The Boston Celtics stole a crucial game away from the Indiana Pacers last night with a Jeff Green buzzer beating layup with half a second remaining. Not only could this be a playoff preview, but more importantly, Boston is closing in on three teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings. As of today the Celtics are a half game behind the Chicago Bulls, a game behind the Atlanta Hawks, who they play tomorrow night at the TD Garden, and a game and a half behind the Brooklyn Nets. It’s a long shot, but Boston also has the chance at capturing the third seed as they are only four and a half games behind the Pacers. Who would have thought after losing Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger that this would even be possible?
As demonstrated in the last four games, the Boston Celtics are playing as a team and not as individuals. They’re trusting each other on the floor, and it showed when Avery Bradley was given the ball at the beginning of the play that set Jeff Green up for the game winning layup. Paul Pierce, who is the go-to guy in clutch situations, didn’t touch the ball on the final possession, but created the pick which got Green free on the baseline. Throughout the Big Three era, it was always Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, or Ray Allen, when he was a Celtic, who attempted the final shot. Now, Doc Rivers has multiple options that he can go to, and because the whole team is involved anyone can come through in the clutch.
Some may ask the question, “How is it possible that the Boston Celtics are going on this playoff run without key players?” The answer lies within the team. It hasn’t been since 2008 when everyone played for each other instead of themselves, which completely embodied what Celtic greats Bill Russell, Tommy Heinsohn, and Larry Bird emphasized. Since Rondo’s season ended Boston is 13-4, and they’re playing at a much higher level. Some people think that the Celtics play better without Rondo, while others say they’re playing for him, but just from observations, I’d say it’s because everyone has had to step up. Players from Paul Pierce to Terrence Williams have had to play in key situations instead of being mere witnesses the whole night on the bench, their numbers could be called at any minute, and they’ve been ready when they’ve had to play.
The last 17 games have been very similar to how the Celtics played in 2010. Again, in that season everyone contributed off the bench from Nate Robinson to Rasheed Wallace. What Celtics fans witnessed last night was something special that hasn’t been seen in a few years. No matter who they’ve lost in the lineup this season, they continue to press forward. Pierce once made reference to the 300 Spartans and the adversity they faced throughout their battle of Thermopylae, but they fought together as a group, or in sports terms as a team. The Celtics have that mentality right now, it’s not just one player who is going to take the fall, it will be all of them. It has just been absolutely inspiring to watch these guys play with so much heart, and it would be heart-breaking to see them come up short in the playoffs.
Skip Bayless of ESPN First Take has said throughout the year that the Boston Celtics pose the biggest threat to the Miami Heat. He might be right. Miami is the best team in the NBA, but there are ways to beat them. However, in a seven game series without home court advantage that would be tough. The Indiana Pacers matchup perfectly against the Heat because of their height and depth. Since Boston can’t field much height, they have to take on the challenge of defeating the Heat as a team, which so far has been successful. The Heat come to Boston on March 18, and that game will give us a good indication of the Celtics chances against the reigning champions.
Tomorrow the Boston Celtics face the Atlanta Hawks at the Garden. If Boston gets their fifth straight win, and a few other shoes drop in the Celtics favor, they could be tied with Atlanta for fifth in the standings, while being a half game behind Brooklyn who is in fourth. As Kevin Garnett once said, “anything is possible”, and right now Celtics Nation is beginning to believe once again. As I said before, what’s made this run possible is the teamwork and contributions from everyone. The Celtics are the true definition of a team, and unless their opponents have the same chemistry, it will be hard to defeat them in the playoffs. It’s truly been inspiring to watch Boston go into battle and emerge victorious, and as long as they carry each other and share the burden, they’ll triumph over any obstacle in their way.