2006 Miami Heat

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This famous Celtics villain should serve as inspiration for winning a title after a bad start

John Tomase
December 05, 2018 - 10:45 am

The Celtics haven’t looked like a championship team through the season’s first quarter, but perhaps they can take some inspiration from one of their oldest nemeses.

Pat Riley battled the Celtics for titles as a player, coach, and executive, and in 2006, he led the Miami Heat to their first championship after replacing Stan Van Gundy behind the bench in December.

Those Heat, like today’s Celtics, went 13-10 through their first 23 games. That’s the worst start of any champion in the last 25 years, but it at least offers hope for a Celtics squad that seems to be finding its footing, with four wins in its last five games.

The 23-game win totals range from the Heat’s 13 to the 1994 Rockets, who started 22-1. The average champion since 1993 has won between 17 and 18 of its first 23, and four teams have won it all after starting 14-9: The 2004 Pistons, 2003 Spurs, 198 Bulls, and 1995 Rockets.

The 2006 Heat struggled out of the gate without center Shaquille O’Neal, who missed 18 of the first 25 games with an ankle injury. The Heat went 6-12 without their Hall of Fame big man and 42-17 with him.

There’s no direct parallel on the Celtics, though forward Gordon Hayward hasn’t yet regained his All-Star form as he recovers from a broken ankle. Perhaps his 30-point outburst in Minnesota over the weekend is a sign of things to come.

Similarly, today’s Celtics don’t need any kind of shakeup in the coaching ranks. Brad Stevens isn’t the rumpled Van Gundy, and Danny Ainge has no designs on jumping back behind the bench a la Riley.

Still, it’s worth noting that if the Celtics rally to contend for a championship this year, as we all expected them to do before the season, their path won’t be unprecedented.