There are so many ways to look at Monday night's contest between the Celtics and Heat, and so many things to take away from it, it is hard to pick a place to begin. Unconventionally, lets start from the end.
Jeff Green may have been the best player in the game, but LeBron James was the most dominant when it counted. When James reentered the game with nine minutes left, the Heat were down 10 and LeBron completely reversed the flow of the game. In the 105-103 Miami victory, James finished with 37 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds, a freakish dunk (over a helpless Jason Terry, pictured above), and the game winning jumper. A statement game for LeBron's MVP case while keeping the win streak alive on a night the Heat had no business doing so.
It was, in ways, a devastating loss. I can not remember being so into a regular season game, and wanting to win so badly. But put things into perspective and this will just go down as one in the loss column, but a potential huge boost in team moral... for a team that was not lacking any confidence to begin with.
Jeff Green was tremendous starting in place of Kevin Garnett (thigh/flu), stealing the show for much of the game and finishing with 43 points, seven rebounds, four blocks, and two steals. Both the emergence of Green combine with Garnett not even being in uniform should give fans a lot of hope about this team. I have been writing about why you should love this team (click here), and last night was exactly why. Rallying against the best team, without your own best player to give them one of the games of the year.
The only big mistake last night was when Doc Rivers decided to rest Green. Green had to ask to come out of the game for about four minutes until only 3:30 remained. He never scored again after that. Had Doc rested him to start the fourth, Green may have been able to keep his groove in the clutch. However it is hard to blame Rivers for trying to squeeze every second of court time out of Green that he could.
No question this Celtics team is 100% confident in their chances against Miami in a playoff series with KG around to have their backs and defend the rim. Jeff Green's expectations have clearly become higher, but he can live up to being a 20 PPG scorer for the remainder of the season. His other high game this year (31 points at Phoenix) also came while KG was out and Green slipped into the starting lineup. As I said after that game, Jeff Green NEEDS to start. Play him alongside KG and bring Bass off the bench. Yes it gives the bench a little less fire power but look what Green has done given the opportunity!
Green showed the ability to get to the rim at will and both draw contact and finish the plays. Something that he must begin to look for in his game every night, especially when his three ball is falling like last night. Hopefully this will be the boost Green needed for his own confidence going forward, because he now has fans around Boston talking about his "superstar potential".
So before I ramble on, there was a lot to learn last night. But the two most important things are what we learned about the two teams overall:
What did we learn about the Heat? That they are damn good and if they can withstand what they did in Boston good luck to their upcoming opponents trying to end the streak. They are the clear favorites.
What did we learn about the Celtics? That the heart of this team is going to allow them to rise to any occasion, and you do not want to meet them in a playoff series. They just may be crazy enough to see themselves as the favorites with Garnett, and that's dangerous.