|Nation sees Game 7 outcome unpredictable, dependent on LeBron James||06.09.12 at 2:44 pm ET|
The Celtics squandered a shot at closing out their series against Miami in Game 6, and now most feel the outcome of Game 7 is unpredictable. There are many factors rendering the game questionable, like LeBron James and Boston’s energy.
Frank Isola of the New York Daily News pointed to just that, emphasizing Boston’s need for a bigger impact from leader Paul Pierce and to neutralize James — something Isola doesn’t think Boston can do.
“There is no questioning the heart and determination of these Celtics,” Isola wrote. “They will need a bigger game from Paul Pierce, who was invisible on Thursday. Meanwhile, Rajon Rondo will have to produce big numbers for the offensively challenged Celtics. But they’ll also have to stop James, and right now that doesn’t seem very likely.”
It’s not just a win on the line for Pierce, but also his legacy, wrote NBC Sports’ Matt Moore. He said Pierce needs to play well — not 45-point-performance well, but well — for Boston to advance to their third NBA Finals in five years.
“But here they are,” Moore wrote. “If [Kevin] Garnett is the angry ferocity of the Celtics, and Rondo the driven determination, Pierce is the source of their swagger. It’s Pierce who has the most confidence in his game regardless of percentages or circumstances. Much like this Celtics team, no matter how many things suggest he’s in the midst of failure, he finds a way to come out on top. The Celtics need that attitude, that swagger, that player tonight in Game 7.”
In Yahoo! Sports’ Game 7 preview, basketball fans took to comments to dispute who would win the series-deciding game. Most said the Heat need another great performance from James to win, but some mentioned Chris Bosh‘s importance to Miami.
“I hear all the points that are being made heading onto the game tonight but one thing nobody is talking about other than LeBron’s great performance is that with Bosh back it is a different scenario now,” One fan wrote. “Before you had a guy like [Udonis] Haslem who is like 6-foot-9 guarding a 7 footer, now they can put Bosh on Garnett and he won’t be able to just shoot over him. Another thing the Heat did was put [Dywane] Wade on [Rajon] Rondo a little bit more and not [Mario] Chalmers and everybody agrees that Chalmers is just a terrible defender. …Well to be fair, Chalmers just can’t guard Rondo.”
ESPN’s Skip Bayless stayed behind his Heat prediction, saying James will still play a good “3 1/2 quarters” and Chris Bosh will play well for Miami.
I’m sticking with “Heat in 7” prediction. Won’t be easy. Celts the mentally tougher TEAM. DWade will be the mentally toughest PLAYER, Bayless tweeted.
NBA’s Shaun Powell took a slightly different twist, saying basketball fans should cheer for Miami because a Heat-Thunder NBA Finals is more appealing than a Celtics-Thunder series.
“The Celtics are a neat little story of persistence, if nothing else,” Powell wrote. “Kevin Garnett at 36 can still bring it, along with Paul Pierce. Until James went ballistic in Game 6, Rajon Rondo was the best player in this series. Meanwhile, Doc Rivers is confirming what we all knew about him, a terrific in-game coach who knows how to make adjustments and draw up plays. Ray Allen, give the man the hoops version of the purple heart for running around and jumping off one ankle.
“They’re exactly the team you’d want in a Game 7 of the East finals, and also the team you want to lose, or should, anyway. And we say this with all due respect to Boston.”
|Doc Rivers: ‘Riley is inside [Spoelstra]’ and other Celtics-Heat Game 7 shootaround notes||at 1:08 pm ET|
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.
|Irish Coffee: ‘Let’s go Celtics,’ one final curtain call||06.08.12 at 4:32 pm ET|
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.
‘This team has been about adversity all year long,” Pierce said. “So, this is not going to be [anything] new. It’s been tough for us all year long to get to the point where we would be at, and why wouldn’t it be tough now? Winning is hard. Trying to get to the finals is hard. And this is as hard as it gets, and I think we are prepared for it.’
