BOSTON -- They’ve won close games. They’ve won in blowout fashion. And on Monday night, against their arch-rival, the Miami Heat overcame a career night from Jeff Green to win their 23rd straight game.
Five years to the day after the Boston Celtics ended the Houston Rockets’ 22-game winning streak, they came up just short against the Heat, falling 105-103 at home.
24 hours after St. Patrick’s Day, Boston was still all about green on the night. Jeff Green that is.
No player scored more against Miami in a single game this season than Green did tonight, who poured in 43 points; the most any Celtic has scored this season. It was a sensational performance from Boston’s X-factor and most versatile offensive player.
And yet it wasn’t enough. After all, the Heat have LeBron James. The best player on the planet, who’s in the midst of playing the best basketball of his career.
In the same building James showed the world he was ready to win his first NBA Championship -- Game 6 in the Eastern Conference Finals last year -- the reigning MVP took over in the fourth quarter. Money time. James scored or assisted on 20 of the final 22 points for Miami, as he led his team on a 22-7 run over the last 7:58 of the game to cap a stunning comeback in the TD Garden.
LeBron was good from outside. He threw down powerful dunks. He did everything short of drawing up the plays, though he may have done that as well. With 10 seconds left, James drilled a deep two -- over Green no less -- for the final margin of victory. He finished with 37 points, 12 assists, and seven rebounds. Truly a complete game from the most complete player.
On the next possession, Shane Battier came up with a huge block on Green. For all the accolades Miami gets for it’s offensive prowess, their tenacious defense -- ranked second in the NBA in terms of defensive efficiency -- has been just as important throughout this impressive streak.
On the ensuing inbounds, the Heat (52-14) forced a fadeaway three-pointer from Paul Pierce (17 points, eight assists, and a game-high eight rebounds), then came up with the rebound to clinch their NBA-best 52nd win of the season.
This will leave a sour taste in the Celtics (36-30) locker room for sure. Boston built a 17-point lead in the first half, only to see Miami cut that deficit to just six points at halftime. The Celtics rebuilt a sizable lead, and were up 13 points with 8:26 to play after Jordan Crawford hit a three-pointer from Maine.
That’s when James took over.
He toppled a Celtics team hungry to end the streak. Paul Pierce said he didn’t want to see the Heat win another game this season. Dwyane Wade (16 points, six assists, seven rebounds) even chimed in and said he understood how sick Pierce and the rest of the league must be, hearing about the winning streak every time they turn on the TV or read the paper.
What more could Boston have done? They shot 54.2% from the field for the game, after a blistering first half when they managed to hit 62.2% of their shots. Miami hit 49.4% of their field goals.
Boston knocked down 10 of their 21 three-pointers (47.6%). Miami connected on just seven of their 20 attempts (35%). Ray Allen didn’t even make a shot from beyond the arc.
The Celtics even attempted more free throws than Miami, going 15-24 from the line while the Heat mustered 21 attempts and hit 14 of them.
Boston’s defense wasn’t bad either. They limited Miami, the best transition team in the league, to a measly six fast-break points.
And that is what makes it so difficult to beat the Heat. Even when you play one of your best games, it’s not always enough.
Boston finally got a virtuoso effort from Green. Filling in for the injured Kevin Garnett, Green displayed his full offensive arsenal. He hit three-pointers (5-7 from deep). He weaved his way into the lane with his left and right hand. He finished strong at the rim. Green finished 14-21 from the floor. The few times he missed; he drew a foul and found himself at the line where he knocked down 10 of his 13 free throw attempts. No one else on either team attempted more than six.
Every time MIami made a little run, Jeff Green answered. In response, the Celtics’ faithful showered him with chants of “Jeff Green.”
The playoff atmosphere seemed to energize the Celtics, who rushed out to an early 6-0 lead and ended the first quarter on a 17-0 run to go up by a dozen after the first 12 minutes. Miami matched Boston’s intensity in the second quarter and stormed back to make it 59-53 by halftime.
In the second half, Boston was plagued by turnovers. The home team committed 21 on the night which led to 24 Heat points. The Celtics scored 17 points off 16 Miami turnovers. That was the difference in the game.Boston looks to rebound with a win in New Orleans on Wednesday night and the Heat take the second-longest winning streak in NBA history to Cleveland on Wednesday night to take on LeBron’s former team.