Commentary

Celtics aim to cool off Heat

Boston matches its TD Garden winning streak against Miami's 22-game run

Updated: March 17, 2013, 8:14 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

WALTHAM, Mass. -- While much of the hype surrounding Monday's Boston Celtics-Miami Heat showdown will center around Miami's sprawling 22-game winning streak, Boston will come in with a hot stretch of its own.

The Celtics quietly have strung together 11 straight wins at TD Garden, a run that started with a victory over the Heat on Jan. 27. It is Boston's longest home winning streak since posting 13 consecutive home victories during the 2008-09 season.

One of the familiar qualities of Boston's success in recent seasons has been an ability to make the Garden a lion's den for visiting opponents. The veteran Celtics are hell-bent on reestablishing that aura despite some up-and-down play in an adversity-filled 2012-13 campaign.

[+] EnlargeLeBron James and Paul Pierce
Jim Davis/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesPaul Pierce and the Celtics have been able to contain LeBron James and the Heat, winning the last 10 regular-season meetings in Boston.

"I just think, right now, this is a place that we don't feel like we should ever lose," Celtics captain Paul Pierce said. "Just that feeling that, like in the old days, like the first couple years together [for Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen], we just felt like this is a building we should never lose in. When teams come into the Garden, they have to know that this is going to be their toughest game of the year. And that's the feeling and the swagger that we're bringing each and every day here at the Garden."

The Heat know that all too well, having lost 10 straight regular-season games in Boston. The last Miami win in Boston predates the Big Three era (April 6, 2007). According to Elias Sports Bureau, that's Miami's longest current road losing streak (and it's not even close, with six straight losses to the Hornets second on the list).

The Garden has been a bit of offensive kryptonite for the Heat -- in the regular season at least, as LeBron James' effort here in Game 6 of last year's Eastern Conference finals was otherworldly -- and Miami's offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) is a mere 83.2 over the past three seasons. To put that in perspective, the Heat entered Sunday's action with the second-best offensive rating in the league at 110.4, more than 27 points better than their Garden average.

The Heat can take solace in the fact that Boston is smothering all of its opponents lately.

This season Boston's defensive rating is nearly 10 points better at home (94.5) than on the road (104.3). Opponents shoot nearly 2 percent worse in Boston (42.6 percent) compared to the road (44.9) and average 7 ½ fewer points per game in Boston (89.6, as opposed to 97 on the road).

Over the 11-game streak at the Garden, Boston's opponents are averaging a mere 86.8 points per game while shooting 41.4 percent from the floor and 27.5 percent beyond the 3-point arc. The Celtics' defensive rating during the stretch is a minuscule 91.1 (with a net differential of 11.8 when paired with their robust offensive rating of 102.9).

The Celtics were 20-23 after Rajon Rondo tore his ACL in an overtime loss in Atlanta on Jan. 25. The team got the bad news while the Heat were in town two days later, but even while losing two other key role players soon after (Jared Sullinger, Leandro Barbosa), the team has put together its most inspired ball of the season.

Boston is 16-6 since that point, the fourth-best record in the NBA over that span, according to ESPN Stats and Info. Clearly they've taken advantage of the home-friendly schedule, but coach Doc Rivers stressed his team is simply playing better on all fronts.

"I didn't even realize that we've won 11 in a row until [after Saturday's game]," Rivers said. "I was surprised by that actually. But I just think we're playing well. I think our team has a lot of confidence. And it's good to have it at home, but I think overall they are just a confident group now."

Rivers remembered back to the start of the Big Three era and how winning at home was such an emphasis for his team because -- coming off a 24-win season in which Boston went 12-29 at home -- it was imperative the Celtics reestablish themselves at the Garden.

Boston went 35-6 at home during both the 2007-08 and 2008-09 campaigns and owns a .766 winning percentage (151-46) since Garnett came to town. Pierce acknowledged that the team didn't take full advantage of home court at the start of this season -- losing the home opener to Milwaukee and playing .500 ball at home through November.

"We were kind of shaky earlier in the year, we had some pretty bad losses," Pierce said before acknowledging the Celtics' confidence now is off the charts at their own barn.

The Heat, who now share the second longest single-season winning streak in NBA history, are certainly playing with confidence as well, regardless of venue. But Monday's game in Boston may provide their stiffest challenge, particularly on the tail end of a back-to-back (although Garnett is questionable with a left adductor strain).

One way or another, somebody's streak will end. The Celtics have a history as streak-busters. Just ask the 2007-08 Houston Rockets, who won 22 straight before falling to Boston on March 18, 2008. Monday's game is the five-year anniversary of that game.

The Celtics went on to win a title that year and, as defending champs, won 19 straight during the 2008-09 campaign. While acknowledging the bull's-eye that the Heat have worn this season, Rivers said he is impressed by what they are accomplishing.

"[Boston's winning streak] was exhausting," Rivers said. "I've heard [Dwyane] Wade and some of their guys talk about [Miami's streak] and people don't appreciate it. They don't understand that you play an 82-game schedule and all 82 games are hard because the other team makes it hard. That's difficult and yet they are doing pretty well."

The Celtics, while largely complimentary of what Miami is doing, have taken a "we don't care" approach to the Heat's streak. On Friday, Jason Terry was asked about it and offered, "Not really impressed with it or anything that they do. So, for me, it's more about what our team is doing and how we're coming together as a unit."

Two streaking teams; something has to give.

Statistical support for this report provided by NBA.com.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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