MIAMI — Does the Celtics-Heat rivalry live on, even with the overhauling of the Celtics roster, even with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Doc Rivers all gone?
Even before that question was thoroughly answered by how the two teams played Saturday when they renewed their rivalry in thrilling fashion with the Celtics pulling out an improbable 111-110 win at AmericanAirlines Arena, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said that nothing had changed between these teams.
“They will still be green in our eyes,” he said before the Heat faced the re-tooled Celtics for the first time since Pierce, Garnett, and Rivers departed Boston this offseason.
Spoelstra later added, “None of us will ever forget what Jeff Green did to us last year on their own court.”
That’s a reference to a March game last season, when Green scored a career-high 43 points and the shorthanded Celtics nearly pulled off the win.
But there is no doubt that the Heat – and especially Spoelstra — will never forget what Green did to them Saturday, when he hit an improbable game-winning 3-pointer as time expired from deep in the right corner — over LeBron James.
On the subject of the rivalry, though, first-year Celtics coach Brad Stevens was asked about the notorious friction between his team and the Heat.
But Stevens did nothing to stoke the fire.
“Yeah, I don’t have any thoughts on that,” Stevens said before the game. “I don’t know anybody that was really involved from that standpoint or at least it hasn’t been mentioned to me. I would say I plead ignorance on that question.”
Down to the wire
Each of the Celtics’ games has been decided by 10 or fewer points, with all of them — especially Saturday — coming down to the wire.
That was often the case for Stevens when he coached at Butler, too.
In his first three seasons, Butler lost just 15 games, none by more than 10 points. And during his entire six seasons there, Butler won 65 percent (37 out of 57) of its games decided by 6 points or fewer.
Is there something to his system that leads to heart-stopping finishes?
“No, I don’t think so,” Stevens said before his team had another heart-stopper. “We didn’t win by huge margins by any means in those games. And didn’t get our doors blown off very often, although that did happen occasionally and that does happen in basketball. I don’t know what it is.
Afterward, Stevens said his team should get used to close games, though.
“We are not going to have many games where we are ahead by much at the end,” he said. “We are going to be in a lot of close games and that should be the goal for us, to be able to pull those out.”
Phil Pressey impresses
Undrafted rookie point guard Phil Pressey played almost 21 minutes, accruing 7 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, a steal, and a block.
But he played fearless against the Heat, twice driving nearly the length of the court for layups before the Heat’s defense was set.
Pressey also helped key the Celtics’ success in transition, where the Celtics had a 15-5 edge in fastbreak points.
“[Phil] gives us a really good little jolt off the bench in transition, and he’s a hard guy to keep in front, as you can see,” Stevens said. “When that ball is lose and near the ground, it’s his. That’s given us a nice little boost.”
Sharing the wealth
Entering Saturday’s game, the Heat were averaging a league-best 28.3 assists per game, to which Stevens said, “I think they move the ball as well as any basketball team I’ve ever watched on film.” The Heat finished with 26 assists on 41 shots . . . Stevens decided to start rookie Kelly Olynyk over Vitor Faverani, giving Olynyk, the Celtics’ 2013 first-round draft pick, the first NBA start of his career. Olynyk finished with 7 points and 8 rebounds, but he struggled early, as Stevens said he expected for a rookie playing on such a stage . . . With Jordan Crawford again playing point guard for the third straight game, the Celtics were limited to have 14 turnovers, seven short of what they were averaging before he took over at the point . . . After playing sparingly in the Celtics’ past six games, and after not playing in three of them, forward Kris Humphries came off the bench and had 9 points and 5 rebounds.
Baxter Holmes can be reached at email@example.com.