Heat 105, Celtics 103.
Yes, the Heat extended their regular season winning streak to 23 games and moved one game closer to the all-time mark, 33, set by the 1971-72 Lakers. But man, where do I start? From my point of view, this was, by far, the best NBA regular season game this season, and without doing any research, I’d put it up against any contest played in the last decade. It was that good. And, mind you, this was all without Kevin Garnett’s participation, who was inactive due to a mild strain and illness. Early on, the Celtics jumped out to a 17-point lead that you, me, and my Aunt’s dog knew wouldn’t last. No, this thing would go the distance. The full 48 minutes. Frankly, neither team would have it any other way. And neither would I.
There was one sequence where LeBron James absolutely posterized Jason Terry, creating an instant YouTube clip, and, in turn, making me legitimately wonder if Terry had passed out from shock after the play. I’m serious. James earned a technical for his prolonged stare-down of the crashed JET. (Something I was completely against. Is it so wrong for the dude get excited? I mean, after that?! Come on, it’s sports. Whatever.)
“Domination. Sheer, domination.” I wrote down in my notebook.
Moments later, Avery Bradley had a terrific run-down block on a Norris Cole breakaway layup attempt. Paul Pierce subsequently drilled a 3-pointer on the other end of the floor. The Garden morphed into The Jungle.
“Bedlam. Sheer, bedlam.” I jotted down frantically. Just great back and forth action.
When Pierce turned the ball over a few trips later, he and Mario Chalmers got into a scuffle.
“Hatred. Sheer, hatred” was all I thought. This game manifested so much emotion; it had everything a fan possibly could want, and this was all before halftime. The second half felt like a championship bout between two boxers. Each team trading blows, Tommy Heinsohn acting like a lunatic on the Comcast broadcast, and then there was Jeff Green.
“The Jeff Green Game,” we’ll call it.
I joked on Twitter that the over/under on “Jeff Green is now a Celtic!” columns running in the aftermath of his 43 point outburst would be set at 102. It was deserved. Green drew contact at the rim, earning and converting athletic continuation plays, played LeBron tough on the defensive end; in short, he was in the zone. And when the Garden started chanting his name, I got tingly. I admit it. A cool moment.
Today, you’ll hear the media question why Green isn’t that assertive more often. That’s a surefire tip-off that those “analysts” don’t actually watch the games. Green’s improvement has less to do with “maturity” or “growth” and more to do with a dude who needed half of a season to reacclimatize to the NBA game after missing over a year of competitive basketball due to cardiac surgery.
Check out his pre/post All-Star break splits:
Split GP MIN FGM FGA 3FGM 3FGA FTM FTA PTS
Pre AS 52 24.6 3.7 8.3 0.7 1.9 2.3 2.8 10.3
Post AS 14 32.2 6.1 12.3 1.1 2.9 3.5 4.2 16.8
His game-winner in Indiana was cathartic for a number of reasons, but Monday night was the culmination of Green’s adjustment back to his path, not as a serviceable NBA player, but as a top-tier player. What stood out to me was how everything Green did was in the flow of the game. None of his 21 shots were forced, he was able to get to the line 13 times, and generally played under control. He abused Shane Battier off the dribble at every turn. But Green’s understanding of getting to his spots was evidenced by Green’s shot selection from deep. As you can see from Green’s season-long shot chart, he’s particularly adept from the corners.
Last night, Green was 4-0f-7 from 3-point land. Four of his five made 3-pointers were from a corner three. Moreover, Green did his best to fend off LeBron, who eventually hit the game-winning jumper over Green with 10 seconds left. But this performance from Green is precisely the reason the “Blow It Up!” argument was specious at its outset. The axiom that the Celtics are an “old” team couldn’t be further from the truth. Aside from Pierce and KG, the Celtics actually have a young nucleus. Rondo, Green, Jared Sullinger, Courtney Lee, Bradley, Bass aren’t yet close to 30.
The Celtics probably won’t advance past Miami come late May/early June, but Green needed this game. Avery Bradley needed this game. Undoubtedly, it will pay dividends later in their careers. And hey, watching fantastic basketball isn’t a bad runoff consequence for the fans. Are we really pining for the days of the 2006-07 Celtics? Speaking of which, who knows, maybe if Gerald Green had the same opportunity to experience the type of game-action Jeff Green saw Monday night, he wouldn’t be best known as being just a slam dunk exhibitionist.
Ryan Hadfield is a columnist for Metro Boston. Follow him on Twitter @Hadfield_