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Dwyane Wade: ‘I’m not a dirty player’ 05.08.11 at 2:00 am ET
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When Ray Allen gets in your face, you know you’ve done something wrong.

The NBA’s 3-point king rarely loses his cool, but once Dwyane Wade leveled him underneath the Celtics basket just 1:07 after sending Rajon Rondo to the locker room with a dislocated left elbow, Allen jumped to his feet and got into Wade’s face before being restrained by his Heat teammates.

If you’ll recall, it was Wade’s bullrushing of Paul Pierce in Game 1 that ultimately led to the Celtics captain’s ejection. Of his 10 personal fouls in the three-game series, at least three came the hard way.

“The game of basketball is a physical game,” said Wade, who has also taken 29 free throw this series, including two in Game 3 after a hard Pierce foul on a layup attempt. “I’€™m not not a dirty player. It’€™s physical. Everyone falls down, and everyone gets up.”

Thankfully, for the Celtics’ sake, Rondo did get up — triumphantly returning from what originally appeared to be a horrific arm injury in the third quarter after he got tangled up with Wade and bent his elbow back about 30 degrees in the wrong direction. The C’s point guard recorded four of his six points and one of his 11 assists while playing the entire fourth quarter of Saturday night’s 97-81 victory with essentially one arm.

“We play this game as competitors, and you never want to see anyone get hurt, whether it’€™s a friend or not a friend,” added Wade. “It’€™s someone we have respect for in this game. We have respect for each other. So, you never want to see anyone get hurt, no matter what kind of injury it is. Kudos to him for coming back. That’€™s a tough injury to come back from that fast. He showed a lot as a leader of the team, coming back and having the performance that he had with that injury.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat, Rajon Rondo
Fast Break: Rajon Rondo’s return sparks Celtics 05.07.11 at 10:57 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo played with one arm, Shaquille O’Neal actually played basketball and Kevin Garnett submitted a vintage performance — and it all added up to a gritty 97-81 Celtics victory in what was essentially a must-win Game 3 against the Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

In a scary third-quarter moment, Rondo got tangled up with Dwyane Wade and dislocated his elbow. After receiving treatment, he shockingly returned for the fourth quarter — finishing with 11 assists and six points with essentially one arm. Meanwhile, Shaq scored just two points in eight minutes.

If not for those two Celtics comebacks, Garnett would’ve been the headliner — totaling 28 points and 18 rebounds in the victory. Wade led the Heat with 23 points, and Mario Chalmers added 17 off the bench.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

The Big Three: Even before Rondo went to the locker room with an elbow injury — and especially while Rondo got treatment — the Celtics’ Big Three asserted themselves and carried the team on both ends of the floor. The trio looked as sharp as they had all series, totaling 70 points on 26-of-51 shooting. Paul Pierce nearly matched Garnett’s output with 27 points of his own.

Meanwhile, the C’s Big Three held Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh to 43 combined points on 15-of-41 shooting. Bosh was nearly invisible, totaling only six points and five rebounds.

Encouraging start: For the first 5:07 of Game 3, the Celtics appeared ready to seize early control and set a tone for what the Heat could expect in Boston. The Garden crowd was loud, and the starting five’s play spoke louder. Behind a stifling defense and out of the flow of a well executed offense, Pierce scored 10 early points as the Celtics took a 16-7 lead — forcing Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to spend a timeout with 6:53 still remaining in the first quarter.

Shaq comes back: With 2:41 remaining in the first quarter, Shaq returned to the court for the first time this postseason and just the second time since Feb. 1. A minute and a half later, he scored his first bucket to put the Celtics up 27-20.  He played 4:46 in the first half — lumbering for much of it, but also altering at least a few Miami shots on the defensive end. His final line of two points and one rebound were less climactic — but his 8:29 playing time was certainly encouraging.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Down goes Rajon Rondo: With 7:01 left in the third quarter, Wade and Rondo got tied up in the paint on the Celtics end, and Rondo landed awkwardly on his arm — appearing to hyperextend his left elbow. After clutching his arm on the floor for what seemed like an eternity, trainer Ed Lacerte ushered Rondo — and what appeared to be the C’s season — into the locker room.

