|What to expect from Shaquille O’Neal Saturday? Your guess is as good as Doc’s||05.06.11 at 12:39 pm ET|
WALTHAM — Shaquille O’Neal hasn’t played since that fateful six-minute stint against the Pistons on April 3 at TD Garden.
When he left the floor, hobbling badly on his strained right calf, no one knew when ‘ or if ‘ the future Hall of Fame center would make his Celtics playoff debut.
Well, it appears O’Neal will indeed join the playoff party for the Celtics on Saturday night for Game 3 against Miami ‘ and not a minute too soon. After he was hardly missed in the Celtics’ four-game dispatch of the Knicks in the first round, his void has been huge in the second round as Miami has muscled its way to two straight wins.
Doc Rivers spoke Thursday about how badly he wants to see his team “go through bodies” and be “forceful” with the Heat to get back in this series.
Hello, Shaq. But Rivers is keeping his expectations in line and not getting his hopes anywhere near up as it pertains to O’Neal. Why? Because Shaq has played exactly five minutes, 29 seconds in one game dating back to Feb. 1. In that 5:29, O’Neal was certainly promising as an inside force, hitting all three shots from the field and grabbing a rebound and, most importantly, establishing an unmistakable inside presence for the Celtics.
But Rivers truly doesn’t know if he can expect that Saturday.
“I have no idea, I really don’t,” he said. “And I don’t say it to be funny, I just don’t, but I know he’s going to be big, I know that.”
Will Shaq’s mere presence in the paint be a deterrent for the Heat and a “force” for the Celtics?
“He’ll be big at the end of the day,” Rivers added. “We’ll find that out. I can’t give that answer.”
|Glen Davis meets John Havlicek and learns a lesson about toughness||05.05.11 at 4:43 pm ET|
WALTHAM — The Celtics aren’t in the easiest spot right now. They’re banged up. They’re getting outworked and they’re down two games to a Miami Heat team that many consider the odds-on favorite right now to capture the NBA title.
But alas, not all hope is lost. Just ask Glen Davis, who Thursday at Celtics practice had a chance encounter with a Celtics legend of the past who told Davis to just hang in there. After all – as the Ringo Starr song goes – It Don’t Come Easy. Just like John Havlicek told Davis.
“The frustration, things not working out, you can get all messed up. But I was talking to Havlicek today, you know, ‘Havlicek Stole the Ball’ and I said which one of these [championship] banners were you 0-2, and he said the one that stood out to him was 1969. When they were down 0-2, they came back to win it in Game 7 against the Lakers.”
That was the series, of course, that featured the Don Nelson shot that bounced straight up after hitting the back of the rim and came down through the net at the old Los Angeles Arena to put the Celtics on top and lead them to their 11th title with Bill Russell in the organization. It also marked the only time the Celtics ever won a series after losing the first two games.
“He was just saying, ‘It’s going to take everything in you to fight and claw back and get back to get to 2-2 even but then it’s going to take something special to finish them off.'”
Can they do it against the Miami Heat? Davis said Thursday after practice that getting back to the mental and physical toughness that makes the Celtics a great team would be a good place to start.
“We didn’t play Celtics basketball,” Davis said. “Nobody played the way they were supposed to play. Ray had a good game the first game but we still didn’t pull it off. We all were supposed to play well but we didn’t. It’s easy to point the finger and blame and play the blame game as Kanye West would say but you’ve got to go get it. That’s all it is right now. X’s and O’s and you can coach as much as you want but that still ain’t going to make it happen.”
WALTHAM — After a lengthy film session and practice Thursday at their facility in Waltham, Celtics coach Doc Rivers pronounced everyone ready to play in Saturday’s Game 3 against the Heat at TD Garden.
Most notably, Shaquille O’Neal – according to Rivers – will be able to make his playoff debut for the Celtics after missing the first round and first two games of the Heat series with a sore right calf. Rivers said Paul Pierce also will be able to play, despite a sore Achilles that cropped up during the Game 2 loss Tuesday night in Miami. Pierce, however, was held out of Thursday’s practice as a precaution.
“Everybody’s good,” Rivers said. “Everybody is feeling pretty good. Shaq went through practice. We didn’t do anything today, we just watched film and walked over [some] stuff. Then, the second unit worked on their stuff but right now, we expect every single guy, including Shaq, to play in Game 3.
“Honestly, today, [Pierce] could’ve played in a real game but we were not going to let him practice today because his foot, Achilles, is bothering him but he would be fine.”
Rajon Rondo (back) and Ray Allen (bruised chest) took part in Thursday’s workout and are also expected to be ready. The Celtics will practice again on Friday before taking on the Heat Saturday night, trailing the best-of-7 Eastern Conference semifinal series, 2-0.
|Irish Coffee: Celtics must cash in at end of quarters||at 10:29 am ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
The Celtics were once the best closers in basketball — playing suffocating defense and precision offense to keep leads (or deficits) safe at the end of each 12 minutes. Now? Not so much.
As the whistle signaled the close of each of the first three quarters in Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, it’s been Miami — not the Celtics — that has turned up the heat on both ends of the floor to stretch a lead the C’s had tried so hard to erase.
“One of our biggest strong points in our team and how we play the game is closing out quarters,” added Celtics shooting guard Ray Allen. “What we haven’t done in these past two games is close out the quarters well. Whether we’re down, whether we’re up, whether the game is tied, to finish quarters we have given them too many points. We have to be a lot more solid.”
