12:19 AM EDT, March 19, 2013
— With Kevin Garnett out sick, Jeff Green was making the Miami Heat sick. Green drove it down the Heat's throats for 43 points. The Celtics not only went on a 17-0 run in the first half, they led by as many as 17. With the TD Garden reaching near deafening heights, the Celtics led by as many as 13 with only 8:27 remaining.
It still wasn't enough.
It still wasn't enough to beat the Heat or end a winning streak that has extended to 23 games.
Permit me to state the obvious. LeBron James is one baaaaad man.
Starting in place of Garnett, suffering with both flu-like symptoms and an injured left thigh, the versatile Green had done just about everything on this night, hitting 5-of-7 threes, taking the ball to the hoop, finishing with a career-best output. In the closing minutes, Green did his best to make life difficult for James on the defensive end, too. Yet when it mattered plenty, LeBron scored on a put-back with 81 seconds left. And when it mattered most, one-on-one, LeBron vs. Green, James pulled up and stuck a jumper in Green's eye with 10.5 seconds left.
Not only did LeBron stick it in Green's eye, he stuck it the Green team's heart. Final: Miami 105, Boston 103.
Like we said, LeBron is one baaaaad man.
Nights such as this one don't often come along often in an NBA season. Game after game, the season can drone on, one result melting into the next. Not this night. This one was an event. This night was bright lights, big show, national television. The good news is Green, who underwent heart surgery a few years ago, has emerged as an important player in the Celtics' future. The good news is the Celtics and the Heat will be a heck of a lot of fun if and when they meet in the spring.
The baaaad news for Celtics fans: LeBron.
There were a number of streaks and streak-busting stories being thrown around in the hype for this one. The Celtics had an 11-game home winning streak. Ever since Rajon Rondo was lost for the season, they have been a tough out nearly every game, winning 16 of 22 starting with a Sunday afternoon victory over Miami at TD Garden in late January.
The Celtics also had beaten Miami 10 consecutive times in the regular season.
More than that, this marked the fifth anniversary of the Celtics' breaking the Houston Rockets' 22-game winning streak in 2008. The symmetry was there. And with Green, so was a hero.
LeBron, who finished with 37 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds, had other ideas. And Paul Pierce's off-balance three-point attempt from 23 feet in the right corner wasn't going to change it.
The other day, when asked about the streak, Pierce said, "I really don't even care. I hope they lose every game the rest of the season."
OK, not the wisest thing to say.
When it was over, this event ended, the TD Garden was silenced. The Heat maintained their chase of history. With all the travel, with all the quality teams in the NBA, the Lakers' 32-game winning streak of 1971-72 hadn't been mentioned all that much before this season because most folks thought it was too hard too catch.
Well, maybe not.
The Heat now stand alone with the second-longest winning streak in NBA history. The game at San Antonio could beat a tough one on Jan. 31 and the fates of the regular season always present risks, but the Heat can do this. LeBron can do this.
Garnett did not participate in the morning shoot around. KG hadn't played Saturday night nor did he practice Sunday because of a left adductor strain. Yet it wasn't the injury that ultimately kept KG out of the game.
"He is sick, really," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "He just has a terrible flu or whatever and, with the injury, we just felt the combination was too much to play."
Garnett had been called a game-time decision, but when Rivers stepped out of the Celtics dressing room at 7:05 p.m. to meet with the media in the TD Garden hallway, the news wasn't good.
"He's in the trainer's room now," Rivers said. "When I looked at him, I said, 'You're not playing,' He wanted to play and even Eddie [trainer Lacerte] came to get me to tell him not to play."
Rivers wants his guys healthy and rested for the playoffs. That's more important than one night, one game in March. Then again, Rivers realized what this night was about, he admitted Garnett would have started if not for being ill.
"You want Kevin on the floor," Doc said.
There wasn't much to be down in terms of adjustments on offense without Garnett, Rivers said. One regular season game in a flurry of regular season games, really what could be done? His concerns were more on the defensive end. Yes, with a smaller lineup, he sounded the call for rebounding. Yet in the end, one thing that hurt was turnovers. They had 21. Against Miami, which can turn those into points better than anyone, those 21 turnovers hurt plenty.
LeBron entered the night averaging 26.4 points, eight rebounds and 7.5 assists during the winning streak. According to Elias, nobody has ever averaged 25, five and five during a winning streak of at least 15 games.
"LeBron is playing unbelievable," Rivers said. "But I think Dwayne Wade isn't getting enough credit for the way he is playing. With him it's just a health issue in my opinion. He's so much healthier now than he was last year when they won it.
"But I think the guy that's playing off the charts is Chris Bosh. He's playing great basketball. He's spreading the floor. He's shooting the ball. And when they go small and he's the 5, and he's spreading the floor at the 5 spot, that makes it awful tough to guard LeBron and Wade, because the bigs are outside the paint trying to defend him."
It all sounded so good, so right. And then they played the game. Doc could have stopped after he said LeBron is "unbelievable."
There were all sorts of highlight-reel plays in this one, but none was more spectacular than the alley-oop slam LeBron had on Jason Terry. It was nuts. Still the Celtics took off and looked to be taking control. There was one sequence when Avery Bradley caught Norris Cole from behind to block a layup and Pierce came down in transition to hit a three. The place went bonkers, it was too loud to think.
Only LeBron thought of something.
"That's what makes their streak so impressive to me, is they're getting the best from teams and still winning," Rivers said before the game. "They're champions and they want to prove it. We went through that [after the title win over the Lakers]. Even sometimes as a coach you thought, this is exhausting — every night they're attacking us, every team — the players are thinking: 'Yeah, we're the champs and we're going to act like that. And what they're doing right now is they're acting like they're champs ... from last year."
"We grew again tonight," LeBron said when he was finished.
If they get any bigger they're gong to catch the Lakers' record.
"Shame on anybody that takes No. 6 for granted," Shane Battier said. "He's the best. LeBron's an unbelievable teammate, he plays to win, he's unselfish and that's what makes him special."
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