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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,
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.”

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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.

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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: Listless C’s can’t find touch, 76ers force Game 7 05.23.12 at 10:48 pm ET
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The Sixers and Celtics will need a seventh game to determine which team will earn the right to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals after the C’s fell to Philly in Game 6, 82-75.  The Celtics seemed out of sorts the whole game and shot just 33.3 percent from the field. Jrue Holiday continued to be a thorn in Boston’s side, scoring 18 points (7-of-15 shooting) for the Sixers. Paul Pierce scored 24 points in defeat.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Missed Opportunity: The C’s actually won the rebounding battle, 48-37, and even doubled up Philly on the offensive glass, 14-7. However, every other facet of the game seemed to go the 76ers way as the game progressed. Boston will look back at this game with regret, not because it lost, but because the way it lost. The C’s shooting percentage floated around 30 percent for the majority of the night and their 16 turnovers were debilitating. In a weird way, the Game 6 loss was almost as damning as the Celtics’ Game 4 loss when they blew an 18-point second half lead. At least in Game 4 the C’s played one good half; Game 5’s performance was brutal for a full 48 minutes.

Gamma Rays: Ray Allen only took one shot in Game 3. He was just 2-of-6 in Game 4. And Monday night he finished 2-of-7 in Game 5. Obviously, his ankle’s stability and amount of pain he is experiencing fluctuates on a day-to-day basis. It appeared Wednesday night he was laboring. His two early fouls in the first quarter didn’t help, but there was one play where Allen visibly struggled while trying to get separation from Jodie Meeks. Allen was 2-0f-8 going into the fourth quarter, playing just 17 minutes. With Avery Bradley‘s status questionable for the rest of the playoffs, Doc Rivers is undoubtedly hoping Allen’s health and play improves.

Held at bay: After Game 5, Allen said this was a “Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass series” because Philly’s defense was predicated on stopping Pierce and himself on the perimeter. Bass had six first quarter points which sounds nice, until you realize it was on eight shot attempts.  His shot selection was fine, but the same shots that fell for Bass in his 27-point Game 5 performance weren’t dropping at the Wells Fargo Center in Game 6. Kevin Garnett wasn’t much better. Sure, he finished with 20 points, but he took 20 shots to reach that output.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Follow the leader: Pierce may have had four turnovers and an average night from the field, but The Truth did what he’s been doing the entire playoff run: Attacking the basket and helping rebound. Pierce grabbed 10 boards and went to the line early and often, finishing the game with 13 free throw attempts. An underrated part of this is that Pierce converted all his attempts. This is especially noteworthy when looking at Philly, who as a team took 28 free throws … but hit just 17 of those opportunities.

Hangin’ around: This is tough. On one hand, the Sixers were shooting 60% in the opening stages of the second quarter, yet the Celtics only trailed by three, 28-25, even though they were shooting just 31 percent. The C’s tightened up defensively and the 76ers went on a scoring drought from the 8:19 mark to the 3:02 mark of the quarter. In fact, Philly would only score six points in eight minutes of action through the second quarter, leading to a comeback from the Celtics.

After holding the 76ers to an eleven point quarter, Boston took a three-point lead into halftime, despite shooting only 37 percent.  Now, this falls under “What Went Right” because the C’s ended up with the lead while on the road, but their 17-point second quarter didn’t exactly allot them any breathing room.

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Veteran Celtics win with old reliable: Defense 05.22.12 at 1:50 pm ET
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In the new Big Three era, when the moon is large, the food is prepared properly, and whatever other wacky Kevin Garnett-ism you want to use to describe the Celtics playing to their potential, there has been one constant. If unsure of the answer, let Mickael Pietrus spell it out for you:

“D-E-F-E-N-S-E,” Pietrus said. “That’s the key. When offensively things aren’t going well, you can always count on everybody to play great defense. That’s our coach’s mentality. That’s the Celtics’ mentality.”

The Celtics have finished in the top five in points allowed every year since the 2007-08 season. This year has been no different. During the regular season opponents scored 89.3 points per game against the C’s, good for second-fewest in the NBA. Through 11 games of the playoffs, Boston has allowed just 84.9 points per game. But in the first half of the pivotal Game 5 Monday night, the Celtics struggled to execute defensively and the 76ers took advantage, shooting 54.8 percent while taking a three-point lead at halftime.