At the end of the third quarter, Rondo returned to the Celtics bench with a dislocated elbow. And he returned to the floor to start the fourth quarter, bringing the crowd to a deafening level. He played the entire fourth quarter.

Joel Anthony’s energy: As has been the case all series long, the Celtics had no answer for Anthony (12 points, 11 rebounds) off the bench. He recorded 10 points (on 5-of-5 shooting) and seven rebounds in the first half alone. Four of those seven boards came on the offensive end, where he often found himself wide open underneath the basket (hence the perfect first-half field-goal percentage).

Ray Allen’s foul trouble: Questionable or not, Allen picked up his third foul with 6:48 still to play in the second quarter as he brushed Wade’s elbow on a 3-point attempt. The whistle came on the heels of a string of questionable calls by the refereeing crew of Bob Delaney, Bill Kennedy and Steve Javie. Also, Moments after Rondo’s injury, Wade took down Allen underneath the basket, and Allen had to be restrained from going after Wade — a rare but understandable burst of anger for the 3-point king, for certain.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, NBA playoffs, Rajon Rondo
Speaking with the Enemy: Celtics vs. Heat 05.06.11 at 2:36 pm ET
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In advance of Saturday night’s Game 3 between the Celtics and Heat at the TD Garden (8 p.m.), we caught up with David Dwork at the ‘€œPeninsula is Mightier‘€ blog. He answered our six most pressing questions as the C’s attempt to climb their way out of a 2-0 hole …

How confident are Miami fans with this 2-0 lead against the Celtics?

I think that Heat fans are feeling pretty good after taking the first two games of the series. Considering our history against the Celtics over the past several years I think it’s safe to say that while there is some obvious confidence that comes with a 2-0 series lead, Miami fans are certainly wary of how quickly things can change. Heat fans do know, however, after watching this team grow and improve throughout the course of the season, that if they continue to play well and don’€™t fall into a funk, Miami should win this series.

Who gets credit for the Heat playing their best basketball at the right time?

No one person gets the credit for the Heat playing as well as they are. The team as a whole has been working extremely hard since training camp to get acclimated to playing with one another, learning the offensive playbook and defensive system that Erik Spoelstra and his coaching staff put together — and doing it on the fly during the season, regardless of whether it was during practice, home games or on the road in very hostile environments. This has been a total team effort, and they all equally deserve credit.

Will Miami’s role players (i.e., James Jones & Joel Anthony) be this productive all series?

Joel Anthony has been playing this role all season, and as he has done over the past few years he is only going to continue to get better. Whether it be in the starting lineup or coming off the bench, Anthony has been a defensive monster for Miami. Blocking shots and shutting down the painted area is what he has become known for, but his help defense is what has really gotten my attention in the postseason. Also, while he has a very limited offensive game, his hard work during practice and in the video room combined with his non-stop hustle has him suddenly setting picks like a seasoned veteran.  He has quietly become an all-around defensive specialist and has earned the fans respect, getting chants of M-V-P.

Other role players such as James Jones, Mario Chalmers and even Mike Miller are finding ways to produce for the Heat and give them solid minutes on both ends of the floor. All three have shown they can hit big outside shots, but on this team you earn your stripes playing defense and that is where they have really stepped up their game.

What’s the difference between the Dwyane Wade we’re seeing now and the one that struggled against the Celtics in the regular season?

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James
Irish Coffee: Celtics must cash in at end of quarters 05.05.11 at 10:29 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

The Celtics were once the best closers in basketball — playing suffocating defense and precision offense to keep leads (or deficits) safe at the end of each 12 minutes. Now? Not so much.

As the whistle signaled the close of each of the first three quarters in Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, it’s been Miami — not the Celtics — that has turned up the heat on both ends of the floor to stretch a lead the C’s had tried so hard to erase.

