Finishing a home-and-home sweep against the Miami Heat Wednesday night gave the Boston Celtics a little feel of what the postseason will be like when they are preparing for the same opponent night in and night out. And with plenty on the line as Boston tries to lock up home-court advantage in the first round, the C’s have brought a playoff-like focus to come away with two critical victories over the Heat.
While the play of Gordon Hayward, who dazzled in the final frame by scoring 11 of his game-high 25 points, certainly paved the way, Celtics coach Brad Stevens points to the little things, like Terry Rozier controlling a carom with a minute left to help seal a 112-102 road win over Miami, as evidence of his team’s heightened attention to getting the job done at a critical juncture before the playoffs commence.
“It’s always significant,” said Stevens on making game-winning plays at this point in the season. “It’s good when you make stops and you get big rebounds. I just told the team, a sign that we’re really locked (in) is the Terry Rozier rebound. That rebound stands out as a play that in games you have to win on the road you have to get. There are a lot of plays like that.”
Not only are the Celtics getting plays like that, but the C’s also got a myriad of contributors in the win in South Beach. Kyrie Irving was his usual self scoring 23 points on 8-of-19 shooting while Al Horford continued his stellar play as of late with 21 points and eight rebounds. It was the sixth consecutive game Horford has scored at least 19 points.
Aron Baynes made an early impact and posted a double-double of 10 points and 10 boards and while Jayson Tatum didn’t have his best performance, he turned it on when it mattered most in the fourth quarter, netting nine straight points midway through the stanza.
Hayward took over from there, showcasing what Celtics fans have been dreaming of all year, but the multiple strong efforts from multiple players are what the C’s are going to need when the stage gets bigger and the pressure intensifies.
“Everyone made big time plays for us and we want to be playing the best we can be going into the playoffs,” Hayward said. “These are all games that feel like playoff games and tonight, playing the same team twice in a row kind of made it feel even more like it, too.”
The Celtics have pulled a Jekyll and Hyde routine all season though. Just when it felt like they were turning the corner at several points of the season, they would follow up a good showing with a couple of clunkers. And with the Celtics on the final turn of the regular season, Stevens knows the focus has to be there every game or it won’t matter much what they did in Miami.
“(Miami is) good and they were really tough and really well coached,” Stevens said. “We needed to do tough things. We’ve had a number of good things happen in the last month with a stretch we’d like to have back in the middle of it, but I do feel encouraged by our play if we can do tough things. If we’re not tough, we don’t have a chance against the Pacers.”