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LeBron James enters Game 5 with everything (and nothing) to prove 06.05.12 at 9:45 am ET
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For a brief moment Sunday night, the hardships in LeBron James world went away: the overwhelming pressure to win a championship, the incessant questioning of his fortitude, and the expectations. Everything vanished when he buried a 3-pointer to tie Game 4 at 89 with 38 seconds to play in regulation.

Suddenly, James went from goat to G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time, for the uninitiated). More importantly for James, in that instant, there was just tranquility. But moments later in a flash it all came back, as James passed the ball to Udonis Haslem, who was forced into a low-percentage jumper that missed, and the game went into overtime.

“We ran a set where I was coming up for a pick and roll with [Dwyane Wade] and I slipped out and [Wade] hit me,” James said of the final play of regulation. “I was on the left wing, and for the most part everyone else was on the right side, and I had a one-on-one before [Kevin Garnett] came and decided to double the ball.

“I dribbled the ball middle and I saw [Haslem] circle underneath,” he continued. “[Garnett] got a hand on my wrist when I tried to make a pass to [Haslem], and we didn’t get off a good look.”

Just like before he hit the 3-pointer, it didn’t matter that James ranks second all-time in PER (player efficiency rating), trailing only Michael Jordan, or that his career average of 27.6 points per game puts him third behind Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain, or that he is one of only six players in league history to average 27 points, seven boards and six assists in a regular season (The others? MJ and Jerry West each did it once, John Havlicek did it twice, Larry Bird did it three times, and Oscar Robertson and LBJ have done it in a whopping six different seasons), or that he already has as many MVP trophies (three) as Bird and Magic Johnson did in their entire careers (and by the way, James is still only 27 years old). Nope. None of that matters. For James, the beat goes on and on (and on).

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Read More: 2012 NBA playoffs, LeBron James,
Fast Break: C’s hang on in overtime thriller, series with Heat tied 2-2 06.03.12 at 11:44 pm ET
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The Celtics grabbed an 18-point first half lead, but the Heat came storming back in the second half to force an overtime thriller in Game 4. The Celtics were able to prevail, 93-91, evening up the series at two games apiece, despite being without Paul Pierce, who fouled out within the first minute of the extra frame. LeBron James also fouled out in overtime, but not before scoring a team-high 29 points (12-of-25 shooting).  For the Celtics Pierce scored 23 points and Rajon Rondo added 15 points and 15 assists. Dwyane Wade had a chance to win the game for the Heat but missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Rondo’d: The frenetic Garden crowd was pining for a fast start, and the Celtics point guard obliged. In the first quarter alone, Rondo had eight points and four assists. Oh, yeah, and he had six more dimes in the second quarter. Rondo got into the lane at will — even making a jab at the Heat complaining to the refs in transition to ESPN at halftime — and either took what Miami gave him by converting lay ups, or dished it out to open wing players for 3-pointers. He was the catalyst Boston needed to open up an early double-digit lead.

The Rest: Rondo can put his cape on, summon his Bob Cousy/Magic Johnson/Pete Maravich vision, and set players up all he wants, but unless the Celts are knocking down jumpers, it’s all for naught. Sunday night, Boston’s entire team was on point, shooting nearly 50% from the field in the first half.  And despite the scare, the C’s early 21-6 lead proved to be insurmountable … but how?

Well, the C’s started 6-of-9 from 3-point territory. In the first half, every time the Heat sniffed at a single-digit deficit, Pierce answered the bell with a series of old-fashioned three-point plays. Ray Allen continued to rediscover his touch (starting 5-of-11 from the field). Keyon Dooling hit a few 3-pointers in transition. And although Kevin Garnett wasn’t as aggressive in the early-going, he recorded his 12th double-double of the postseason. It wasn’t until the third quarter that Miami was able to make its move, cutting the deficit to five (but expending a ton of energy in the process).

WHAT WENT WRONG

The Lull and the consequences: As good as the C’s 61-point first half was, their second half was anemic. They hit five of 16 field goal attempts (31 percent) in the third quarter. In fact, Boston had only 13 points in the first 15 minutes of action in the second half as the Heat went on a 27-13 run to tie the game at 74 with just under nine minutes left in the game. In short, the Celtics had their foot on Miami’s throat and failed to press down, letting the Heat all the way back in what would be a dog fight the rest of the way.

Cautiously optimistic: The Heat floated around 50% shooting for the better part of the night. The C’s rotations were crisp enough, but Miami was able to torch Boston. Going into the fourth quarter, the Heat — who vowed to attack the basket more in Game 4 — outscored Boston 38-26 in points in the paint.

If it weren’t for the goodwill built up from a tremendous performance of the first half and a few timely possessions offensively from the C’s, the Heat could (and probably would) have won Game 4 in regulation.  And, going forward, the Celtics have to be tougher defensively while traveling back down to South Beach (Read: More of the same “D” played on James forcing a bad shot from Udonis Haslem during the last possession of regulation.)

