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Rajon Rondo: ‘We let this one slip away’ 06.10.12 at 4:03 am ET
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Not even Doc Rivers (left) could console Rajon Rondo after his triple-double wasn't enough in Boston's Game 7 loss Saturday. (AP)

MIAMI — Not even the great Rajon Rondo could save the Celtics on Saturday night, not even with his fourth triple-double of this playoff season, and a mind-blowing 23rd of his career.

How rare is Rondo? He became the first player in NBA history with two Game 7 triple doubles, scoring 22 points, dishing 14 assists and grabbing 10 rebounds in Boston’s 101-88 Game 7 loss to the Heat at American Airlines Arena Saturday night. This comes just two weeks to the night he had 18 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in Boston’s 95-85 win over the Sixers in Game 7 of the Eastern semis.

But that was hardly on Rondo’s mind after just missing out on his third NBA finals appearance in five seasons.

“Great season,” Rondo began before clarifying, “we let this one slip away. We had a lot of opportunities, and they made the 50‑50 plays, and they got to the loose balls, got the offensive rebounds and made plays.”

Rondo led the Celtics with six points in the fourth quarter but the problem was Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass and Ray Allen combined for nine, as the C’s were outscored 28-15 in the decisive 12 minutes of the game – and the series.

“We had some great looks, Paul, Ray, myself, Kevin, we just didn’t knock them down,” Rondo said. ” What I told them earlier, they got to the loose balls, offensive rebounds and made plays and executed offensively and made great plays.”

Did the Celtics and Rondo just run out of gas?

“Nope,” he said succinctly. “We missed shots.

“We could have done a couple of things better defensively. Our rotations weren’t crisp in the pick‑and‑roll. We made bad decisions, overpenetration, gave up a lot of threes, two to Bosh, a couple to Battier. Give them credit. They spread the points out as a team tonight. And about five or six players scored in double digits. Give them credit. They played great tonight as a team. We just came up short.”

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Keyon Dooling: ‘We have hearts of champions’ at 3:23 am ET
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MIAMI — No one felt the pain and heartache of Game 7 more than Keyon Dooling Saturday night at American Airlines Arena.

Why? Because it was the first time he cried since his father passed away in 2009. He admitted as much after the 101-88 loss to the Heat that ended the Celtics season one win away from the NBA finals.

Dooling, who wears a floral lapel pin in honor of his late father, revealed just how much Saturday’s loss hurt the Celtics as a team.

“My father passed away three years ago and I haven’t cried since my father passed away until tonight,” Dooling said. “This bunch of guys, it was a like a senior year of high school. It was a memorable, lifelong friendships, a lot of great moments. This team was very unique. We love each other, we care for each other and though we aren’t champions this year, we have hearts of champions, and that will always keep us connected.”

LeBron James has been one of the most scrutinized and criticized superstars in any sport over the last six years. But on Saturday night, in the moments after he scored 31 points and lifted his Heat team to a 101-88 win over the Celtics in Game 7, he was showered with praise by one of those who tried to slow him down.

“I’ve never bought into this whole persona that LeBron isn’t the guy,” Dooling said. “I think everybody should relax a little bit. He’s great for our game, he is our game. We need to uplift him instead of tear him down. He’s a guy who’s the most unselfish superstar I’ve ever seen. He rebounds the ball, he assists the ball, he’s empowered his friends from his community. He does a lot of charity work in the community. He’s a model citizen. He should not have a stain on his reputation and I hope it stops.”

Dooling was part of a Celtics bench that could only muster two points and was outscored by Miami’s new bench weapon, Chris Bosh, 19-2. Dooling said the Celtics weren’t tired in the fourth quarter as they were outscored, 28-15. It was just a matter of the Heat’s execution.

