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Fast Break: Heat withstand Rajon Rondo’s brilliance 05.30.12 at 11:52 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo played all 53 minutes, scoring a career-high 44 points — the final umpteen on fumes — but the Celtics lost a heartbreaker in overtime, 115-111, and trail the Heat 2-0 in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Rondo finished 16-of-24 from the field while adding 10 assists, eight rebounds and three steals in perhaps the greatest game of a career filled with mind-boggling triple-doubles. Paul Pierce (21 points), Kevin Garnett (18 points, 8 rebounds) and Ray Allen (13 points) all exceeded 40 minutes, but the C’s ran out of gas.

In the final minute of regulation, Pierce fouled out with 47 seconds remaining, Dwyane Wade made just 1-of-2 free throws to give the Heat a 99-96 lead, Allen connected on a game-tying 3-pointer with 34 seconds left and LeBron James missed a pair of potential game-winning buckets.

But James led Miami with 34 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Wade (23 points) and Mario Chalmers (22 points) were the only other Heat players in double figures. Of course, their 47-29 advantage in free throws (24 for James) and 15 fewer personal fouls helped, too. In the final five minutes and overtime, the Celtics were whistled for 11 fouls to the Heat’s two. And Miami took 18 free throws (James 12, Wade 6) to the C’s two.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Turd quarter: The Celtics withstood a Heat run to close the second half, even maintaining a less-than-comfortable 71-66 lead 7:36 into the third quarter, but Miami went on a 12-0 run after a Wade block of Allen on the break to snare a six-point lead — just another reminder of how quickly the Heat can ignite offensively. That stretch featured Wade’s awakening and, of course, a couple more James free throws.

Mario cart: While most of the Heat couldn’t connect throughout the first half –shooting just 15-of-41 (36.6 FG%) from the field as a team — bit player Chalmers carried Miami when its superstars struggled. His 14 points and four assists in the opening two quarters help offset Rondo’s sensational first-half stretch.

Hitting the deck: Maybe Greg Stiemsma took Rondo’s “hit the deck” comments a little too literally. He picked up four personal fouls in his first three minutes of action, and while Doc Rivers nearly earned himself another technical foul, most were completely deserved. That meant Stiemsma, who had played quite well in limited Game 1 action, gave way to Ryan Hollins, who proceeded to dribble into a sea of Heat defenders and turn the ball over.

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Irish Coffee: Marquis Daniels to the Celtics’ rescue? 05.30.12 at 11:24 am ET
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The Celtics ran into this same question last season, and surely will have to answer it next year and the year after that: Who gives Paul Pierce a break defending LeBron James?

James played 44 minutes in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, and Pierce was on the floor for 40 of them. While chasing the NBA MVP around as he took 30 percent of Miami’s 72 field goal attempts and scored 32 of the Heat’s 93 points, the Celtics captain had little left in the tank on the offensive end.

Pierce finished with 12 points on 5-of-18 field goals and failed to get to the free throw line, where he’s made his bones on a bum knee during this playoff run. It was only the third time in his career he didn’t attempt a foul shot in a playoff game, and two of those have come since he sprained the MCL in his left knee.

Jeff Green was supposed to be the guy who could spare Pierce for even a handful of minutes, and he actually did a fairly good job against James in the 2011 playoffs, but that hope ended in heart surgery and a lost season. Then, Mickael Pietrus showed potential as that guy, but he’s had to assume the backup duties to Ray Allen on Dwyane Wade in Avery Bradley‘s absence, and that problem is only becoming more complicated.

That leaves Celtics coach Doc Rivers with Sasha Pavlovic and Marquis Daniels as his last two options.

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Irish Coffee: Hating the Heat easier than beating Miami 05.29.12 at 1:42 pm ET
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Listen, I’m a Bostonian. I learned the game of basketball watching Larry Bird and listening to my father’s stories of Red Auerbach‘s Celtics of old. Cleaning out some old stuff from my parents house over the weekend, I found a Reggie Lewis collage from 20 years ago. Do I see the NBA through green-colored glasses at times? Probably.

Then again, I’m one of the guys who a couple months ago had the Celtics as a seventh seed losing in the first round, so I like to think I can take a step back and look at games and series and seasons rationally.

Not when it comes to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade & Co. Plain and simple: I can’t stand the Heat. Rooting for Miami is like pulling for South Bend Central against Hickory at the end of Hoosiers.

It starts with James, and not just because of the ridiculous Decision, declaring himself a champion — not once, not twice — before building one as a team, although that’s part of it. That was one epic failure of a public relations move made by a team of people he pays to make those kinds of judgment calls for him.

It’s that he’s the best basketball player in the world, yet completely unlikable. As a friend of mine said, he’s the A-Rod of basketball. You wouldn’t even want to have a beer with him, much less want your kid aspiring to be him.

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Irish Coffee: How this Celtics team fares in Game 7′s 05.24.12 at 1:03 pm ET
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The last and only time Mickael Pietrus played in a Game 7, he played for the Magic and scored 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting (3-3 3P) in a 101-82 blowout of the Celtics in the Garden to win the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals. (Our own Paul Flannery reminds us of the similarities between that series and this one.)

Keyon Dooling hasn’t played in a Game 7 since 2005, when he scored six points on 3-of-6 shooting coming off the bench for the Heat in an 88-82 loss to the Pistons during the Eastern Conference finals. Greg Stiemsma, Ryan Hollins and even Brandon Bass have never played a Game 7, not that it matters much.

