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Danny Ainge on Big Show: ‘I believe Shaq’s playing’ in Game 3 05.06.11 at 4:29 pm ET
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Danny Ainge (AP)

It’s becoming clearer that Shaquille O’Neal is finally ready to return to the court. Celtics president Danny Ainge was a guest on The Big Show Friday afternoon and he said that yes, he believes O’Neal will be ready to play Saturday when the Celtics resume their series with Miami. “I think Shaq is going to give it a go tomorrow,” Ainge said. “We’ll see. I believe Shaq’s playing tomorrow.”

Asked about expectations for him, Ainge said it was impossible to predict. “I don’t know the answer to that yet,” Ainge said. “It will be determined by how well he plays and how effective he is and how he feels.”

Reminded that there was skepticism that Shaq would play after so many false starts, Ainge said, “I think all those times there was some hope because he was making progress but I see more in him right now than any of those times. I understand. I can’t sit here and say 100 percent either. I’m not skeptical of what I’m saying but there’s no certainty until you see him out there.”

Click here to hear the whole interview.

Here are more highlights from a wide-ranging interview:

On what concerns him the most: “My biggest concern is that I have a great deal of respect for our opponents. I think they’re playing very well. The second biggest thing is were not playing at a high enough level. We’re having too many breakdowns. We’re not playing our best basketball. We need to. There’s not a lot of room for error when you’re playing this team.”

On Paul Pierce’s ejection in Game 1: “I still don’t agree with the ejection. I’ve argued my case to the league. They disagreed with me obviously but I don’t agree with the ejection.”

On the play that led to Pierce and Dwyane Wade getting double technicals and an automatic ejection for Pierce: There’s a screen. There was a guy that hit the screen hard and there’s some taunting, both sides sort of chirping at each other I think you can justify the play from an official’s standpoint. When you look at how Dwyane Wade goes through screens throughout the course of the game and you look at that particular play, you see that he did not try to fight through the screen, he was intentionally running through the screen. I think that was much more of flagrant foul than Jermaine O’Neal’s who bumped a cutter going through the lane, which you’re sort of taught to do in practice. The league rescinded that but those were two huge calls.

On what Pierce said to Dwyane Wade: “He said, ‘That’s not going to bother me.’ With a little bit more colorful language. The bottom line is Paul was not taunting. Paul was not starting a confrontation. He knew what Wade was doing. Wade ran right through them and he was basically like you’re going to get me to that way. There’s trash talking that goes on throughout the game. You can make a case that you can call a technical overtime down the court if you’re going to base it on what [Pierce] did.”

On what Ainge told Pierce: “What I told was this, ‘Paul I think it was ridiculous that you were ejected from the game. I did not think that warranted a technical foul. But the first technical in your little nose-rubbing with James Jones, you can’t do that because it takes away any room for error.’ You just never know what’s going to happen. I thought that one was uncalled for and he should have avoided that one. He was flagrantly fouled by James Jones, but so what? Get up and make the free throws, take the ball out of bounds and stay away from that confrontation. I think Paul’s emotions were in control. I think Paul was playing the game the way he always plays the game.”

Ainge added that the officials weren’t the reason the Celtics lost in Miami. “I will just say this: As frustrating as it at times for me, we do have the best officials in any league,” Ainge said. “We have the best of the best. It’s frustrating that they’re not perfect. It’s frustrating that they don’t see it the way I see it all the time. The officials are not the reason that we’re down 0-2.”

On Jeff Green: “I think he has provided us a lot. I’m not down on Jeff Green in any way. I think Jeff is a good player who’s trying to find his way. The other night you saw he was capable.”

On Nenad Krstic: “What happened with Krstic, he got off to a great start and then he went into a little bit of a funk. I thought he was going through a phase where he was just thinking too much. Then he bruised his knee. Then he bruised his knee a second time. I would say right now he’s just back healthy. Right now. He’s been able to play. He’s not been 100 percent.”

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Speaking with the Enemy: Celtics vs. Heat 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 “Peninsula 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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Tim Legler on M&M: Celtics ‘just not athletic enough to deal with this’ 05.04.11 at 12:18 pm ET
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Tim Legler

ESPN NBA analyst Tim Legler joined the Mut & Merloni show Wednesday to talk about the Celtics’ struggles in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The C’s trail the Heat 2-0 as the series heads to Boston for Game 3 Saturday. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

“I think the problem ultimately for the Celtics is going to be that they don’t have home court,” Legler said. “I think they’re going to derive a lot of energy coming home. With the change in venue and the couple of days off they’re going to have right now is going to do them a world of good. I think they’re going to energize themselves. I think they’re going to get their competitive edge back up again and realize: ‘Look, we’re not going out like this.’ And when they get home, you’re going to see a much better effort.

“Having said that, they can win two games in Boston, I don’t think there’s any question about it. But then you’re turning it into a best two out of three, but two of those games being in Miami, and you see the type of energy they played with down there.”

Legler said the Celtics’ aging stars simply can’t keep up with the Heat youngsters. “I just don’t know if Boston is athletic enough to deal with this team,” Legler said. “Because LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are doing what they want to do. They’re getting to the place on the court they want to get to. They’re getting there quicker than Boston has a chance to react.