“It wasn’t about gas,” Dooling said. “They just did a great job of defending. They’re a great team. You have to give them credit. We fought, we hung around, we were there. We had some good shots at the end. We just couldn’t make plays. They did a phenomenal job. They made all the plays, they shared the ball. They executed down the stretch. They got some interior baskets as well. They did a phenomenal job. Tip your hat to them.”

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Paul Pierce on Kevin Garnett, leadership and heartbreak after Game 7 at 2:49 am ET
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MIAMI — Following Boston’s 101-88 loss to the Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, captain Paul Pierce made it clear he wants management to do whatever they can to bring Kevin Garnett back for one more run with the Celtics.

“He’s been everything for my career, just his locker room presence, his desire, his determination, his leadership,” Pierce said. “I’ve said before when Kevin first got here, he really changed the culture of everything we did around here, from the practice habits to the on-court discipline. He made everybody accountable, from the ballboys, to the chefs to the guy who flew the plane. Everybody was accountable. It was just tremendous to have him around, just the culture he brought.

“It would be great for me to end my career with Kevin. I have a couple of years left [on Celtics contract] and who knows what his future is going to bring. Hopefully, management can do something to bring him back, maybe add some pieces to this team that we need to get us over the top. If not, it’s been a tremendous ride.”

Garnett, who fell into early foul trouble in Game 7 and finished with 14 points and seven rebounds in 35 minutes, is now an unrestricted free agent after spending the last five seasons in Boston.

Garnett did not speak to reporters after the game but Pierce did address what went wrong in Game 7, a contest the Celtics led by seven at halftime before being outscored by 20 in the second half.

“It’s tough when you don’t have the chance to accomplish your goals. Every year your goal, as a Boston Celtic, is to try and come out and win a championship. We had our opportunities. We were right where we wanted to be. We had a chance in Game 7. We had a chance to close it out at home in Game 6. We didn’t take advantage of it. We’ve got to take our hats off to what the Heat was able to do the last couple of games. They played inspiring basketball. What can I say? [Chris Bosh] was definitely an X-factor. He shot the ball well. It was an ideal situation [for us]. It was a tie game, one quarter to go, winner plays for the championship. What more can you ask for? They made the plays they needed to make to get there.

“Everything is going so fast right now. It’s tough to think about. You feel like you let your teammates down,” said Pierce, who followed up his 4-for-18 night in Game 6 with a 7-for-18 night in Game 7. That’s 11-for-36 in his final two games of the season.

And if this was it for the “Big Three”?

“It was a great opportunity,” Pierce said. “Whenever you have the chance to play with some of the greatest players of all time in Ray, Kevin and an up-and-coming great in Rondo, you can’t ask for anything more. There are a lot of people who have been in my position who do not get that opportunity.”

Pierce is hoping for one more run with Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Garnett but he knows it’s not his decision.

“That’s a question you’re going to have to ask management,” Pierce said. “Obviously, we want to play together. Management has their choices that they can make. I’m just happy that they were able to let us play.”

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Fast Break: Celtics run is over 06.09.12 at 11:14 pm ET
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MIAMI — The team that always has to do it the hard way, couldn’t find a way to do it the hardest way possible by winning a Game 7 on the road. They had their chances and played inspired basketball, but they supply ran out of gas in the second half, losing 101-88.

The Celtics began the game playing the exact opposite of the way they played in Game 6. Working with an inside-out game, they got good looks in their halfcourt offense and heeding Doc Rivers call, they got in LeBron James’ airspace and made it difficult for him.

They played about as well as well as they could have played in the first half, but in the second they reverted back to a stationary offense and allowed the Heat to erase a seven-point halftime lead in less than five minutes. What followed was one of the most intense, back and forth playoff games in recent memory. There were six ties and four lead changes in the final six minutes of the third quarter.

But in the fourth quarter it was all LeBron and the Heat. There is no shame in losing to the best player in the game on his homecourt in a Game 7, but for the Celtics an offseason of uncertainty awaits. They gave this five-year run everything they had, but it seems they have taken it as far as it can go.