“Understanding what got us here,” Garnett said about the keys to the Celtics’ success. “Riding out our defense. I think when we get erratic and we get away from being disciplined defensively, it makes it hard on us. When we stick to our principles and our schemes, it’s hard to score on us.”

What transpired over the course of the second half proved Garnett is absolutely right. The Celtics regained some semblance of control in a wildly unpredictable series with their 101-85 victory. Some analysts will point to the Celtics getting to the free throw line 17 more times than the Sixers; others will speak about Brandon Bass outscoring the entire Philly team, 18-16, in the third quarter. And those are valid reasons why Boston prevailed, but they also are anomalies.

However, the C’s defense binding together and holding the 76ers to just 35 second-half points on 37.1 percent shooting is hardly surprising. As Garnett said, it is what Boston is built on. The C’s active hands served as a catalyst to completely reverse the feel of the game. In the third quarter alone, the Sixers had six turnovers and the Celtics had four steals, turning what had been a three-point deficit into a nine-point lead entering the fourth quarter. From that point on, the Celtics never looked back.

“It’s due to their adjustments,” Elton Brand said. “The first two games they were playing our pick and roll and our drag screens a certain way, now they are playing it a different way, and it doesn’t always bode well for us to execute. We’ve been turning the ball over. They’re long and athletic, so we’ve been going into those traps.”

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Read More: 2012 NBA playoffs, 2012 Playoffs, Brandon Bass, Elton Brand
Sixers come of age, steal home court from Celtics 05.15.12 at 10:16 am ET
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The 76ers came into Game 2 of their second-round series against the Celtics knowing they had let Game 1 slip through their fingers after blowing a 10-point fourth-quarter lead. Following the disappointing loss, Doug Collins said he liked his team’s effort, remaining optimistic that the Sixers still had the chance to steal Game 2, so long as they made the appropriate adjustments in their execution down the stretch.

Game 2 on Monday night was an ugly affair, but it unfolded the same way as the series opener as the 76ers clawed their way to an eight-point advantage, 59-51, with just over 10 minutes left in regulation. Then Mickael Pietrus — who was just 2-of-15 from long distance in the playoffs going into Monday night’s game — drilled back-to-back 3-pointers to pull the Celtics within a basket.

Philly could have turtled under the pressure, but instead it flipped the script. It was the Celtics who committed consecutive turnovers, and shortly after, Andre Iguodala reversed the momentum with a mid-range jumper.

“Our young guys just keep growing and they’re really becoming men,” Collins said. “I’m so proud of them. We just found a way. … Our guys are believing they can do it, and it is pretty special to watch.”

The Sixers allowed 32 fourth-quarter points, including six 3-pointers, but their poise was noticeably different in Game 2. Philly converted all eight of its free throws in the fourth quarter, while Kevin Garnett missed the Celtics’ only attempt. Although the C’s shot 65 percent from the field in the quarter, they committed four costly turnovers, the 76ers on the other hand, only committed one.

What was most encouraging for the Sixers in their 82-81 victory was that all eight of the players who saw action in the fourth quarter scored. So much of the discussion of this series has been predicated on the lack of a pure offensive threat on the Philadelphia side, as opposed to the Celtics, who boast four perennial All-Stars on their roster. For the Sixers, there was strength in numbers.

Though, it should be noted, a few breaks seemed to go the Sixers way, including Lavoy Allen‘s 22-foot bank shot as the 24-second shot clock was expiring to break a tie with just over four minutes left. Evan Turner also hit an impressive driving layup that would prove to be the game-winning basket. Finally, Garnett was called for a moving screen with 10 seconds left that took the ball out of the C’s hands with a chance to tie, essentially sealing the game for the 76ers.

“They made some tough shots when we needed to get some stops,” Paul Pierce said. “The made a shot with [less than a second] left on the shot clock. Turner made a couple difficult layups. That’s the part of the game where we’ve really got to make stops.”

Said Doc Rivers: “We put ourselves in that position. And when you do that, if you win the game, great, you won the game. If you lose the game, you deserve to lose the game, too, because you put yourself in that position.”

Read More: 2012 NBA playoffs, 2012 Playoffs, Andre Iguodala, Evan Turner
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