The Celtics have been outscored at the end of each of the first three quarters in both losses — 99-90 in Game 1 and 102-91 in Game 2. In the last two minutes of those six quarters, the Heat have outscored the C’s by a total of 12 points. That advantage balloons to 22 when you look at the final three minutes or 32 points when you zoom out to four minutes.
Miami has beaten the Celtics 13-6 in the last three minutes of the first half in both matchups. In Game 1, the Heat stretched a 38-30 advantage into a 51-36 halftime lead. Then, in Game 2, the Celtics turned a 36-34 edge into a 47-42 halftime deficit. Each time, they never recovered.
“One of the things we clearly have to do a better job of is close out quarters,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers told reporters after Tuesday’s loss. “They closed out the first quarter on a run. They closed out the second quarter on a run. They closed out the third quarter, and then they closed out the game all on runs. We have to figure out a way of finishing quarters better than we did.”
|Irish Coffee: Paul Pierce must captain Celtics ship||05.04.11 at 12:31 pm ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
This was Paul Pierce‘s signature season. Reaching the 20,000-point plateau, he had left the 2005 version of himself behind — turning in the most efficient season of his 13-year career during the hunt for a second NBA championship banner that would further cement his legacy as one of the greatest Celtics of all-time.
“I’m trying to get another one,” Pierce told Celtics legend Bill Russell in a recent conversation on NBA.com. “I’m going to go out and get it, just like you did.”
And then the first two games of the 2011 Eastern Conference semifinals happened.
Now, Pierce finds himself in a place he’s only been twice in his great Boston tenure — down 2-0 in a playoff series — and both times he’s been swept. But that was before he partnered with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, before he matured into an unselfish player who put team first and before he earned an NBA Finals MVP.
That partnership, maturity and unselfishness was nowhere to be found in Game 1, when he lost his head not once but twice in the heat of playoff battle — an all too familiar reminder of the guy who got tossed from Game 6 of a 2005 playoff series against the Pacers, waved his jersey over his head to incite the Indiana crowd and wore a mock bandage around his jaw during the post-game press conference.
In Game 2, Pierce took just 11 shots and two free throws for 13 points; he recorded only one assist. Where is the guy that shot nearly 50 percent for the regular season and dished out more than three assists per game? Sure, you could blame that in part on his strained left Achilles tendon, but he still played 33 minutes and said, “It didn’t really affect me the rest of the game.”
Meanwhile, his defensive assignment, LeBron James, turned in a signature performance with 35 points on 14-of-25 shooting. There was a time, not too long ago, when Pierce was capable of giving James a run for his money. Remember Game 7 of the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals, when The Truth lived up to his nickname and negated LeBron’s 45-point outing with 41 points of his own?
|Fast Break: Celtics collapse in another loss to Heat||05.03.11 at 9:45 pm ET|
The Heat broke open a tie game in the fourth quarter with a 14-point run and LeBron James‘ 35 points helped Miami defeat the Celtics, 102-91, to take a two-game lead in the second-round series. Rajon Rondo led the Celtics with 20 points, 12 assists and six rebounds.
Game 3 is back in Boston on Saturday.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Fourth-quarter collapse: After surging back to tie the game at 80 apiece, the Heat scored the next 14 points, including six free throws, to take a 94-80 lead with three and a half minutes remaining. James dominated that stretch, totaling 12 fourth-quarter points. The Celtics unraveled, failing to get back on defense as a result of complaints about the officiating. Even Doc Rivers picked up a late technical foul arguing a call (the Heat did own a 36-22 advantage in free throws).
Heat’s Big Three vs. Celtics’ Big Four: The Heat entered the game with a 33-3 record when their Big Three combined for 70 points, and James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined to top that milestone by 10. Wade, James and Bosh combined for 80 points and 26 rebounds, while Rondo, Allen, Pierce and Garnett totaled 56 points and 22 rebounds. Allen (7 points) and Pierce (11 points) especially struggled.
Paul Pierce isn’t Paul Pierce: Pierce left the game in the first half after twisting an ankle. After getting treatment in the locker room, he returned relatively quickly. Still, he didn’t appear as explosive and struggled for a second straight game. Meanwhile, Allen — who was already struggling — bruised his chest during a third-quarter collision with James.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Jeff Green inserts himself: In 10 first-half minutes, Jeff Green made 4-of-5 shots — including a pair of 3-pointers for 10 points before the break (he finished with 11 points). His performance highlighted what was perhaps the bench’s best stretch of the playoffs, as the Celtics stayed with the Heat to start a low-scoring second quarter. Green even demonstrated some rare emotion, letting out a roar after being fouled by James in the third quarter. Delonte West (10 points) also had five points on 2-of-2 shooting off the bench during that same span.
Guarding James Jones: After Jones scored 25 points on seven shots in Game 1, the Celtics made a concerted effort to keep Jones from killing them on open 3-point shots — and it paid off. Forcing Jones to play off the dribble rather than set up along the 3-point line, the C’s held him to one missed field goal in the first half. Meanwhile, Jones picked up three fouls on the defensive end before the break — rendering him useless.
JO-ffensive rebounding: The Celtics have struggled on the offensive glass all season, but Jermaine O’Neal single-handedly gave the C’s five extra possessions in the first half alone — as they battled the Heat evenly (7-7) in offensive rebounding for the first 24 minutes. O’Neal finished with a respectable eight points and nine rebounds, but the Celtics ended up losing the rebounding battle on both ends of the floor.
|Irish Coffee: Heat not guilty of foul play?||at 1:43 pm ET|
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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