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Ian Thomsen on D&C: Dwyane Wade ‘giving up’ on Heat’s system 06.07.12 at 10:41 am ET
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Ian Thomsen

Sports Illustrated NBA writer Ian Thomsen joined Dennis & Callahan on Thursday morning to talk about the Celtics’ confidence, maligned Heat stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and his predictions for Game 6. To hear the interview go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

“I think the Celtics go into this game with a lot more faith, with a lot more confidence than Miami,” Thomsen said.” I think Boston says to themselves, ‘If we play our way, if we do what we want to do, we’re going to win.’ I don’t think Miami goes into this game feeling that way at all. Maybe they feel like they have to do something that isn’t like themselves in order to win. Because everything else they’ve been trying lately has not been working — the last two years it it’s not been working in big games against this team, when [Rajon] Rondo‘s been healthy.”

When Thomsen was asked to predict Game 6, he was confident in the Celtics finishing the series.

“I think it’s going to be a tight, tough game all the way through,” Thomsen said. “In the end, Boston is going to win like they have before. In the end, Rondo is going to make some plays and Miami won’t have anybody that can make those plays.”

Thomsen said the Heat have been unwilling to display their emotions, even after the Game 5 loss.

“They’re just trying to show nothing,” he said. “They look like golfers after they walk off the green and they’ve three-putted or something. That’s how they looked.”

James has been under scrutiny for his and Miami’s fourth-quarter failures dating back to last season, and Thomsen has a theory as to the dismal late-game efforts.

“When he came into the league he was eventually cast as Michael Jordan and he always wanted to be Magic Johnson,” Thomsen said. “By signing with Miami he wanted to be Magic Johnson and he was making that clear. People saw that as a weakness. So now he was accused of being irresponsible or not up to the task. … I think that’s just messing with his head.”

Wade also has had a tough time this series. Thomsen is surprised with Wade’s play.

“He’s feeling pressure to score because Boston’s defense isn’t giving him any position,” Thomsen said. “But he’s also feeling frustration maybe with the plays that are being called, with the coaches. He’s going one-on-one because he doesn’t trust the plays. When I watched the game the other night, that’s what I was thinking, was: He’s giving up, not on the team and not on trying to win, but on the system. That’s where the Celtics have to feel like, ‘Now we’ve got him.’ ”

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Stephen A. Smith on The Big Show: Magic interested in Kevin Garnett? 06.06.12 at 5:56 pm ET
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Stephen A. Smith

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith joined The Big Show Wednesday afternoon to discuss the Celtics’ big road win Tuesday night in Miami and what the future may hold for both teams. But first, Smith felt he had some owning up to do.

“You’ve got to give credit where credit’s due. I get so disgusted with people that can’t fess up and own up,” Smith said. “We were wrong, most of us were wrong and I’m at the top of that list. I didn’t think Boston had a shot to win two games this series.”

To hear the interview, go to The Big Show audio on demand page.

Smith said his pre-series prediction of a Miami victory was based on a rash of Celtics injuries and their season-long rebounding woes.

However, “Sure enough, because of exceptional coaching by Doc Rivers, and guys that simply have the heart of a champion, [the Celtics] just know how to win. And they have so much heart, so much focus and dedication. They just know how to get it done,” Smith said.

“It’s not just that they’re winning, it’s that they’re making it plain that they had no business being an underdog. … And the way I look at it, the Miami Heat are incredibly lucky that they still have a game to play and they still have life because they don’t deserve it. They don’t even deserve to be on a respirator right now.”

Asked about possible destinations for Kevin Garnett next season, the well-connected Smith said a couple of candidates for the Magic’s general manager job have told Orlando, “What you need to do is break the bank a little bit and sign KG to a two-year deal, even it is for about $20 million.”

Smith also suggested the Lakers were a logical destination for Garnett, if Boston didn’t make a strong enough offer to re-sign him. “Me personally, if I’m Kobe Bryant, and I know I’m staying in L.A., I’m making a call to KG,” Smith said.

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Michael Wilbon on M&M: ‘Miami just doesn’t have what it takes to be a championship team’ at 3:05 pm ET
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Michael Wilbon

Appearing on Mut & Merloni Wednesday afternoon, ESPN analyst Michael Wilbon said if the Heat lose the series, which he expects them to do, they will have to rebuild the team.