WHAT WENT WRONG

LeBron James was amazing, again: The Celtics did a much better job guarding LeBron than they did in Game 6, at least at the outset. They used Bass to body him up and give him a more physical defender, but rather than force the game, LeBron let it come to him. He lived at the free throw line and made huge plays in transition. Defensively, he was a monster.

Then in the fourth quarter he became something else. Simply put: He was the best player in the game and the reason the Heat are going to the finals.

Chris Bosh was a difference-maker: Bosh came into the game in the second quarter and immediately went to work, making his first four shots. With Garnett in foul trouble, the Celtics used Ryan Hollins on Bosh, but that didn’t work at all. Bosh finished with 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting with three huge corner 3-pointers.

Shane Battier stepped up huge: With Dwyane Wade stuck in neutral and the Celtics doing a solid job defending James in the first half, the Heat needed somebody to step and it was Battier who came through, knocking down four 3-pointers.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

The Celtics finally found a way to play without Kevin Garnett: The one player they can’t afford to have foul trouble picked up his first minutes into the game when he defended LeBron James on a breakaway. Garnett picked up his second on a moving screen and then disaster struck when he got his third on a hip check.  Garnett went out with 6:50 left in the first half and the Celtics went on a 14-3 run fueled by Brandon Bass.

Brandon Bass has his moment: Left alone and unguarded for most of the series, Brandon Bass had a huge first half, scoring 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting. It was the most he’s scored in any game in this series.

Rondo triple double: Rajon Rondo came through with a Game 7 triple double scoring 22 points with 14 assists and 10 rebounds. he may have already been there, but Rondo became a true superstar in the playoffs. He’s the future.

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Setting the scene from Celtics-Heat Game 7, where Ray Allen has it over everyone at 6:47 pm ET
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MIAMI — Welcome to Game 7.

It’s the seventh such Game 7 in the “Big Three plus Rondo” era. They are 4-2 in the previous six but of those six, only one came on the road. The 2010 Game 7 in the NBA finals in which, like this series, the Celtics were leading 3-2 but couldn’t close out in Game 6 when Kendrick Perkins went down.

In losing Game 6 to LeBron James and the Heat, the Celtics have put themselves in the position of fighting history.

There have been 110 Game 7s, and the home team is 88-22. The Celtics are 3-3, last winning on the road in 1974.

What’s even more improbable is a team winning both Game 5 and Game 7 on the road. The Celtics took a 3-2 series lead by winning in Miami last Tuesday. In the 110 seven-game series, only five times has the road team won both Games 5 and 7 – the 1968 and 1974 Celtics, the 1981 and 1995 Rockets and the 2005 Pacers all did the highly improbable.

On the Heat side, LeBron James is playing in his third Game 7 and everyone recalls the last one. He scored 45 points in a 98-91 loss to the Celtics at the Garden on May 18, 2008 in the Eastern semifinals. Before that, on May 21, 2006, James’ Cavaliers also lost to the Pistons in the Eastern semis.

Ray Allen will have more Game 7 experience than anyone on the floor Saturday night, playing in his ninth such contest. In addition to the six with the Celtics, he played in two with the Bucks in 2001, beating New Orleans in the Eastern semis before bowing out to Allen Iverson and the Sixers in the Eastern finals in Philadelphia.

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Doc Rivers: ‘Riley is inside [Spoelstra]‘ and other Celtics-Heat Game 7 shootaround notes at 1:08 pm ET
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MIAMI — Pat Riley won five NBA championships as a head coach, including one with the Miami Heat before he assumed his current role as team president.

But before Miami, and after winning four titles with the Showtime Lakers, Riley coached the New York Knicks to the 1994 NBA finals. He had a point guard on that team by the name of Glenn “Doc” Rivers.

Doc Rivers speaks often about how much influence Riley had on his coaching career. In the hours before Game 7 with the Heat, the subject came up again.

