HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Go ahead and mark it down now — the two cities that every team dreaming of a championship needs to avoid at all costs during the playoffs are Memphis and Boston.
Just like the Grizzlies in the Western Conference, the Celtics have given everyone ample warning that they will be in the business of crushing hopes come playoff time. Their work since the All-Star break has been well documented. They have all of the components needed to derail the title aspirations of any other team in the playoff field, just as the Grizzlies did to the Spurs last year.
From a coach in Doc Rivers (who is arguably the best in the business at taking whatever parts he has and crafting them into a cohesive unit) to a clear leader in Rajon Rondo (who has finally asserted himself as the true catalyst for this club) to the fading-but-still-furious-glory of future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen (who have all had to accept diminished or drastically different roles than they are used to at this stage of their careers), the Celtics have everything in place to squash dreams and realize their own.
Their demolition of the Miami Heat twice in the past 10 days is no fluke. The Celtics, the league’s nastiest defensive team, showed last night that when they’re knocking down shots, they are nearly impossible to deal with. The Heat scrapped their way back into the game and still couldn’t overcome the Celtics, who shot a blistering 61 percent.
With Rondo directing the traffic, the ball moves all over the floor, making it hard for any team — even one as talented as the Heat — to concentrate its defensive focus in any one place. Garnett and Pierce both turned back the clock last night.
Garnett finished with 24 points and nine rebounds, and played a little of everywhere on defense (locking down Chris Bosh when they were matched up and doing his best to slow down LeBron James from the perimeter to the rim during their time going head-to-head).
Pierce might have been better than KG, though. He shredded the Heat for 27 points (on 8-for-16 shooting and 8-for-10 from the free-throw line), forcing James and Dwyane Wade to work overtime on both ends of the floor.
Rondo finished with 18 points and 15 assists, his 18th straight game with double-digit assists, marking the longest such streak since John Stockton did it 1992. And he was deadly from the floor, making mid-range jumpers and even knocking down the one 3-pointer he attempted.
Their confidence is sky-high right now and with good reason. Rivers knows it, too, having seen this team come full circle from the time they were assembled in the summer of 2007 through all of the trials and tribulations of the past four-plus seasons.
Rivers said it best last night: “We’re not complicating the game right now. We’re keeping it simple … We played a sensational game.”
Sensational enough to make believers out of many. Sensational enough to convince us here at the hideout that the expiration date on this Celtics team should be extended through the next couple of months. Because you don’t perform the way they have against the best of the best, the teams that everyone considers the true title contenders, if you’re not serious about winning a title of your own.
“We were efficient,’’ Rivers said. “I told them to take what they give you. They are a great defensive team and will overload at times. Our guys just stood, waited, and made those shots. They just kept throwing punches at us. We withstood them and kept moving forward. I thought that was important for our team.’’
The Celtics have beaten the Heat the past two weeks in two distinct games. Miami was held to 34.8 percent shooting and three 3-pointers April 1. Tuesday, they made 44.8 percent of their shots and eight 3-pointers. They tested Boston’s defense and the Celtics responded by rebounding.
A Boston team that has been abysmal in that category most of the season competed in the first half, building a 65-57 lead as it outrebounded the Heat, 22-13. Rivers has asked his team to be more passionate about rebounding and interior defense, and that was critical to a mostly double-digit first-half lead.
“Really, you don’t want to get in these type of games when you scout them, you get into the pregame things, you don’t want to make this a track meet,’’ said Paul Pierce, who led the Celtics with 27 points. “I guess that’s exactly what it was and we showed we can go out there and put up over 100 points if we move the ball. The key was we rebounded and didn’t turn it over. We’re a great shooting team when we don’t do that and we know we can score points on anybody.’’
Anybody and everybody should be worried about these Celtics come playoff time. You’ve all been warned!