Boston Celtics on the rise after thrilling victory over Miami Heat
Iarla Duignan takes a look at the Boston Celtic's recent resurgence and the Memphis Grizzlies all-round squad depth
Boston Celtics on the rise
The Celtics have heard all the doubters, but it takes a lot more than doubters to quench the flame of champions.
Everyone thought they were too old and they couldn’t overcome their injuries.
Entering the All-Star break, the detractors were vindicated – the Boston outfit were 15-17, out of sorts and in danger of missing the playoffs.
After the All-Star break, it all changed.
The rotation was altered with Kevin Garnett moving to centre and Ray Allen was given a bench role.
Anchored by Garnett, their defence took over. Rookie Avery Bradley, in the starting line-up for Allen, played some sensational defence, including a highlight-reel block on Dwyane Wade in their first meeting this month.
They have looked like the Celtics of old and since the All-Star break, they are 18-7, climbing up the standings into the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Their outstanding form peaked in Miami on Tuesday night as they went into the Heat’s American Airlines Arena and won 115-107.
The Heat have the best home record in the league and they wanted to win this one and were desperate to send a message, knocking the Celtics back a peg.
Instead it was Boston that sent the message. Sure, it took a near-perfect offensive game to win it as they hit jumper after jumper, and their defence was torched at times by Lebron James and company.
But the message was clear: they are afraid of nobody.
Every run made by the Heat were answered by big shots from Boston. The Celtics were fist-pumping and celebrating a little harder than most regular season games – it sent a message to the rest of the league too: don’t sleep on this team.
In the playoffs, it is questionable whether they could repeat this kind of performance four times in a series.
But they have three future hall of famers who have hundreds of games in their career and they won a title together in 2008.
And Tuesday night highlighted that they will not shrink from any challenge and they are certainly not afraid of Miami Heat or anyone else for that matter.
Memphis Grizzlies look like championship contenders
What do the Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Clippers all have in common? They’ve all lost to the Memphis Grizzlies in April.
That’s four teams with genuine hopes of making a notable impact in the playoffs who have lost to Tennessee franchise in little over a week.
They were a popular sleeper or dark-horse pick at the start of the season, but a slow start culminating with a few injuries to key players cooled talk of an unlikely but possible NBA championship.
They have recovered and just finished a brutal run of eight games in 11 days with a 6-2 record – the Western Conference is officially worried.
Their recent form has raised them to the fifth seed in the West, just one loss behind the Los Angeles Lakers in the third seed.
On current form, they should be favourites to claim the third seed.
The common conception in the NBA is that you need a superstar to win a championship and Memphis doesn’t have one, which is why they will remain underdogs.
They do have three players with All-Star credentials in Marc Gasol, Zac Randolph and Rudy Gay.
They have a defensive player of the year candidate in Tony Allen while they have solid options in every position, not to mention a livewire on the bench and potential game-changer in OJ Mayo.
They have at least five players who could score 20 points on any night and, as a result, are the team that nobody wants to face in the playoffs.
No team has a match-up that they can exploit against Memphis in a series – the Lakers’ size can be combated by Gasol and Randolph, Oklahoma Thunder’s athleticism on the wings can be slowed down by Allen and Gay.
They are peaking at the right time and their goal is to make noise in the playoffs like they did last year.
The Grizzlies lost to the Thunder in game seven last year in round two of the playoffs, without Rudy Gay.
With everyone fit, they hope to go even further this year especially considering the Grizzlies’ have their star back after an impressive showing last year – Randolph has returned from a torn medial collateral ligament in January.
The 30-year-old is coming off the bench to get his legs back, but he is showing signs of last season’s form with three straight double-doubles.
Sometimes, timing is everything and Memphis are coming to together at the right time for Memphis. This season’s sleeper have become the contender that every team wants to avoid.