“If you play for Riley or work around Riley, he’s going to be a part of you for the rest of your life,” Rivers said. “That’s just how it is, even if you have no contact with him, or you do. Riley was Riley for a reason. He gets inside of you, and you can see that with Erik. Riley is inside of him.”

Erik is Erik Spoelstra, the current coach of the Heat, a coach who has – at times in this series – come under intense pressure and criticism for possibly losing to a Celtics team much older that was considered heavy underdogs against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Rivers said he can see a lot of Riley in Spoelstra’s approach.

“I don’t know about the game part of it,” Rivers said. “I think Spo does his own thing there. But definitely, the mental part of it, just listening to how he talks and prepares the team, that’s a Riley [characteristic]. Fingerprints are all over that part.”

Rivers is getting his team ready for the seventh Game 7 in the “Big Three” era but just the second on the road as the Celtics take on the Heat at American Airlines Arena, with the winner capturing the Eastern Conference title and advancing to play the Thunder in Oklahoma City next Tuesday night in Game 1 of the NBA finals.

“We’ll find that out later,” Rivers said when asked what he expects of his team in Game 7, after missing a chance to clinch Thursday night at home. “I’ve been to a lot of shootarounds where I’ve left as a coach [and said] we’re in trouble or we look great and the game comes, and it’s different. So, I don’t think you really get a sense for your team. I know they’ll be ready. How they perform and all that stuff, we’ll have a lot to do with that and the other team will have a lot to do with that as well.”

The Celtics are 4-2 in Game 7s since 2008, losing their only previous Game 7 on the road in 2010 when they lost the NBA finals to the Lakers. Most recently, they beat the Sixers two weeks ago, 95-85, in another Saturday night Game 7, in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

“There’s always something to say,” Rivers said. “But really they’ve been in this situation but they’ve never been in this situation against this team. So, every Game 7 is different, every game is different, honestly. You just have to prepare your best. You have to try and figure how much information to give them and how much is too much, and walk the right line.

“It’s always nicer to have it at home, clearly. But let’s be honest, if you had told me before the playoffs started you could have a Game 7 to decide to go to the finals, we’d have taken it and wouldn’t have cared where you played it. In a lot of ways, we love being here.”

All players were accounted for at the open portion of Saturday morning’s shootaround except for Paul Pierce. But Rivers said that Pierce – playing with a sprained MCL in his left knee – and the entire team is ready and will play in Game 7 against the Heat. Pierce eventually showed up at shootaround and participated, before leaving with the team on the bus back to the hotel just after noontime.

“Everybody’s good, everybody’s healthy,” Rivers said.

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Irish Coffee: ‘Let’s go Celtics,’ one final curtain call 06.08.12 at 4:32 pm ET
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Ask Heat coach Erik Spoelstra about Game 7, and like Good Will Hunting he’d probably throw Shakespeare at you, right? “Once more unto the breach, dear friends.” But he’s never been near one.

Neither have most Miamians, at least not since 2005, although they surely have many more to come in their playoff future. Meanwhile, these Celtics and their fans have experienced six Game 7′s in this five-year run of the Kevin Garnett era, including their previous series, but the “Let’s go Celtics” chants echoing to the banners above in the final minutes of Game 6 seemed to suggest: This could be it for awhile, so give us one more. Please.

“I want to say to all the fans, ‘Thank you guys,’” said Garnett in the wake of the 97-78 loss. “I’ve never in my life experienced anything like this, in any sport. I’m just truly blessed to be a Celtic and be a part of the city of Boston. That’s what’s up to all the New Englanders around here. It’s crazy. It’s [fudge]ing crazy.”

After three straight Celtics victories in the Eastern Conference finals, Thursday night was supposed to be a Garden celebration — the undressing of the fraudulent Heat in The Emperor’s New Clothes — but instead King James ascended to his NBA MVP throne. When it was over, LeBron James had 45 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and one elusive victory in an elimination game that saw his Heat lead by as many as 25 points.

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