Mind Games: Calm Heat regroup, prepare for Game 4 06.02.12 at 11:25 am ET
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Following their loss in Game 3, the Heat locker room was best described as composed. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were playfully berating rookie Norris Cole and from across the room, injured All-Star Chris Bosh is conversing with James Jones, while Shane Battier is icing his knees, waiting to hold court with the media. The Heat aren’t okay with the defeat, but by no means do they appear worried, either.

Remember, this is a team that dealt with a 2-1 series deficit against the frisky Pacers in the second round. A team that was in this very situation against these Celtics last year before winning the next two games and ending Boston’s season. Dropping a game on the road doesn’t phase the Heat, especially since they cut a 24-point third quarter deficit to just eight by midway through the fourth quarter.

“[The Celtics] won Game 3,” Mario Chalmers said. “That’s all that happened. We’re still up 2-1, we have to get ready for Game 4. [The comeback attempt] was very important. We showed we’re not going away. We’re going to keep fighting all the way to the end no matter what the outcome is.”

“There’s really no pressure,” Udonis Haslem said.  “We’ll get some rest tonight. Tomorrow we’ll wake up, go over film, make our adjustments and come out and play.”

***

Across the hall, Kevin Garnett is finishing treatment. The Big Ticket just recorded his 11th double-double of this postseason, scoring 24 points (10-of-16 shooting) and grabbing 11 boards. And he managed to antagonize the Heat in the process.

In the second quarter after he was fouled hard by Haslem, KG laid on his back for brief moment while the Garden faithful held its collective breath. In one sweeping motion, rolled over and began doing a set of knuckle down push ups. Later, in the four quarter, Garnett picked up a technical for elbowing Chalmers as the two fought for a rebound. Now, though, Garnett is preaching about needing the best out of all his teammates. He uses the word “desperation” seven times in a three-minute period.

“Everything he does makes me want to run through a wall,” Keyon Dooling said of Garnett’s inspiring play and antics on the court.

***

Meanwhile, Garnett’s menacing behavior makes his adversaries — Chalmers and Haslem — want to put their head through a wall in frustration.

“That’s KG,” Chalmers said. “I’m not worried about KG. He’s going to do that every game. That’s his game. We have to stick to our plan, not worry about him, not let him get into our heads — which he didn’t — and we got to keep playing.”

Said Haslem: “I don’t pay much attention to it. The game is played between the lines: Not with the elbows, not with the talking, not with the refs. You still have to throw the ball up, you still have to rebound, and you still have to play the game.”

People begin to file out of the Heat’s locker room as James and Wade prepare to take the podium. Battier is almost through with interviews, but before it’s over, he says what the rest of the Heat are undoubtedly thinking.

“Pressure isn’t applicable here,” Battier said. “This is a very good Boston team and we have to play well to beat them. “It’s a series now. They have hope.”

Read More: 2012 NBA playoffs,
Fast Break: C’s go full-throttle en route to dominating Game 3 victory 06.01.12 at 11:22 pm ET
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The Celtics held serve Friday night, winning Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, 101-91. The Heat were led by an inspired performance from LeBron James, who scored 34 points to go along with eight boards. The Celtics were led by Kevin Garnett‘s double-double of 24 points and 11 rebounds. Rajon Rondo added 21 points, dished out 10 assists, and had six rebounds. The C’s look to even the series at two games apiece Sunday night at the Garden.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

The ‘Complete Game’: This was as good as it gets for Boston. As a team, the C’s had just seven turnovers and were shooting 53 percent through three quarters of action. Four of Boston’s starters finished scoring in double figures, and the C’s out-rebounded the Heat 44-32 (including 12-6 on the offensive glass).

It wasn’t just that, what happened Friday night goes beyond the numbers. Boston reached a new gear with its intensity. Garnett did a set of knuckle-down push ups after being fouled hard by Udonis Haslem. And that was just the start. All game long players were fired up, Ray Allen was dunking(!), the bench was involved, the crowd was great — just a virtuoso performance that is best described as “Basketball Bedlam.” Keep in mind, this all transpired just two days after suffering a disappointing overtime loss in Game 2.

Benchwarmers: After riding his starters in Game 2, Doc Rivers absolutely needed to squeeze minutes out of his inconsistent bench. He went with Marquis Daniels — yes, the same Marquis Daniels who’s played a total of 48 minutes in 15 games of the C’s postseason run thus far — and he delivered. Not only did Quis play stellar defense, but he hit both of his shot attempts, and picked up an assist in a productive seven-minute stint in the second quarter.

