This isn’t college football; one game doesn’t define a season. All we know right now is that the Miami Heat will not go undefeated. These teams will both be there come postseason time, and both will be vying for a championship.
It’s too early to declare Boston the superior team, but that doesn’t mean that this wasn’t an important win. The Celtics had to come out and show that they would not be intimidated by the star power of Miami’s trio, and that they would not cede their throne as top in the East without a fight. In short, the Celtics had to prove to all the naysayers—anyone who said they were too old, or that this was Miami’s window—that they are still the defending conference champs.
And they did that in emphatic fashion. If not for a second half lapse and a “put me on your shoulders” run in the third quarter by LeBron James, the Celtics would have won this game going away. When it was the young guns on the Heat who were supposed to show the league what was in store for it this season, it was the Celtics that reminded everyone that they are still a threat to win the title.
Perhaps more importantly, the Celtics showed this Heat team that it won’t have a clear path to a title. There are a number of good teams in the way to the Larry O’Brien trophy, and that path will have to run through the Eastern Conference champs. It’s a theme that the Celtics are all too familiar with; they could only make their title run by getting by Detroit in the 2008 playoffs in a hard-fought six-game series.
That Detroit team was making its sixth straight appearance in the conference finals; this Celtics team has been to the NBA Finals two of the last three seasons. When the time comes, maybe the Heat will do what the 2008 Celtics did and defeat the standard bearer. But it won’t be the version of the Heat we saw tonight.
This was a sloppy game that did not feature either team at its best. Obviously the Heat won’t perform like that on offense every night, and the Celtics have room for improvement. But for this night, the Celtics were the better team. That doesn’t mean anything in the long run, but for now it means that they are still the team to beat in the East.