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Irish Coffee: Heat not guilty of foul play? 05.03.11 at 1:43 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

Plenty of deserved concerns arose about the officiating following the Heat’s Game 1 victory over the Celtics in which LeBron James & Co. made the same amount of field goals (32) and three fewer 3-pointers (12-9) but 12 more free throws on 14 more attempts.

Considering the NBA downgraded Celtics center Jermaine O’Neal‘s flagrant-one to a personal foul while upgrading Heat guard James Jones‘ personal to a flagrant-one foul the day after Game 1, any gripes about the referees — Dan Crawford, Ed Malloy and Derrick Collins — were validated as more than just sour grapes.

NBA officials have long been criticized for their treatment of the league’s superstars. It’s a conspiracy theory born in the Michael Jordan era and nursed along by the indictment of referee Tim Donaghy on game-fixing allegations (Donaghy appeared on Dennis & Callahan Tuesday morning). While I wouldn’t go so far to include the NBA’s current referees — Sunday’s officiating crew included — in the same conversation as Donaghy, there is statistical evidence that James and Dwyane Wade have received at least inadvertent star treatment throughout the 2010-11 season and into the playoffs.

The Heat averaged 27.9 free-throw attempts per game during the regular season, while their opponents averaged 24.2. Conversely, the Celtics averaged 23.1 free-throw attempts, while their opponents averaged 24.1. More specifically, Wade and James combined for 17.0 free-throw attempts per game this season. By contrast, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen combined for 13.3 free throws a game.

But Wade and James get to the rim a ton, you say? That’s true. Each game, the Heat duo combined for 13.1 field-goal attempts within three feet of the basket. Hence, the big free throw numbers. But shouldn’t the Celtics’ Big Four — who combine for 14.0 field goals at the rim every game — be somewhere in that 17 free-throws per game range, rather than 13.3?

Not convinced? Consider this fact: Jordan averaged 7.7 free throws per game during his six championship seasons; Wade (8.6) and James (8.4) each averaged more this season.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Game 2, LeBron James, Miami Heat
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.”

Read More: Dwyane Wade, Game 2, Heat, LeBron James
Irish Coffee: Celtics vs. Heat tale of the tape 04.29.11 at 1:03 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

Not much needs to be said about what this second-round series means to the Celtics or the Heat. Regardless of what they say, I’m pretty sure the Celtics don’t like the Heat, and vice versa. The only guy I’m not sure about is Eddie House. I don’t know if he likes anybody. But, as he told the Miami Herald, “We match up great.” So, let’s go to the tape …

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Celtics 3, Heat 1

90.5 … points … 92.3
12.0 … fast break points … 10.0
34.5 … points in the paint … 33.5
47.3 … FG% … 44.7
45.3 … 3P% … 28.6
71.5 … FT% … 74.0
35.8 … rebounds … 39.8
7.3 … o-rebounds … 11.5
28.5 … d-rebounds … 28.3
21.0 … assists … 18.5
6.5 … steals … 6.5
1.8 … blocks … 4.3
13.8 … turnovers … 15.8
22.3 … personal fouls … 20.3

Obviously, that point differential is swayed significantly by the Heat’s 100-77 victory in their fourth and final meeting of the regular season. Still, despite the Heat outscoring the Celtics 44-26 in the paint and 12-3 on the fast break in that game, the C’s still owned the advantage in those categories — in addition to their significant edge in 3-point shooting.

While offensive rebounding is always a concern for the Celtics, I wouldn’t worry too much about rebounding overall, considering the two teams played fairly even on the defensive glass and the Heat’s lower field-goal percentage meant more opportunities for offensive boards. The Celtics shot better and took care of the ball better — two huge categories in their favor.

Where Miami can win this series is at the free-throw line. They averaged five more trips to the charity stripe per game, and we all know how often LeBron James and Dwyane Wade get to the line –deservedly or not.

Now, let’s examine how the Celtics and Heat produced this season (league ranks in parentheses):

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Read More: Boston Celtics, LeBron James, Miami Heat, Rajon Rondo
Celtics and Heat offer interesting matchups 04.28.11 at 1:40 pm ET
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Don't expect to see Rajon Rondo guard LeBron James again during the playoffs. (AP)

All along the Celtics and Heat figured that they would meet in the playoffs.”It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t go through them,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters in Miami after his team eliminated Philadelphia on Wednesday.

The Celtics had a similar reaction. “We assumed when they put this team together, at some point if we want to put another banner up then we’ll probably have to go through them,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said before the team went through practice on Thursday.

Now that it’s upon us expect no small amount of hype to emerge. But when you break through the thicket of noise, the thing that makes this series so compelling from a basketball standpoint are the individual matchups. There are seven members of the 2011 Eastern Conference All-Star team competing in this series and six of them will be matched directly against each other:

Dwyane Wade vs. Ray Allen

LeBron James vs. Paul Pierce

Chris Bosh vs. Kevin Garnett

Expect the Celtics to approach their defensive assignments in a straightforward manner.

“The numbers bare out when we guard our own guys we’re pretty good and when we guard other guys we’re pretty bad, against this team in particular,” Rivers said. “They may look good on paper and they look good visually for two minutes, statistically they’ve been horrendous for us.”

Rivers was referring directly to the fullcourt defense Rajon Rondo employed against James in the Celtics 85-82 win back in February. While Rondo’s gambit stirred the Garden crowd and provided some inspirational moments, once the postgame fog of exuberance gave way to sober analysis, the matchup did more harm than good for the Celtics.