“One of our biggest strong points in our team and how we play the game is closing out quarters,” added Celtics shooting guard Ray Allen. “What we haven’€™t done in these past two games is close out the quarters well. Whether we’€™re down, whether we’€™re up, whether the game is tied, to finish quarters we have given them too many points. We have to be a lot more solid.”

The Celtics have been outscored at the end of each of the first three quarters in both losses — 99-90 in Game 1 and 102-91 in Game 2. In the last two minutes of those six quarters, the Heat have outscored the C’s by a total of 12 points. That advantage balloons to 22 when you look at the final three minutes or 32 points when you zoom out to four minutes.

Miami has beaten the Celtics 13-6 in the last three minutes of the first half in both matchups. In Game 1, the Heat stretched a 38-30 advantage into a 51-36 halftime lead. Then, in Game 2, the Celtics turned a 36-34 edge into a 47-42 halftime deficit. Each time, they never recovered.

“One of the things we clearly have to do a better job of is close out quarters,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers told reporters after Tuesday’s loss. “They closed out the first quarter on a run. They closed out the second quarter on a run. They closed out the third quarter, and then they closed out the game all on runs. We have to figure out a way of finishing quarters better than we did.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Glen Davis, Kevin Garnett, Miami Heat
Irish Coffee: Paul Pierce must captain Celtics ship 05.04.11 at 12:31 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

This was Paul Pierce‘s signature season. Reaching the 20,000-point plateau, he had left the 2005 version of himself behind — turning in the most efficient season of his 13-year career during the hunt for a second NBA championship banner that would further cement his legacy as one of the greatest Celtics of all-time.

“I’m trying to get another one,” Pierce told Celtics legend Bill Russell in a recent conversation on NBA.com. “I’m going to go out and get it, just like you did.”

And then the first two games of the 2011 Eastern Conference semifinals happened.

Now, Pierce finds himself in a place he’s only been twice in his great Boston tenure — down 2-0 in a playoff series — and both times he’s been swept. But that was before he partnered with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, before he matured into an unselfish player who put team first and before he earned an NBA Finals MVP.

That partnership, maturity and unselfishness was nowhere to be found in Game 1, when he lost his head not once but twice in the heat of playoff battle — an all too familiar reminder of the guy who got tossed from Game 6 of a 2005 playoff series against the Pacers, waved his jersey over his head to incite the Indiana crowd and wore a mock bandage around his jaw during the post-game press conference.

In Game 2, Pierce took just 11 shots and two free throws for 13 points; he recorded only one assist. Where is the guy that shot nearly 50 percent for the regular season and dished out more than three assists per game? Sure, you could blame that in part on his strained left Achilles tendon, but he still played 33 minutes and said, “It didn’t really affect me the rest of the game.”

Meanwhile, his defensive assignment, LeBron James, turned in a signature performance with 35 points on 14-of-25 shooting. There was a time, not too long ago, when Pierce was capable of giving James a run for his money. Remember Game 7 of the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals, when The Truth lived up to his nickname and negated LeBron’s 45-point outing with 41 points of his own?

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Read More: Boston Celtics, LeBron James, Miami Heat, Paul Pierce
Fast Break: Celtics collapse in another loss to Heat 05.03.11 at 9:45 pm ET
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The Heat broke open a tie game in the fourth quarter with a 14-point run and LeBron James‘ 35 points helped Miami defeat the Celtics, 102-91, to take a two-game lead in the second-round series. Rajon Rondo led the Celtics with 20 points, 12 assists and six rebounds.

Game 3 is back in Boston on Saturday.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Fourth-quarter collapse: After surging back to tie the game at 80 apiece, the Heat scored the next 14 points, including six free throws, to take a 94-80 lead with three and a half minutes remaining. James dominated that stretch, totaling 12 fourth-quarter points. The Celtics unraveled, failing to get back on defense as a result of complaints about the officiating. Even Doc Rivers picked up a late technical foul arguing a call (the Heat did own a 36-22 advantage in free throws).