“I think it’s the first time since this [Celtics] group’s been together, since ’08, that their defense doesn’t look as quick or as suffocating as it normally is. And I think a lot of that has to do with how fast and how quickly Miami gets to their spots offensively, and how they beat you off the dribble. And they’re getting to the rim and they’re getting to places before the help defender can get there. We’re not used to seeing that against this Boston team. And I think that speaks directly to the athleticism involved with the Miami Heat and that might be eventually the undoing for the Celtics in this series. They’re just not athletic enough to deal with this.”

Legler was asked about the Kendrick Perkins trade and how the center would impact the series were he still a Celtic. Said Legler: “Kendrick Perkins would definitely have an impact, and a healthy Shaquille O’Neal would have a similar impact. No. 1, just taking up space, being physical, moving bodies around the rim. You seal off those little pockets that you see Joel Anthony and Chris Bosh and some of the offensive rebounds they’ve gotten. I don’t think that they would be getting those if you have Kendrick Perkins in there or you have a healthy Shaq.

“Finishing plays around the basket — Perkins was never a great offensive player, but he got much better at it as he grew with the Boston Celtics. And Shaq has a 60 percent field goal percentage through his career. He’s going to make some of the shots right now that are being missed through the first two games, because they’re point-blank. He’s going to finish, he’s going to power through people. He’s not a guy that can move very well out on the floor, but just as far as anchoring the paint on both ends, they absolutely miss that physical presence.

“The depleted front line of the Boston Celtics just doesn’t do anything to to intimidate Miami.”

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Heat practice notes: Who you calling physical? 05.02.11 at 4:55 pm ET
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Things got physical in Game 1, but the Heat aren't making any apologies. (AP)

MIAMI — The question was posed to various Heat players from about six different angles, but it really all boiled down to this: Are you surprised by the Celtics reaction after Game 1 that your play was (pick one) chippy, physical or cheap?

“I didn’t see us start anything,” LeBron James said. “I don’t understand what all the other conversation is about. We just want to play basketball. Go out there we’re going to be physical, the best team will win the game that night. That’s all it’s about.”

Added Dwyane Wade, “At the end of the day it’s basketball. No one’s going to be out there doing anything crazy. Ain’t no fighting going on. It’s basketball and the guys are going to be physical and they’re going to take hard fouls. You just got to move on from it.”

James Jones: “It’s all in the game. We’re trying to keep it strictly about basketball. Whenever you have emotionally charged guys on the floor, two very high caliber teams battling and competing, you always have something. No one wants to give an inch.”

Your turn, Erik Spoelstra: “We’re not trying to be somebody we’re not. We’re not stepping out of our box.”

It was left to Wade to add a little levity to the questions. “I haven’t been in the second round in a long time but I’m assuming this is how it is,’ he said. “Maybe I’ve been out of the loop for a while. If they win a ballgame it will be a total different spin on things.”

So there you have it. The Heat are going to be physical. We know the Celtics will try to be more aggressive in Game 2. There will be hard fouls. There will probably be a few technicals. It is, after all, the playoffs and while the Celtics made their names by playing rough and tumble defense, the Heat are making their own reputation on that end of the floor. Paul Pierce will not be suspended for Game 2 after his ejection, which featured a face-shove with Jones, and everyone will all move on.

Beyond that storyline, there are adjustments and tweaks to be made. The Heat were generally pleased with how they performed in their 99-90 Game 1 victory, but also felt like they had a lot to clean up. Spoelstra is still very concerned about Rajon Rondo who was held to just seven points and seven assists, but acknowledged that a good deal of that was the foul trouble that sent Rondo to the bench in the second quarter.

“I’m not overstating it,” Spoelstra said..”When he was in more of a rhythm in the second half he made a big impact. He’ll break you down, he’ll find a way. When it gets broken down all rules are thrown out the window and you have to do something with an effort – a deflection, a rotation, to transcend all of that.”

After the game Rondo noted that he had his shot blocked several times from the weakside as he drove to the basket.

“LeBron and [Joel] Anthony came and blocked my shots. I got a lot of my shots blocked tonight,” Rondo said. “Give them credit. On the fast break they did a good job pursuing the ball.”

Rondo was disappointed with his play and not just because of the foul trouble, citing turnovers and missed opportunities. He remains the biggest key to the series, but here are a few other items of concern for Miami.

FLOOR SPACING: How did James Jones get so open for his 3-pointers? First, the Heat took advantage of matchups and got him on the move. Second, he found the right areas that were clear to set up and third, his teammates got him the ball.

“They do a tremendous job of protecting the paint so when our attackers put the ball on the floor there’s usually at least two help defenders putting their bodies in front of drivers,” Spoelstra said. “So J.J. was able to get in open areas. Spacing is going to be critical for our offense. Executing our second and third options will be paramount because both teams defend the first trigger very well.”