“It became apparent literally sometime in Game 3 — more likely in Game 4 — that Miami just doesn’t have what it takes to be a championship team. They don’t have it,” he said. “It doesn’t mean individually they don’t have the talent. … But collectively it doesn’t work. And that’s what’s become apparent. And that’s why the Celtics are going to put the Heat out of their misery tomorrow night.”

Added Wilbon: “If Miami goes out tomorrow night, and I expect Boston to close them out … you have to just sort of deep-six this thing, and you have to start over. You keep LeBron [James] and you figure out what else you’re going to do. And that means changes. It means changes in the coaching office, it means changes in that locker room. You don’t commit to $350 million or whatever it is to get a conference finalist.”

Asked whether he felt the coaching jobs by Doc Rivers and Erik Spoelstra represented the biggest mismatch in the series, Wilbon was unequivocal.

“No question. No question. It’s almost embarrassing. And that happened last year in the finals as well with [Mavericks coach] Rick Carlisle,” he said.

Wilbon pointed to Spoelstra’s inability to get his players to execute as ultimately dooming Miami’s chances.

“Spoelstra can’t get done what they need to have done,” he said. “The other night, in [Game] 4, when you got all these situations where Miami can win that game in Boston, people point out, they say, ‘Well, they aren’t running plays.’ Well are they not running plays because Spoelstra didn’t diagram them during the timeout? Of course not. Of course Spoelstra diagrammed a play during the timeout. Are they executing the play? No. So, whose fault is that? Either Spoelstra can’t get them to, or the players — I don’t think they’re defiant, but whatever the case, this goes back to disconnect. … There’s a disconnect between what they’re supposed to do and what they actually do — what they’re capable of doing, and what they actually do. Do I seem them suddenly putting it all together tomorrow in Boston? No, I don’t. I don’t see any scenario where that happens.”

In terms of the coaching job Rivers has done this year, Wilbon talked about a conversation he shared with Rivers last offseason that foreshadowed the coach’s regular-season strategy.

“I remember being with Doc, I think it was during the lockout, and he jokingly said a 66-game season was too long, he needed a 45-game season. And so what Doc then did, even though he was joking when he said it to me, he was crafting what amounted to a 45-game season,” Wilbon said. “He could have made that move with Kevin Garnett games earlier; he didn’t want to. Putting [Garnett] at center and other moves he made, introducing, spoon-feeding Avery Bradley, and how to get him into the lineup, and other changes. He could have done that stuff earlier, but he knew he really needed 45 games because he wasn’t going to risk getting Ray Allen hurt and risk getting Paul Pierce hurt and going into the playoffs without those guys being healthy. And so it was a balancing act. And it’s a great truly great coaching job.”

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Irish Coffee: The Celtics, Heat and the duality of team at 1:26 pm ET
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There’s a duality of team happening in this series. Not good vs. evil, but heart vs. spinelessness. As Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Celtics, “They have championship DNA. They have what we’re trying to get.”

The lasting images of Game 5: 1) A blank-faced LeBron James retreating into the tunnel of AmericanAirlines Arena after another devastating postseason defeat as one young Miami fan repeated behind him, “Good job! Good effort!” And 2) A grinning Paul Pierce returning to a timeout huddle, his puffed chest being pounded by teammates after he delivered another playoff victory that forced most Heat fans to funnel for the exits.

Throughout Tuesday night, constant dueling reminders arose of why these Heat are these Heat and these Celtics are these Celtics. Let’s revisit four of them from the C’s pivotal Eastern Conference finals victory.

  • LeBron James in a halftime interview with ESPN’s Doris Burke, moments after his Heat coughed up a 13-point lead: “I’m pleased with my individual performance.”
  • Paul Pierce overheard in a timeout, shortly after burying the dagger 3 in LeBron’s face with 52 seconds remaining: “I’m cold-blooded.”

Through the first 40 minutes, James made 10-of-21 shots, netted 28 points and grabbed 12 boards. Over the final eight minutes, he finished 1-of-4 from the field, scored just two points and snatched only one rebound.

Conversely, in the first 42 minutes, Pierce tallied 14 points on 5-of-18 shooting while amassing two rebounds and two assists. In the last six minutes of the game, he recorded five points — making his lone shot attempt (the dagger) — to go along with two assists and two boards. One rose to the occasion; the other ran from it.
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Fast Break: Truth is, Celtics one win from NBA finals 06.05.12 at 11:29 pm ET
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Shooting just 5-of-18 from the field through the first 47:07.1 of Game 5 and his Celtics leading by just one, Paul Pierce pulled up for a trey in Heat superstar LeBron James‘ face with 52.9 seconds remaining, and The Truth’s shot was true, giving the Celtics a four-point lead that resulted in a 94-90 victory.