Heat’s Big Three vs. Celtics’ Big Four: The Heat entered the game with a 33-3 record when their Big Three combined for 70 points, and James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined to top that milestone by 10. Wade, James and Bosh combined for 80 points and 26 rebounds, while Rondo, Allen, Pierce and Garnett totaled 56 points and 22 rebounds. Allen (7 points) and Pierce (11 points) especially struggled.

Paul Pierce isn’t Paul Pierce: Pierce left the game in the first half after twisting an ankle. After getting treatment in the locker room, he returned relatively quickly. Still, he didn’t appear as explosive and struggled for a second straight game. Meanwhile, Allen — who was already struggling — bruised his chest during a third-quarter collision with James.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Jeff Green inserts himself: In 10 first-half minutes, Jeff Green made 4-of-5 shots — including a pair of 3-pointers for 10 points before the break (he finished with 11 points). His performance highlighted what was perhaps the bench’s best stretch of the playoffs, as the Celtics stayed with the Heat to start a low-scoring second quarter. Green even demonstrated some rare emotion, letting out a roar after being fouled by James in the third quarter. Delonte West (10 points) also had five points on 2-of-2 shooting off the bench during that same span.

Guarding James Jones: After Jones scored 25 points on seven shots in Game 1, the Celtics made a concerted effort to keep Jones from killing them on open 3-point shots — and it paid off. Forcing Jones to play off the dribble rather than set up along the 3-point line, the C’s held him to one missed field goal in the first half. Meanwhile, Jones picked up three fouls on the defensive end before the break — rendering him useless.

JO-ffensive rebounding: The Celtics have struggled on the offensive glass all season, but Jermaine O’Neal single-handedly gave the C’s five extra possessions in the first half alone — as they battled the Heat evenly (7-7) in offensive rebounding for the first 24 minutes. O’Neal finished with a respectable eight points and nine rebounds, but the Celtics ended up losing the rebounding battle on both ends of the floor.

Read More: Boston Celtics, LeBron James, Miami Heat, NBA playoffs
Irish Coffee: Heat not guilty of foul play? 05.03.11 at 1:43 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

Plenty of deserved concerns arose about the officiating following the Heat’s Game 1 victory over the Celtics in which LeBron James & Co. made the same amount of field goals (32) and three fewer 3-pointers (12-9) but 12 more free throws on 14 more attempts.

Considering the NBA downgraded Celtics center Jermaine O’Neal‘s flagrant-one to a personal foul while upgrading Heat guard James Jones‘ personal to a flagrant-one foul the day after Game 1, any gripes about the referees — Dan Crawford, Ed Malloy and Derrick Collins — were validated as more than just sour grapes.

NBA officials have long been criticized for their treatment of the league’s superstars. It’s a conspiracy theory born in the Michael Jordan era and nursed along by the indictment of referee Tim Donaghy on game-fixing allegations (Donaghy appeared on Dennis & Callahan Tuesday morning). While I wouldn’t go so far to include the NBA’s current referees — Sunday’s officiating crew included — in the same conversation as Donaghy, there is statistical evidence that James and Dwyane Wade have received at least inadvertent star treatment throughout the 2010-11 season and into the playoffs.

The Heat averaged 27.9 free-throw attempts per game during the regular season, while their opponents averaged 24.2. Conversely, the Celtics averaged 23.1 free-throw attempts, while their opponents averaged 24.1. More specifically, Wade and James combined for 17.0 free-throw attempts per game this season. By contrast, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen combined for 13.3 free throws a game.

But Wade and James get to the rim a ton, you say? That’s true. Each game, the Heat duo combined for 13.1 field-goal attempts within three feet of the basket. Hence, the big free throw numbers. But shouldn’t the Celtics’ Big Four — who combine for 14.0 field goals at the rim every game — be somewhere in that 17 free-throws per game range, rather than 13.3?

Not convinced? Consider this fact: Jordan averaged 7.7 free throws per game during his six championship seasons; Wade (8.6) and James (8.4) each averaged more this season.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Game 2, LeBron James, Miami Heat
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