The Celtics overload the ball with defenders and put pressure on the ballhandler to make snap decisions. Some teams try to beat the defense by passing to the weakside, which is the vulnerable area on the court. The Heat made a concerted effort to drive and attack the defense at its strongest point. Not many teams can do that, but Miami has the talent.

Once Miami goes into its rotations, pay close attention to how the Celtics counter. They were left with some strange combinations like Kevin Garnett chasing Jones. Spoelstra cited the play of Mike Miller, who was on the floor when Miami made a big run in the second quarter and added size on the wing. “They were short minutes but they were productive minutes,” Spoelstra said.

DEFENDING RAY ALLEN: Wade was the biggest offensive star on the court with 38 points, but Ray Allen had a big night as well with 25 points on 9-for-13 shooting and 5-for-8 on his 3-pointers.

“My job is to chase Ray Allen around, hoping he gets tired one day and misses a shot,” Wade said.

In response to a particularly difficult 3 that Allen made, Wade said, “Only Ray Allen can make that shot. Nobody else. I looked at the film and realized I made three mistakes and every one resulted in a 3. That’s why he is who he is and why he’s great.”

CHRIS BOSH LOOKS TO GET GOING: On the one hand, Bosh scored just seven points on 3-for-10 shooting. On the other, Kevin Garnett scored six points on 3-for-9 shooting. You can call it a wash, but that’s a matchup the Celtics need to win if they’re going to take Game 2. Bosh said the key was keeping his emotions in check.

“I’ve been in so many situations where I let my emotions get the best of me and I let that anxiety get the best of me,” he said. “I’m at a point where I just relax no matter what the situation is and just play the game.”

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Heat pregame notes: Mike Miller active, Udonis Haslem out 05.01.11 at 3:10 pm ET
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MIAMI — Not a single Heat player spoke to the media before the game. More accurately, not a single Heat player was in the locker room during the media availability portion of the proceedings.

Erik Spoelstra, however, did meet with the media, and cleaned up some questions regarding player availability for Game 1. Udonis Haslem — out since November (foot surgery) — is inactive.

“We’ve been pushing his workouts a little bit more, but he’s not there yet,” said Spoelstra.

Mike Miller — who missed the last three games of the first-round series win over the 76ers with a left thumb injury — is active today.

“I had every eyeball in the gym watching him all week long, and I told him that,” said Spoelstra of Miller, who played just 41 games in the regular season. ”He’s able to play. How much will depend on the game, but he’s been a true professional about it.”

Dwyane Wade was dramatically outplayed by Ray Allen this season in the four Miami-Boston contests, as Wade averaged just 12.8 points on 28.1 percent shooting vs. Allen’s 20.3 points per game on 49.2 percent shooting.

“We need Dwyane to be effective, we need him to score,” said Spoelstra. ”More so than any other player I’ve ever been around, he can figure defenses out. … So now he’s had more time to see how Boston has played him. The first two games, not an excuse, you have to give Boston credit for defense, but he was just coming back. He’ll be able to figure it out and strike the balance of being aggressive at some points for us, but also showing the poise that he showed last game.”

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Irish Coffee: Celtics sign Saleh, add frontcourt depth 04.01.11 at 12:07 pm ET
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Danny Ainge's signing of Saleh adds depth to the Celtics frontcourt. (AP)

Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

With the concerns about the health of all three of their potential starting centers — Nenad Krstic, Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal — the Celtics have added depth at the position by signing former Winabi Parish School standout power forward Saleh, according to Kenyan newspaper The Daily Nation

“Do the names [Hakeem] Olajuwon, Manute Bol or Dikembe Mutombo mean anything to you?” said Jimmy Dolan, a former assistant coach at Saint Joe’s College who represents Saleh.

Dolan discovered Saleh at a 1994 faculty dinner while watching a film about Saint Joe’s missionary efforts in Africa. Also a member of Saint Joe’s 1981 NCAA title team, Dolan represented the 35-year-old Saleh in the C’s negotiations of a $40,000 deal — or the equivalent of 40 cows — with the 6-foot-9 post who possesses a “vertical leap that’s off the charts.”

“I would like to play for the Celtics very, very much,” said Saleh, who learned about the NBA in Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition. “My father is a stubborn man. He says I have a lot to learn before I’m a leader.”Asked if he’s ready for the NBA, Saleh added, “Does a zebra have stripes?”

Saleh agreed to sign with the Celtics after leading his Winabi squad to a comeback victory against rival Mingori, 57-56. Without their starting point guard, his team trailed by 10 with a little more than two minutes to play, but Saleh sparked an 11-0 run, capped by his game-winning windmill dunk as time expired — a move he dubbed “The Jimmy Dolan Shake and Bake.”

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Report: Heat no longer staring at Shaq 02.27.11 at 10:31 am ET
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According to the Palm Beach Post, the Heat redecorated the walls leading to their locker room over the All-Star break. The face lift included the removal of images from the team’s title run in 2006, which notably included the sweat-drenched face of former Miami (and current Celtics) center Shaquille O’Neal. In place of images from the Heat’s lone title, the team now has posted images of its current stars, including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade (a holdover from the championship team) and Chris Bosh.

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