Lightning strikes twice: why the Celtics will end Miami's historic winning streak tomorrow night
On March 18th, 2008 the Celtics ended the Houston Rockets 22 game winning streak in emphatic fashion, thrashing the Rockets 94-74 on their home court. In the nearly seventy year history of the NBA, only that Rockets team, and the 1971-72 Lakers had won at least 22 straight games. Until now.
The Miami Heat are currently putting a bow on their win in Toronto, and are set to join Houston with their 22nd consecutive win. On Monday night they'll come to Boston looking to extend that streak to 23, and take sole possession of the 2nd longest streak in league history. The date will be March 18th, 2013.
If the Celtics possibly ending two of the three longest winning streaks in league history exactly five years apart wasn't weird enough, there's more weirdness.
The starting small forward on both the '07-'08 Rockets and the '12-'13 Heat was/is Shane Battier. While it's weird that Battier was on both squads, it's not a total surprise. After all, while not a great player, Battier is a fantastic role player, and his teams always seem to win. He was also a member of the'98-'99 Duke teamthat won 32 straight games (a streak that ended against UConn in the National title game), and going back to his time at Duke he has played on only two losing teams in 16 seasons.
Besides Battier, the '08 Rockets and the '13 Heat have literally nothing in common. The Rockets lost Yao Ming 12 games into their streak, and continued winning with an 89 year old Dikembe Mutombo manning the paint. They won with Rafer 'Skip-to-my-Lou' Alston at the point, and a host of role players who just happened to play perfect basketball for six weeks. Eventually Boston ended Houston's streak, and they promptly returned to Earth - losing to the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs.
The Heat on the other hand? Well let's just say I'm not expecting them to bow out in round 1. Miami is not getting the job done with role players (although Battier, Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen and Chris 'Birdman' Andersen are playing well), but instead with the three headed monster of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. LBJ/Wade and Bosh are averaging a combined 65 points, 20 rebounds and 14 assists this season, all while shooting a ridiculous 54% from the field as a unit. When Pat Riley put the team together in 2010, this is what he had in mind.
With all that said, I think history repeats itself tomorrow night (Everything that follows is based on KG playing tomorrow night, obviously if he sits out, it changes everything). Why you ask? Well for a few reasons.
1. The Garden will be rocking - The Celtics have not lost at home since Rajon Rondo went down for the season, winning 11 straight home games. That streak began on January 27th at home against, who else, but the Heat. The C's role players have thrived in front of the garden faithful, and I expect the same thing tomorrow night.
2. The Bradley factor -Avery Bradleyhas played 20+ minutes against Miami four times in his career. The Celtics are 4-0 in those games. Dwyane Wade sat out one of those games for rest, but has played in the other three - and been completely neutralized by Bradley. In his head-to-head match-up with Bradley, Wade has averaged 17.3 points per game, about four points below his average against everyone else. However it's not how many he has scored, but how inefficiently he has scored them. In the three games, he has needed 58 shots to put up 52 points (.90 points per shot). He has also shot a putrid 21-58 from the field (36.2%). Compare that to Wade's overall numbers from the past two seasons, where he has scored 2,386 points on just 1,809 shots (1.32 points per shot) and shot 51% from the field. Small sample sized caveat, but Bradley has turned one of the most efficient players in basketball into one of the least efficient in his three career match-ups against him.
3. All good things must end - Miami is playing out of their freakin' skulls right now. Winning 22 straight doesn't happen by accident, and considering they've won their games by an average of 12 points per - it's an incredible accomplishment. With that said, the C's have beaten Miami before. They've beaten them without Rondo, they've beaten them despite massive games from Lebron, and at the very least - they will not be intimidated by 'the streak'. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (as well as Doc Rivers) were on the team that beat Houston in '08, so they have an idea what to expect in terms of the hype that the game will generate. In terms of X's and O's, Boston is also a good (as good as can be expected) match-up with Miami. Not only does Bradley match-up well with Wade, but the C's have two guys, in Pierce and Jeff Green, that can at least stay with Lebron. Garnett has also historically handled Bosh pretty well, and while that's no guarantee of future success, it's a good sign for a Boston team sure to enter the game as significant underdogs.
After the Celtics beat the Rockets, Tracy McGrady said this about the C's:
It's a hell of a team over there. They outplayed us. I've never seen a defense like that. I mean, if they play defense like that, night in and night out, the NBA is in trouble because that was defense at its finest.
While five years have passed, the key to ending another historic streak remains the same. Defense. Boston cannot win a shootout with Miami, and they know that. So if they are going to end another streak at 22, it will be their defense carrying the day once again.