Highlights as the Boston Celtics are able to hold off the Miami Heat and get the win 112-108 at the TD Garden.
BOSTON -- Location, location, location.
The Boston Celtics are seemingly where they want to be following their 112-108 win Sunday night over Miami, a victory that put the Celtics (48-26, .649 winning percentage) in a virtual tie with defending NBA champ Cleveland (47-25, .652).
But position means very little without purposeful play, something the Celtics are gradually doing more of than not.
And because of that, they find themselves one strong finish to the season away from going into the playoffs with the top overall record in the East for the first time since 2008 -- the year they brought home Banner 17.
While few anticipate the Celtics will advance to the NBA Finals, they have at least positioned themselves to have a shot at making a good run during the postseason if they can secure home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The last time the top overall top seed in the East failed to make it past the first round was in 2012 when the Chicago Bulls were eliminated by the eighth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, a series that was marred by injuries to Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah that created a much smoother pathway for the upstart Sixers to move on to the second round where they were defeated by Boston in seven games.
And while the players have tried to downplay the significance of landing the top seed in the East, there’s no question it’s something that they know all too well is within their reach.
Cleveland has a much tougher schedule to close out the season, one that includes a Monday night matchup at San Antonio against a Spurs team that’s fighting for the top spot out West.
The Celtics players have talked often about wanting to be in the best position possible going into the playoffs.
Having the top seed?
That’ll do it.
And while Celtics players were aware of where the team was in relation to Cleveland, being tied for the top spot with the Cavs isn’t something that Boston is getting too giddy about right now.
“We hear it, but that wasn’t our focus [against Miami],” said Marcus Smart. “Our focus was to come in, get another game, keep that momentum going before we start the playoffs.”
Coach Brad Stevens said not a word was spoken in the locker room after Sunday’s win about the team now being in a virtual tie with the Cavs.
“I think -- I talked about this earlier --obviously the guys, because they get . . . most of them. to be honest, because they’re asked so much, some of them obviously have already said they watch it pretty closely,” Stevens said. “But I’ve tried to say, ‘Hey, it’s about playing as well as we can . . . ' ”
That and location, location, location.
BOSTON – After most Celtics games, Amir Johnson can easily navigate his way around the Boston Celtics’ locker room with very little fanfare from the media.
And when you least expect it, he’ll surprise you by blurting something out you didn’t expect, like in the middle of Isaiah Thomas’ post-game interview on Sunday night he yelled, ‘give a shout-out; you know what time it is!’
In many ways, Johnson’s ability to be below-the-radar but present inside the Celtics locker room, isn’t all that different than what he does between the lines every night for Boston.
His play in Sunday’s 112-108 win over Miami was about as flawless a performance as we’ve seen from the 6-foot-9 veteran this season.
Johnson finished with 14 points coming on 6-for-6 shooting from the field. Along with his scoring, Johnson also added seven rebounds, five assists and two steals.
But more than anything else, it was Johnson doing the one thing most didn’t anticipate he could for the Celtics – stay healthy.
When the Celtics signed him to a two-year, $24 million contract in 2015, his durability was a bit of a concern despite him missing very few games with the Toronto Raptors whom he spent six seasons with.
While he didn’t miss many games with the Raptors, he did play in pain at times when he probably should not have.
A similar trend may be taking shape with Boston with Johnson being a near-Iron Man this season with 70 starts in 73 games, both tops among all Celtics players.
And while his minutes are less than other starters, it’s clear in watching him play closely that Boston has a tremendous amount of respect and value for what Johnson brings to the table at both ends of the floor.
We saw in the win over a scrappy Miami Heat team, the way Johnson made an impact at both ends of the floor.
In addition to his scoring, Johnson did his part to help others get going offensively by registering five screen assists which was second on the team (Al Horford, six) against the Heat.
Johnson was also tied for second on the team with four deflections against Miami while recovering a team-best three loose balls. But what really seemed to be almost contagious with the Celtics in the second half more so than the first against Miami was their increased effort to contest as many Heat shots as possible.
And yes it was Johnson leading the way with 12 contested two-point shots which was tops among all Celtics players against the Heat.
Contesting shots and grabbing loose balls is not going to get you on the even news highlight reel, or a lot of love from fans, either.
But it does get the attention of the coaching staff and the respect of teammates who have repeatedly talked about how important Johnson’s presence is to what they are trying to accomplish this season.
“Just recognizing every win counts as we get closer to postseason,” Johnson said. “I feel like I play hard every time I get out on the floor. Just getting an opportunity … just playing hard.”
And he does this on a nightly basis, even if his numbers don’t just jump out at you.
But that’s OK.
In his 12th NBA season, Johnson knows chapter and verse on what it takes to last so long in the NBA and not necessarily have your role being that of a superstar.
Johnson figured out early on his career that he wasn’t going to be that kind of player, but that wouldn’t prevent him from being someone who can impact the game in a positive way in a multitude of roles if needed.
“He’s been very reliable all season,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “He just continues to get better as the season has progressed.”