprise.

“We’ve always known when we recruited him we knew that was what he was good at,” Thomas said. “Even if he doesn’t block shots, he alters shots and changes them. He’s a hell of a player on both ends of the floor and he played a hell of a game (on Friday).”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens likes what he sees out of Horford defensively, especially now that he plays for Boston and not Atlanta which eliminated the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs last season. 

“He was terrific in our series,” Stevens said. “Terrific. And so, playing him 10 times last year, and so, I mean, I think I’m an idiot but after 10 times I had at least an idea. You know, he’s all over the place and he covers a lot of ground, he calls out calls, and I think he’s a competitive guy. And that proof is in his winning track record.”