The first two games Kevin Garnett missed this season served up the Celtics with an interesting litmus test for how they’d function without their emotional leader.
But there were large asterisks next to each of those games, because the opponents — Phoenix and Charlotte — stink, making any results from those contests (both blowout Celtics wins) suspect at best.
That wasn’t the case Monday against Miami, when Garnett missed his third game of the season — and second straight — because of an illness and a strain near his left thigh.
Unlike the Suns and Bobcats, the defending champion Heat are quite spectacular. They had won 22 consecutive games, most by a breezy margin.
In other words, the Celtics had a Grade A chance to evaluate a Garnett-less lineup.
Forward Jeff Green once again started in place of Garnett, who is expected to play when the Celtics visit New Orleans Wednesday, and Green scored a career-high 43 points.
Without Garnett, the Celtics went to a smaller lineup and pushed the tempo even more than normal; this caught the Heat off-guard, as LeBron James acknowledged afterward.
However, the Celtics were vulnerable in the paint, where Miami scored 50 points. Part of that, coach Doc Rivers said, is that Miami scores in the paint (the Heat average 42.7 points a game there, 10th best in the league, according to teamrankings.com).
“With or without KG, we still have to compete at a high level,” Courtney Lee said.
The Celtics have averaged 107.7 points in the three games Garnett has missed, shooting 53.9 percent (124 of 230) from the floor. Overall this season, they are averaging 96.2 points a game and shooting 46.1 percent from the floor.
But the key numbers are on the defensive end, an area the Celtics pride themselves on. When Garnett is in the game, the Celtics defensive rating (points per 100 possessions) is 96.5; when he is out, that rating shoots up to 103.3.
Still, these three performances have given the Celtics nothing but confidence.
“When we get KG back, he’ll be our defensive anchor and he’s going to be one of our go-to guys, so it will take a lot of pressure off of Paul [Pierce] to make plays,” Lee said. “And hopefully Jeff will keep playing at that high level and it will be pretty scary.”
Green has averaged 28 points during his three starts in place of Garnett, a number bolstered by his 43 points vs. Miami and 31 points vs. Phoenix.
“He just has to continue to be aggressive,” Jason Terry said. “We’ve said it all year long. When Jeff Green is aggressive, he’s just as good as everybody else out there.’’
“I don’t expect Jeff to have games like that every night, obviously,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said Tuesday during an appearance on the “Felger and Massarotti “ show on 98.5 The Sports Hub.
“Jeff has been playing very good basketball over the last 25 games. Obviously, 43 points and 7 rebounds and 4 blocked shots are unique performances and out of the ordinary, but you see what Jeff is capable of doing.”
White on the fly
D.J. White was on the Celtics’ plane to New Orleans, a strong indication that that the Celtics will sign the forward through at least the rest of the season.
White was on his second 10-day contract with the Celtics, which expired at midnight Tuesday.
NBA rules limit teams to signing individual players to two 10-day contracts in one season; teams can retain the player thereafter only by signing him through at least the remainder of the season.
White has appeared in four games for the Celtics, averaging 2.8 points and 1.5 rebounds in 6.8 minutes.
Also on the team flight was forward Shavlik Randolph, who is also on his second 10-day contract. Randolph’s contract won’t expire until midnight Wednesday.
Randolph has played in three games, averaging 3.3 points and 4.3 rebounds in 12 minutes a game.Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BaxterHolmes