While it’s safe to categorically file Daniels’ performance under “I didn’t see that coming,” two stalwarts of the bench — Mickael Pietrus and Keyon Dooling – also came up big for the C’s. Pietrus knocked the ball away from James while Dooling raced to the basket and converted an impressive finger roll. Dooling scored seven first-half points and invigorated the crowd. Pietrus made up for his shooting woes by slowing down James with relentless defense.

Root Canals: It’s no secret, defense is the C’s bread and butter and served as the catalyst to pull away in Game 3. James went to the bench after torching the Celtics in the first quarter. With the red-hot James grabbing a breather, Boston went to work, holding the Heat scoreless from the 2:38 minute mark of the first quarter until James Jones knocked down a free throw with 7:44 remaining in the second. Conversely, the C’s avoided one of their all-to-common offensive lulls during the five minute drought for Miami, and went on a 15-0 run to grab a nine-point lead.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Heavy is the Head: James’ first quarter was sublime, transcendent, and a third adjective I can’t come up with right now. He started 7-of-11 from the field with 16 points. Say what you will about his lackluster fourth quarter performances, his free throw issues, and whatever other small parts of his game which get (unfairly) picked apart, but the truth is when James gets going, things get scary for opponents. It’s no coincidence the Heat lost control of this game while James sat the first three minutes of the second quarter.

(*Worth noting: As good as James was, the Celtics held Dwyane Wade in check for the most part. The running buddy, who killed the C’s both in last year’s series and in Games 1 & 2, only had 12 points on 6-of-14 shooting through the first 36 minutes of action.)

Killer Instinct: Miami dwindled the C’s 24-point lead to just eight points in the fourth quarter. Boston responded when they had to – preventing the comeback attempt from going full circle. There was a point in Game 3, however, it appeared possible to get the starters some much needed rest.

Tiny Tidbit: The C’s played possibly their most complete game Friday night, so this is really nitpicking, but in the first half alone there were four instances where the C’s gave up easy transition baskets off makes on the other end. The Celtics offensive inconsistency doesn’t allow them room for these mental lapses. Giving away uncontested lay ups is an issue yet to be rectified since Game 1′s debacle.

Read More: 2012 NBA playoffs,
NBA lottery results: Hornets land big prize, Bobcats to select second 05.30.12 at 9:11 pm ET
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The bouncing balls went the Hornets’ way at the lottery Wednesday night, as they landed the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft. The best player available is widely considered to be Kentucky standout Anthony Davis. The Hornets moved up from the fourth spot, where they had a 13.7 percent chance to win the first pick.

The league still technically owns the franchise while the sale to Saints owner Tom Benson is being finalized.

Meanwhile, the Bobcats, who had the worst winning percentage in NBA history last season and a 25 percent chance to land the first pick, fell to the No. 2 spot. The Wizards and Cavs will select third and fourth, respectively.

Read More: Anthony Davis, NBA draft lottery, Tom Benson,
Fast Break: C’s can’t handle Heat, fall in Game 1 05.28.12 at 11:08 pm ET
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Coming off a grueling seven-game series against the Sixers, the Celtics traveled to Miami and fell to the Heat, 93-79 , in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. Kevin Garnett kept the C’s alive early with 23 points, but league MVP LeBron James scored 32 points to go along with 13 rebounds. Game 2 is Wednesday night in Miami.

WHAT WENT WRONG

At odds: The C’s dug themselves into a hole after only scoring 11 points in the opening quarter. But, after a strong 35-point second quarter, they found themselves tied at halftime. Boston went into another funk at the start of the second half, shooting just 2-0f-12 to open the third quarter, and put up a paltry 15 points in the third quarter.

The consistent offensive ruts — and these are nothing new, they’ve been happening all season — are deleterious to the C’s cause. They simply can’t afford to fall behind by eight points in a matter of minutes of the game starting and expect to win, not at this stage, especially when they Heat are shooting near 50 percent from the field.

The King and I: James had 17 points in the first half, starting 7-of-10 from the field. Monday night seemed like one of those games when LBJ was in MVP-type form. Dwyane Wade finished with a quiet 22 points. Sure, there were times were he was able to slice through the Boston defense and cause problems, but Wade was at his best facilitating and getting his teammates easy looks. In the fourth quarter, Wade “flashed” (pun intended) some of the playmaking ability Boston can expect to see the rest of the series. He had an impressive left-handed finish on a layup and then, on the ensuing C’s possession, a highlight block on Rajon Rondo. Later, he made a series of difficult shots. It’s a tough task, but the Celtics have to find a way to slow the Super Friends down … just a bit.