But Rondo is the wild card in this series because asking Mike Bibby or Mario Chalmers to stay with him for 48 minutes may be asking too much. That could mean Wade or James switching their assignments to try to contain Rondo. “We’ll see one of those guys guarding Rondo, which means one of them aren’t guarding Ray or Paul, so we’re good with all those,” Rivers said.

One thing the Celtics want to avoid are having to rely on double-teams or switches, but that’s easier said than done against this team.

“Every time we’ve overhelped in any series, including the New York series, we tend to hurt ourselves more than just playing our solid one-on-one defense with support,” Rivers said. “They run some stuff that’s honestly difficult to not switch, but we really try to avoid the switch as much as possible.”

Beyond the starters, Delonte West and Jeff Green will be asked to provide support.

“Jeff is going to have to be a great defender,” Rivers said. “He ran into that in the New York series where by the end of the series he was terrific on Carmelo [Anthony. That’s gives us another big, athletic body." Asked if Green could help with Wade, Rivers said,  "We may do it in stretches, but you’re asking for trouble in the long run."

SHAQ UPDATE

The plan is for Shaquille O'Neal to participate in the walkthrough segment of Thursday's practice and then try to get on the floor for for the full session on Friday. The Celtics will fly to Miami on Saturday so Friday will be the last chance for O'Neal to get on the floor before Sunday's Game 1.

KEEPING PERSPECTIVE

The Celtics know the hype will approach histrionic levels throughout the series, but they also know this is ultimately just one step in a larger process.

"It's the second round," Paul Pierce said. "It's the halfway point of where our goal is. I know there's going to be a lot of hype around it, like it's a championship series, but you've got to understand it's still just the second round. But a very big second round [series] because you’ve got two potential teams that can win it all. I’m excited. This is a great stage for basketball. It’s going to be great for fans and the guys that we have here love these type of series.”

PIERCE VS. LEBRON, III

Pierce has faced James two other times in the playoffs and the Celtics have won both series. In 2008 they beat the Cavaliers in a seven-game epic that featured brilliant Game 7 performances for both players. James scored 45 points in the 97-92 Celtics win, while Pierce went for 41 of his own. James got the better of Pierce in their individual matchup last season, but the Celtics won in six games.

Asked if it was personal for James to finally get past the Celtics, Pierce said, “Probably so at this point. When you lose to a team consecutive times in the playoffs — I mean, it would be personal for me. I’m sure he’s going to take it personal and you’ve got to expect his best.”

Read More: Celtics, Heat, LeBron James, Paul Pierce
NBA playoff picture, in a snapshot 04.26.11 at 6:46 pm ET
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When if ever will LeBron James and the Heat begin to trust each other? (AP)

Believe it or not, as of Tuesday afternoon, the Celtics are the only team that has finished its first-round series. While they await their first day of practice on Wednesday, NBA fans in Boston get a chance to watch what should be one of the most exciting playoffs in league history. Here’s a brief snapshot of the current playoff picture …

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Miami Heat 3, Philadelphia 76ers 1

  • Heat  97, 76ers 89
  • Heat 94, 76ers 73
  • Heat 100, 76ers 94
  • 76ers 86, Heat 82

LeBron James & Co. are just trying to finish this series, so they can get their shot at the Celtics. The problem? The Heat are still struggling with chemistry and — as a result — have a 0-1 record in close-out games so far. Meanwhile, 76ers coach Doug Collins is just glad to get another game of playoff experience under his young team’s belt.

Heat forward Chris Bosh: “We’re going to have to trust each other. We’ve been talking about trust all this time, so we’re going to have to actually do it when it counts the most. It’s easy to stress when you’re up 2-0, 3-0. … When it’s time to close and it’s time to get to those other elite teams, and we’re going to have a chance to compete against them, we have to do the same thing well, not the same thing we did [Sunday].”

Sixers coach Doug Collins: “I’m sure Doc Rivers hopes we take the Heat to triple overtime in Game 7. No question about that. One thing about the playoffs, especially when you are a team that has a lot of games under the belt, you want series to go as little time as possible.”

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Read More: Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, NBA playoffs
The hard Truth: Paul Pierce now knows C’s ‘don’t control’ their destiny in East 04.04.11 at 8:30 am ET
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After going through a very difficult and tumultuous March, Paul Pierce realizes the Celtics now are left with the reality that they likely won’t catch Chicago and very possibly could wind up third in the Eastern Conference heading into the upcoming playoffs.

This is certainly not what the team envisioned when the C’s were leading the East with a 46-15 record after beating Milwaukee on March 6. Since then, they’ve been treading water, going 6-8 in their last 14 before beating the lowly Pistons Sunday night at home.

“I mean, there’s nothing I can do right now,” Pierce painfully admitted. “We don’t control our destiny right now. It’s pretty much hoping they fumble up or stumble up somewhere along the road and we win. It’s going to be what it’s going to be at the end of the day.”

That’s not exactly what the Celtics were hoping for, but they also weren’t counting on six different starting centers this season. Shaquille O’Neal and his “brother” Jermaine have started there. So have Semih Erden, Glen Davis, Kendrick Perkins and Nenad Krstic.

Through all that, the Celtics managed to stay atop the East. That is, until their 6-8 stretch that ended Sunday. They are now three back of the Bulls with six games to go, including a big one this Thursday at the United Center against Chicago. At this point, Pierce and the Celtics would do well to finish second and have home court against Miami should they meet in the second round.

They are also still looking up at the Heat in the standings, trailing LeBron James and company by a half-game for second. And with Shaq going down last night with what appears to be nothing more than a right calf strain, Pierce conceded the C’s are now focused on simply trying to get their heads — and bodies — straight for another playoff run. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, LeBron James
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.

Read More: Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Miami Heat
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