The franchise-altering departure of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett marked the end of a series of outstanding and entertaining battles between foes who are LeBron James and his minions, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. And who can forget the heart-breaking decision of Ray Allen to leave Celtics and join forces with the team that Boston was one quarter away from beating in the Eastern Conference Championship that previous year?
That was just a small sampling of the numerous memorable moments between these teams in the last few years. Since the Celtics are no longer a viable threat in the East, the rivalry has died. However, that doesn’t mean this Boston team won’t stand up to the reigning champions.
With a slim chance of making the playoffs this season, playing the Heat in Miami is as close as a playoff game the Celtics may get this season. Clearly, there is still some bad blood between these two teams.
Brandon Bass and Rajon Rondo were significant parts of the rivalry and most likely still hate King James. Also, Jeff Green has always pushed LeBron to the brink. He displayed a 43-point offensive output last season, and hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in the reigning Finals MVP’s face earlier this season. No, these teams aren’t going to meet in the playoff any time soon, but that hasn’t stopped their contests from turning into bloodbaths.
Boston ultimately fell to the Heat last night 93-86 after coming back from an 18-point deficit. The game was tied at 86 with just a few minutes to go when the Heat finally got the better of the young, inexperienced team by ending the game on a 9-0 run.
However, how the Celtics played is much more important that the result of the game. They out-hustled the Heat and worked extremely hard on both ends of the floor. The fact that the Celtics have stuck neck-in-neck with the star-studded Heat for consecutive contests speaks loudly about the pride and character of this Boston squad.
Although I am in favor of the Celtics having a losing season to get a high draft pick, games like this are undoubtedly important for the growth of the young players. Being competitive against a premier team and pushing them to the brink not only speaks volumes about coach Brad Stevens, but for some of the young players as well.
When players like Jared Sullinger, Avery Bradley, Phil Pressey, newcomer Chris Johnson, and Kelly Olynyk are put in close-game situations against a championship-caliber team, they get a taste of that playoff atmosphere. No matter the result, these games are extremely beneficial to the nucleus of the team.
Hopefully, the Celtics can continue to be competitive against some of the best teams. The Oklahoma City Thunder and Brooklyn Nets are coming up in the road ahead. Let’s see if the Cs can push these playoff-caliber teams to the edge like they did to the Heat.