Miller time: It wasn’t James Jones‘ 25-point performance in Game 1 of the Heat-Celtics series last year, but Mike Miller gave Garnett fits from the outside by stretching the floor. KG had trouble getting out to the perimeter to guard Miller, and his eight points in the first half killed the C’s. It’s one thing for Wade and James to beat the Celtics, but they cannot afford the ancillary players to become factors.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

“Celtics’ cool”: After a late-season loss to the Bulls, Doc Rivers sarcastically said the C’s were playing “Celtics’ cool” basketball, scrutinizing Boston’s effort. The comment garnered a great deal of attention and Rivers’ point hit home. Considering the Celtics were called for THREE technical fouls in the first half — keep in mind, all three were suspect — they did well to come back from an 11-point deficit.

The C’s made 13 of their 22 field goal attempts to spur a second-quarter comeback and got contributions from a variety of players. Greg Stiemsma provided good size inside, Garnett continued his torrid shooting, Keyon Dooling gave good energy and hit a huge 3-pointer, Rajon Rondo facilitated, and Paul Pierce and Ray Allen both found their shooting touch. When the Celtics play like that — and, granted, they typically only show brief spurts of that type of efficiency — they can compete with Miami.

Will call: Garnett’s first half was vital especially since the rest of the B0ston lineup struggled. At one point KG was 4-of-5 from the field while the rest of the C’s were a combined 2-of-16. The Big Ticket’s performance is something the Celtics will need going forward in this series. His advantage inside was exposed and should be exploited further in Game 2.

Read More: 2012 NBA playoffs, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James,
Fast Break: C’s send scrappy 76ers home, advance to Eastern Conference Finals 05.26.12 at 10:43 pm ET
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It wasn’t easy — nothing in this series was — but the Celtics advanced to face the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday night, after dispatching of the scrappy 76ers, 85-75.  Rajon Rondo scored eight straight points after Paul Pierce fouled out with just under four minutes left extending a 3-point lead back to 10. Rondo finished the night with a triple-double with 18 points, 10 assists, and grabbed 10 rebounds. Andre Iguodala led the 76ers with 18 points.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

The Last Stand: Pierce struggled in the first half — shooting just 2-of-6 — but he remained engaged, and found his rhythm in the third quarter. The Celtics were able to maintain a healthy lead largely because of Pierce’s six third quarter points.

Kevin Garnett came on late, hitting a jumper at the buzzer to end the third quarter, and scoring four of Boston’s first seven points to open the fourth quarter, extending a three-point lead to seven, and obtain some much needed breathing room. Through three quarters Ray Allen was ineffective (again) because of his ankle, shooting a woeful 1-of-9 from the field, but came up big with two gigantic 3-pointers in the final frame.

Pierce fouled out with just under four minutes to play, and the Sixers crawled back within three to scare the Garden faithful one last time. It was Rondos turn, though, as he knocked down back-to-back jumpers and then a 3-pointer to extend the lead back to 10, ending the threat.

Role playing: Prior to tip-off, Doc Rivers said ancillary players typically step up in critical moments of Game 7′s — think P.J. Brown against the Cavs in the 2007-08 playoffs. After the C’s absorbed Philly’s run at the tail end of the first quarter, Mickael Pietrus and Keyon Dooling provided a jolt of energy and enlivened the stunned Garden crowd.

Pietrus had an impressive dunk in the lane and put back on a missed 3-pointer to give the Celtics a spark. Dooling provided great defense and had a nifty old-fashioned 3-point play on a fast break to seize momentum for Boston.

Winning Ugly: In 20 years, no one will be telling their grand-kids about Game 7. The 76ers and Celtics combined to shoot 26-of-79 in the first half (33 percent), including 1-of-15 from 3-point territory, but all things considered, the C’s were just good enough.

Seven of the Sixers 20 first quarter points came from the free throw line, which made up for Philly shooting a mere 28.6% and led to a tie game. In the second quarter, both teams continued to struggle, but the C’s had four steals leading to easy baskets (the C’s had 13 fast break points in the first half). Meanwhile, 76ers were less aggressive in getting to the foul line.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Holiday Season: Rajon Rondo will welcome the challenge of guarding Mario Chalmers of the Heat. Chalmers is a spot-up shooter, whereas Jrue Holiday and Jeff Teaguewho gave Rondo fits in the first two rounds of the playoffs — are more keen to attacking the basket. Holiday’s impressive night series continued in Game 7, scoring 15 points to go along with nine assists .

15 Rounds: The C’s could have gained control in this series in Game 4 when they relinquished an 18-point lead in their second half collapse. Instead, these two teams have traded body blows with one another these last three games. Game 7, of course, was no different. The Celtics fed off the crowd and grabbed a 10-2 lead early, yet the score was tied at 20 going into the second quarter. The C’s squandered multiple opportunities to finally put the 76ers away early in the second half while their lead teetered between eight and ten points in the third quarter. The dog fight continued well into the fourth quarter, however, and the Celtics expended a great deal of energy closing out the series.

In a way, Game 7 was a microcosm of the entire series — a struggle in every sense of the word. Now, the well-rested Heat wait in the wings for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday night.

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