Gain to go with pain
Injury-riddled Celtics beat Heat
The Celtics have been losing the battle of attrition. But though the roster numbers deteriorated to absurd levels this week, the situation seems to be improving.
The Celtics (51-18) displayed remarkable resourcefulness in a 112-108 overtime win over the Heat last night, following the lead of Paul Pierce (36 points) and Rajon Rondo (27) in clinching the Atlantic Division title for the third time in five seasons.
Though Ray Allen (hyperextended right elbow) and Leon Powe (sprained right knee) missed their first games of the season, Glen Davis confirmed his return from a right ankle sprain with 41 minutes of playing time, and newcomers Stephon Marbury and Mikki Moore displayed improvement.
And when the Celtics visit San Antonio tomorrow, Kevin Garnett (right knee strain) will rejoin the team for the first time since Feb. 19.
"We just needed a win any way we can get it right now to get our spirits back up," said Pierce. "We know that we are injured, we know that we are losing guys every other day. But just to get back on the winning mind-frame is big for us."
Pierce, the only Celtic to participate in all 69 games, scored 12 points in the first quarter and 16 in the fourth, missing a chance to win the game at the end of regulation. But Eddie House and Pierce converted 3-pointers, and Rondo a drive, as the Celtics scored the first 8 points in overtime.
Kendrick Perkins set the tone by blocking Michael Beasley's drive on the opening overtime possession. Then House (with 4:20 remaining) broke the tie and Pierce (3:32) hit a step-back three before Rondo (2:51) connected on a runner in the lane with a second on the shot clock. Miami missed its first six shots in overtime, Beasley clanging a follow dunk, before Mario Chalmers hit two threes, one off an inbounds pass, the other after Perkins and Bill Walker bobbled a defensive rebound out of bounds.
Five Celtics were on the injured list, then Moore (6:59 remaining in regulation) and Davis (1:31 left in overtime) fouled out. That left the Celtics with eight eligible players, a night after finishing a 127-121 loss at Chicago with nine eligible players. Miami (36-31) lost Dwyane Wade (hip flexor) shortly before tipoff.
"It almost came down to the fact that we had Paul and they didn't have Wade," Doc Rivers said. "Our confidence hasn't left. We just don't have a lot of bodies. We'd like to win games, but we also understand that we're going through a tough stretch with all the injuries.
"We want to try to get through this stretch and hold onto that second spot [in the conference], if we can. But this is a very confident team. We know what we're capable of, we believe what we think we can do. Obviously, it's nice to win, but if it didn't happen, it wouldn't have shaken our confidence at all."
The Celtics snapped a two-game losing streak and avoided a fifth loss in six games. Of the 10 Celtics active last night, only six were with the team during a 2-7 slump from Dec. 25-Jan. 9.
But the three remaining regular starters - Pierce, Perkins, and Rondo - plus Davis and House, were able to hold off a Heat rally. Miami scored 7 straight points over a 59-second span, Jermaine O'Neal providing a 93-90 lead with 3:56 remaining in regulation. But House and Pierce converted 3-pointers for a 96-95 Celtics edge. Pierce made it 100-99 with 1:23 left, then Chalmers tied the score on a free throw with 20.7 seconds to go. Pierce went left against a double team, missing just before the buzzer.
"When Paul was making all the shots, I thought that last shot he took was in, too," Rivers said.
Marbury had five assists in the opening quarter and showed he is regaining leg strength with a hang-in-the-air, driving 3-point play, and a block of a Daequan Cook jumper early in the second half.
"You can see it slowly coming," Rivers said of Marbury's play. "And I keep telling him the shot's going to be the last thing that comes. That's what frustrates him the most - he feels good, they're just not going in. He's really frustrated by that and we just tell him every day that it looks good - just keep doing what you're doing and eventually it will fall."
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.