At some point, perhaps soon, these Celtics wins won’t raise eyebrows, won’t turn heads, won’t surprise or shock or amaze a single soul.
As it stands, there is still a level of amazement that this team could lose perhaps its best player and then begin to play its best and most inspired basketball of the season.
Since their floor general, their All-Star, their point guard Rajon Rondo was lost for the season, the Celtics have reeled off seven straight wins, the last a triple-overtime thriller against Denver Sunday night at TD Garden.
A sold-out crowd braved a blizzard’s aftermath to pack the building, and the teams made their trek more than worth it.
These clubs fought the full 12 rounds — and it wasn’t settled even then.
It took heroics from Paul Pierce, who had a triple-double (27 points, 14 rebounds, 14 assists), Kevin Garnett, who had 20 points and 18 rebounds, and Jason Terry, who scored a season-high 26, before the Celtics knocked out the Nuggets, once and for all, 118-114.
“The NBA’s finest at its best,” a breathless Garnett said after playing 47 minutes, his most as a Celtic. “This was a tough game.”
Denver entered having won a league-high nine straight, offering the Celtics, who had played relatively weak competition during their recent streak, perhaps their strongest test since Rondo went out with a knee injury.
But the Nuggets were also coming in off a back-to-back, having played the night before in Cleveland. The Celtics, meanwhile, had two full days off, as Saturday’s practice was canceled because of the snow.
Near the end, each team looked winded. And that’s when the Celtics veterans stepped up most, helping improve their record to 27-23.
The 36-year-old Garnett scored 6 of his team’s 11 points in the final overtime, when the Celtics finally put Denver (33-19) to bed.
Garnett opened the last session with a 9-foot fadeaway jumper, then buried a 22-foot jumper from the top of the key. Boston led by 4.
Denver’s Danilo Gallinari answered with a layup, and the Nuggets added a free throw to cut it to 1. Garnett answered again with a step-back 16-foot jump shot.
Gallinari then hit a nearly impossible step-back 3-pointer that sucked the air out of the Garden and tied the game.
It seemed like the teams were destined for at least five overtimes, as Notre Dame and Louisville had done the night before.
Then with 1:33 left, Pierce, who played 54 minutes, drove and drew defenders. He turned and found Terry, who played 43 minutes, near the left wing. Denver center JaVale McGee was nearby, with his 7-foot height and his 7-6 wingspan.
Terry released and the ball seemed to move in slow motion, being followed by thousands of sets of hopeful eyes.
It tickled the strings, and the Boston faithful, already on their feet, threw their arms to the sky and shouted all the air that their lungs held.
“I just knew if I got a clean, clean look, uncontested, I was going to knock it down,” Terry said.
Terry later made a clutch steal while defending Andre Miller, when Miller was driving toward the basket looking to give the Nuggets a chance to tie the score with less than a minute remaining.
“That was the steal of the night,” Pierce said.
Pierce hit a clutch 3-pointer — his second in exactly a week — with 5.2 seconds left in the first overtime that sent the game into another.
Everyone in the building knew Pierce would kill the clock and then try to tie the game on a last-second shot, and that’s exactly what he did.
“I’ve seen him hit some big shots, but that was unbelievable,” Garnett said.
Said Boston coach Doc Rivers: “I was sitting just like the fans, saying, ‘Please, Lord, Paul make a shot.’ ”
There were big shots all around, too many to list.
“It was just, who wanted it,” Garnett said.
The Celtics played their ninth overtime game this season, and Pierce finished with his second triple-double in seven games.
“Roles expand,” Pierce said. “I know what I’m capable of, but when you have a guy like Rondo, not as much is needed from you because you have another guy who can do so many things also.
“So, I think with him out, the roles are going to change. I’m going to be more of a facilitator for this ball club, and you know it’s got to come from not only me, it’s got to come from a number of guys.”
Once again, the Celtics had balance, as nine players scored. Jeff Green had 17 off the bench. They played up-tempo in stretches and led by as many as 12 points early.
But Denver, which also plays up-tempo and receives balanced scoring efforts almost nightly, wouldn’t go quietly. The Nuggets had five players score in double figures, led by 29 from Ty Lawson, who helped the game reach the first OT. Continued...