BOSTON (CBS) — Any team can win on any night in the NBA regular season.
That was a lesson taught to me years ago by a fellow writer on the NBA beat. Despite a seeming lack of parity throughout the superstar driven league, the theory holds true throughout the grind of a 82-game regular season.
The Boston Celtics proved it once again last night. Arriving in Miami on the second night of a back-to-back, they faced long odds against the defending NBA champions. Add the fact that they were playing without their All-Star point guard, and those odds became even slimmer.
The Celtics did not back down though. They went punch-for-punch offensively with Lebron James and company for a full 48 minutes before Brad Stevens drew up some magic with 0.6 seconds remaining. His beautiful game winning play allowed Jeff Green to hoist up an improbable three-pointer as time expired for a 111-110 win.
The critics will see the C’s win as an anomaly. They’ll give excuses for the Heat. Miami was on cruise control. They weren’t really putting forth their best effort for most of the contest.
Well, I’ll tell you what: it’s pretty hard to play without effort in a game and shoot a season-high 57.7 percent from the field. That’s exactly what the Heat did last night, in their defeat. Miami had their full slate of stars. They hadn’t played a game the night before, unlike the Celtics. The league’s reigning MVP played his usual 37 minutes and hit tough jumper after tough jumper down the stretch.
It wasn’t enough to take down the upstart Celtics though. Channeling a Red Sox-like scrappiness, they got contributions from literally the entire roster. Green was the star with his team-high 24 points and incredible game-winner, but the credit should not stop there.
In order for Green to make that shot, Gerald Wallace had to make a pinpoint pass across the court, and he delivered the long ball with tremendous precision. Likewise, the C’s never would have had that opportunity to win without a breakout fourth quarter from Avery Bradley (4-for-4 shooting, nine points).
Even Kris Humphries was dusted off and chipped in with nine points, five rebounds, a couple of blocks off the bench in spot duty. Every single Celtic who got into the game got on the score sheet, and Boston needed every one of those points to squeak out the win.
With the victory, suddenly, the Celtics are not just longer relegated to tank talk. With a three-game winning streak under their belt, opportunity awaits in the coming week, with a three-game home stand featuring winnable contests against Orlando, Charlotte, and Portland.
For a team that was just happy to get into the win column last week, a five-game winning streak and a chance to get over the .500 mark isn’t just a pipe dream now, it’s a distinct possibility.
Stevens deserves the most acclaim for turning the Celtics’ ship around so quickly in this campaign. After being dealt a turned over, mismatched roster, the wheels could have come off this crew quickly after dropping four games right out of the gate.
Despite the defeats, Stevens had Boston progressing on the floor throughout the majority of those games. He found the lineup combinations that were working and adjusted strategies that weren’t, such as having Avery Bradley play point guard.
The mixing and matching all came to a head last night in Miami. Jordan Crawford and Phil Pressey did a masterful job running the point. Wallace provided a spark off the bench for the third straight game since shifting to a sixth man role. Bradley thrived on playing to his strength offensively, off the ball.
The Heat probably took a Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett-less Celtics team for granted a little bit, and defensively, they were not near the top of their game.
Still, Boston deserves to get their due for knocking off a Heat team that only lost four games at home during all of last season.
Ultimately, in the long run, this win may not mean too much. It’s simply one of 82 games. For now however, there’s no denying that this is a major building block for a young roster that’s building confidence and getting acclimated to themselves and their new coach.
Through seven games, Stevens has had this team with a chance to win in the fourth quarter in every contest. If you’re Danny Ainge, you can’t ask for much more than that.
And with the return of Rondo just around the corner, this season could get much more interesting in a hurry.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.