In a frenzied fourth quarter that featured four lead changes, two ties and countless great plays on both sides, Pierce’s triple was the greatest, effectively giving the Celtics a 3-2 lead over the Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals with Game 6 in Boston on Thursday night.

Somehow, someway, the C’s Big Four of Kevin Garnett (26 points, 11 rebounds), Pierce (19 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists), Rajon Rondo (13 points, 13 assists, 6 rebounds) and Ray Allen (13 points, 7 rebounds) — despite shooting 40.7 percent from the field — outshined the Heat’s Big Three of James (30 points, 13 rebounds), Dwyane Wade (27 points) and the ghost of Chris Bosh (9 points, 14 minutes).

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Third dimension: Over the final six minutes of the third quarter, the Celtics turned a 59-50 deficit into a 65-60 lead entering the fourth. The 15-1 run included buckets from Allen, Pierce, Greg Stiemsma, Garnett, Mickael Pietrus and Keyon Dooling — not to mention great defense by all, holding the Heat without a field goal.

Garnett gets going: After trailing by as much as 13 in the second quarter, the Celtics made a concerted effort to go back to what’s worked throughout these playoffs — getting Garnett involved in the post. His 1-of-7 start from the field was mostly the result of shots off the block, but he took advantage of a legless Bosh, and Rondo fed him for a couple late layups that helped the Celtics cut the Heat lead to 42-40 by the half.

Free Bassing: While Pierce and Rondo started a combined 3-of-18 from the field, the Celtics desperately needed offense elsewhere. Enter Brandon Bass. It wasn’t quite his 27-point masterpiece against the 76ers, but Bass started 4-of-5 from the field for 10 points to go along with three rebounds, two steals and a block by halftime. He didn’t make a big impact in the second half, but he kept the C’s in it early.

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LeBron James enters Game 5 with everything (and nothing) to prove 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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Kevin Garnett: Celtics and Heat ‘two teams just throwing punches’ 06.04.12 at 4:42 pm ET
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There was yet another defining moment of the series in the second half when LeBron James drove to the basket and was hit hard by Kevin Garnett. The two locked each other up momentarily as James pushed off of Garnett.

No foul was called in rare moment in the series where two players were allowed to go at each other in the heat of battle.

“[We were] two teams just throwing punches, really, to be honest,” Garnett said after Boston’s 93-91 Game 4 win in overtime. “I thought when we were up, we were aggressive. Obviously they were going to make a run. They got a lot of free-throws in that run, a lot of lay-ups in that run and they were able to get some transition.”

The Heat made their big run in the third quarter to make it a game as the Celtics fell into big foul trouble. With 3:35 left in the third, Rajon Rondo picked up his fourth foul. Just 13 seconds later, Paul Pierce joined him on the bench with four personals. It was up to Garnett to lead the group on the floor and right the ship as the Heat closed the quarter with a 7-1 run that cut the Boston lead down to 73-68 entering the fourth.

“Once we got that under control, I felt like we got back aggressive,” Garnett said. “The play-calling was all over the place as far as the refs and I thought both teams played through it. Then, when we had to, we got stops.”

The biggest challenge for stars like Garnett, Rondo, Pierce and James is to know what kind of contact is going to be whistled and what isn’t during a game, something that could decide the season for both teams.

“It is but you have to put the refs in a position to make some calls,” Garnett added. “[Doc Rivers] stressed us to stay aggressive. At times it is difficult but it can’t decipher on your aggression and how aggressive you are especially during a run. Defensively, you want to be in sync but you can’t let them decipher how you are. I thought we kept our composure pretty well and finished the game off.”

Garnett essentially admitted that the Celtics were lucky to survive Sunday night when Pierce fouled out just 38 seconds into OT. The Celtics scored just four points. They held Miami to two in the five-minute period.

“It changes when Paul goes out,” Garnett said. “The scorers, Rajon, myself, [Ray Allen] and everybody has to pick up the load a little bit as far as being more offensive-minded. Like I’ve always said, we are a defensive team that can score the basketball. When Paul goes out, Rajon knows to be a lot more aggressive. Ray knows to be a lot more aggressive. We encourage [Mickael Pietrus to score]. I think Quis [Marquis Daniels] was in there in the latter part of the game. (We) just stay aggressive. As long as we are making stops, we can turn it over into some easy offense and we’re a hard team to beat at times.”

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