How the Celtics fare in Game 7 of this Eastern Conference semifinals against the 76ers depends on how well the Big Four perform. Pietrus should start for Ray Allen, but Doc Rivers probably puts this game in the hands of Allen, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Ganett and Paul Pierce. And who could blame him? After five seasons, 85 playoff games and 50 postseason victories together, they’ve gotten him this far.

Between them, Allen, Rondo, Garnett and Pierce have played 12 playoff games with the series up for grabs, including five as a unit since the 2008 NBA title run (Garnett’s 2009 knee injury cost him two of those). They’re 3-4 as individuals, and 3-2 together — the 2010 NBA finals Game 7 loss to the Lakers freshest in all their minds.

Perhaps how those four have fared in those previous 12 win-or-go-home playoff contests (Garnett, Allen and Pierce each played a Game 5 before the NBA abolished five-game, first-round series in 2003) will offer a glimpse of what to expect in their 13th and perhaps final Game 7 together, on Saturday night against the Sixers in Boston.

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Kevin Garnett: Philadelphia’s ‘got fair-weather fans’ 05.22.12 at 1:04 am ET
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For 24 minutes of Game 5, the Celtics looked lazy, old, disinterested and whatever other adjective you want to use to describe a team that appeared resigned to the fact that Father Time wasn’t willing to cooperate and the Eastern Conference semifinals were slipping away to the younger, fresher legs of the 76ers.

Whatever they felt, the hushed Garden crowd sensed it, too. And then the third quarter happened.

Whether it was the ridiculous offensive foul call on Kevin Garnett against Spencer Hawes four minutes after halftime that elicited chants of “bull[stuff], bull[stuff]” or the barrage of Brandon Bass buckets, the Celtics awoke a Boston crowd that sleepwalked through the first half. Or was it the other way around?

“This goddamned crowd here sparks you,” said Garnett (20 points, 8-of-17 FG). “It doesn’t take much here, man. … When speaking about this crowd, man, it’s like plugging in. They’re enthused from 48 minutes on, from the tip on, so I can’t see the difference between minute from minute. I feel like every minute I look up, I see my family, I see people yelling, I see the drunk, fat guy. I can decipher one from the other. This crowd is ridiculous, man. I love it.”

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Fast Break: Brandon Bass lands Celtics a Game 5 win 05.21.12 at 9:26 pm ET
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In the aftermath of the Game 4 collapse, Celtics coach Doc Rivers admitted he made a mistake not playing Brandon Bass more down the stretch against a smaller 76ers lineup. Yet, Rivers still didn’t play Bass in the final minutes of the fourth quarter in Game 5, either.

That’s because Bass had already erupted for 18 of his playoff career-high 27 points in the third quarter, igniting a 101-85 blowout win that gave the Celtics a 3-2 lead heading back to Philadelphia for Game 6 on Wednesday.

Kevin Garnett (20 points, 6 rebounds), Paul Pierce (16 points), Rajon Rondo (13 points, 14 assists) and Greg Stiemsma (10 points) all reached double figures as well in the C’s victory.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Breakout Bass: After exceeding 15 points in 18 games during the regular season, Bass had yet to eclipse that mark in the playoffs. And Rivers didn’t like it, imploring No Pass Bass to earn his nickname and take the open shot when it’s there. Bass responded in Game 5, scoring 18 of the C’s 28 points in the third quarter and helping turn a 50-47 halftime deficit into a 75-66 lead after 36 minutes of action. He had his new career playoff scoring high before the fourth quarter.

Stinkin’ Badger: After the Celtics introduced a steamboat whistle to announce Greg Stiemsma‘s entrance into Game 1, the Wisconsin native came into Monday’s game with two points on 1-of-3 shooting for the series. Without the whistle intro in Game 5, Stiemsma erupted for eight points on 4-of-4 shooting — in his first 5:46 of action. He made three straight baskets midway through the first quarter on his way to eight of the C’s 23 points in the opening 12 minutes.

Match game: Along with Garnett, who enjoyed another stellar playoff game in this Back to the Future postseason of his, and a dash of Ryan Hollins, Bass and Stiemsma helped neutralize Lavoy Allen and Thaddeus Young, who combined for 19 boards off the bench in Game 4. That number dropped to six between them in Monday night’s blowout victory.

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Irish Coffee: Philly Fat Albert, the truffle shuffle and five Celtics statistics you didn’t know 05.17.12 at 11:03 am ET
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Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Celtics’ Game 3 dismantling of the Sixers was their ability to make 22-of-28 free throws — including 11-of-14 from a Paul Pierce determined to get his points any way possible — in the face of true adversity: Philly Fat Albert doing the truffle shuffle (h/t @GethinCoolbaugh).

“Paul is just a grinder,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers told reporters in Philadelphia after his team’s most complete performance of the playoffs, a 107-91 victory that gave his team a 2-1 Eastern Conference semifinals lead. “He really is. You look at him at times and you wonder, ‘How is this guy getting open?’ He just has great fundamentals. He never does it with speed. He just knows how to play basketball.

“He’s a throwback guy,” added Rivers. “He just knows how to play basketball. We jokingly call him our ‘professional scorer,’ and that’s what he is in a lot of ways. … I think guys like Paul and the Kobe [Bryants], they have something in their minds that just makes them who they are.”

Even if it means staring at 400 pounds of Philly flesh full of cheesesteaks and pretzels. (Well, there is a lot of culture there.) In all seriousness, here’s five stats that make the C’s performance that much more remarkable.

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