The Celtics' first four home games in February have all been against legitimate contenders to win an NBA championship this year — Dallas, Orlando, the Lakers and finally Miami. With a win Sunday over the Heat, the C's rounded out a 2-2 split with the four league titans, beating the two teams in their conference and losing to the two foes from out West.
All in all, that's not too shabby. The key to a first-place season is to beat the teams you're supposed to beat and split with your fellow heavyweights. The C's have done just that.
Let's delve into seven thoughts on how they've done it.
1. Apparently it doesn't matter if LeBron James is around or not as the Celtics simply own the Miami Heat. It's been well publicized that when the C's beat the Heat 85-82 on Sunday — led by a triple-double from Rajon Rondo — they improved to 3-0 against their rival this season. But the domination extends much further back than last October as the Celtics were also 3-0 last season against the Heat, 3-1 in 2008-09, and 4-0 in 2007-08. That's a total of 13-1 in the Big Three era (and that's not including their five-game series win in the playoffs last spring). To say the Celtics have the Heat's number would be an understatement.
2. After yet another loss on the TD Garden parquet, LeBron James had a few words of frustration about losing to the Celtics. He also had some words of historical reflection. "I have the same feeling right now as in my third and fourth year and we played Detroit," he said Sunday. "We just could not get over the hump. Regular season and playoffs, we couldn’t get over the hump. It took us a long time to finally get over that hump." Then again, it was James' fourth season when he absolutely torched the Pistons and reached the Finals in 2007. Take his words with a grain of salt, C's fans, and don't get overconfident.
3. It was a relief to see Marquis Daniels back with the team this week, though not playing; he was on the bench with the C's for their win Sunday over the Heat, and he was in street clothes again at the team's open practice Monday for the fans in Waltham. Daniels looks fine on the surface — no neck brace, no cast, no nothing — but the team has been very cryptic about his status going forward. Doc Rivers has twice repeated this week, "I wouldn't anticipate Marquis coming back anytime soon," while Danny Ainge has said Daniels is "fine," but won't explain what keeps him from playing. This injury is a really mysterious one, making it hard not to worry both about the Celtics and about Daniels' long-term health.
4. A nice side effect of the Heat win: The Celtics once again dodged their first three-game losing streak of the season. The C's have lost back-to-back games four times this year, but never three straight. They're one of only four teams this season that can make the claim, along with San Antonio, Chicago and Oklahoma City. The Spurs are especially impressive — they've only lost two straight games once this season. The second loss happened to be against the Celtics.
5. Ray Allen passed Reggie Miller's all-time record of 2,560 career 3-pointers on Thursday night, which you well know. The interesting wrinkle to that story? Ray and Reggie were almost teammates. The former Pacer was 42 years old in the summer of 2007 when the Celtics built their new Big Three of Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. They were in talks with Miller to bring him back as a bench scorer, and Miller gave it some serious thought. He even spent time at UCLA training for a comeback, doing two-a-days in his old college gym. Just think — if Miller had gone through with it, he might have retired with a lot more than 2,560 3s. Allen might still be chasing him now.
6. The other fascinating tidbit on Allen's milestone is that he's actually not the first Celtic to hold the record. That distinction belongs to none other than Larry Bird — in 1985, the Boston legend wrestled the old record of 246 3-pointers away from Jazz guard Darrell Griffith. He ended the 1987-88 season with 455 career treys, but then journeyman Dale Ellis overtook Bird in '88. Ellis then held the record for 10 years until Miller broke it. Now the belt is back in Beantown.
7. We're now just days away from the All-Star Game, where two dozen of the game's best players will gather on one floor in Los Angeles this weekend. It's impressive, except if you think about it, most of the NBA's best have already gathered together in Boston over the past two weeks. Of the 24 guys headed to the Staples Center, a whopping 11 of them have already played at the TD Garden in February — four Celtics (Allen, Garnett, Pierce, Rondo), one Maverick (Dirk Nowitzki), one Magic (Dwight Howard), two Lakers (Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol) and three Heat (LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh). These days, every weekend is All-Star weekend in the Hub.