As clutch as Pierce was at the end of Game 5 in Miami, Pierce was ice cold all night in Game 6. He finished 4-for-18 from the field, including 0-for-6 from 3-point range. The Celtics captain scored just nine points in 31 minutes while James put up 45 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in 45 minutes to lead the Heat to a Game 7.
“He hit a lot of shots that he hasn’t been hitting all series,” Pierce said. “Sometimes superstars get hot. I’ve had that feeling before and sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Unfortunately, Pierce came no where near having that feeling in Game 6 as the Celtics missed the chance to clinch on their home court.
‘It was tough,” Pierce said of the loss. “You got an opportunity to close out the series on your home floor. For us to come out and play like the way we did, it’s very tough. I mean, you gotta take your hats off to them. They really had a great game. Lebron got hot, playing like a true MVP. We just didn’t recover.
“I always think we got a chance. We’re not the type of team that looks at the score or say it’s over until it’s over. So, tip my hat off to them. They did what they had to do and now were going to a Game 7.’
Pierce realizes that, like the beginning of the series, few if any observers are giving them a chance in Game 7. But like the beginning of the series, he knows that doesn’t matter.
‘Well its been that kind of year for us anyway,” Pierce said. “[I] think we are in the perfect opportunity. We’ve been the underdog all year long, going into Game 7 the underdog. We are right where we want to be.’
As for the “Let’s Go Celtics” send-off from the fans?
‘We have the best fans in the world,” he said. “Down 20, at home, in the playoffs, and they cheer us off the court. And that’s just awesome. That’s why we have the best fans in the world.’
A disappointed Kevin Garnett admitted that the Celtics might have been too excited for their chance to close out the Heat in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Thursday night at TD Garden. The result was an unforeseen flat performance that produced a 98-79 Miami win that extended the series to Game 7 Saturday night at American Airlines Arena.
‘Some shots didn’t fall that we know we can make,” Garnett said. “Everybody in here was pumped up. Everybody was probably too jacked. It didn’t transcend into a win, though.’
To Garnett’s point, Paul Pierce was just 4-for-18 in 31 minutes while Garnett was 6-for-14. The two stars combined for just 21 points on 10-for-32 shooting from the floor. Now, the Celtics must repeat their clutch road performance from Game 5 in order to advance to the NBA finals and a date with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
‘Nothing’s been easy up until this point, and you can’t expect it now,” Garnett said. “It is what it is. We’re gonna take these cards and play them. There’s a lot of confident guys in here, lot of guys who’ve been through Game 7’s, a lot of experienced guys. We’re going to lean on that. And we’re going to fight. We’re a bunch of fighters in this locker room. Let it all hang out [for Game 7]. [We’re] on the road, a hostile environment. We got a lot of fans down there but it is what it is.’
As for LeBron James and his 45 points in 45 minutes, Garnett said there was little the Celtics could do.
‘LB was in the groove and he never looked back,” Garnett said.
|Irish Coffee: The Celtics, Heat and the duality of team||06.06.12 at 1:26 pm ET|
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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Appearing on Mut & Merloni Wednesday afternoon, ESPN’s Chris Broussard discussed the Eastern Conference finals series following Boston’s Game 5 win Tuesday night. Broussard said the Celtics will win Game 6 and the series, citing Boston’s championship mentality as a reason for eventual triumph over the Heat. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.
“I have nothing but the utmost respect for the Celtics. … Even when they lose, you walk away saying those guys are winners,” Broussard said. “They’re champions, they play with so much heart and mental toughness. They play through injuries, through adversity, they’re well-coached, they execute, they can play in the clutch. They’re great.
“And I feel that lack of respect for the Heat, because they don’t play up to their potential. They don’t execute, I don’t think they’re well-coached. … This team needs somebody with the credibility to kick them in the butt and make them perform and make them play with intensity — a Pat Riley, a Phil Jackson, a Gregg Popovich, somebody of that ilk. Maybe it’s not to blame [Erik] Spoelstra; he’s just in over his head. He never should have been put in charge of this situation.”
Broussard said Spoelstra has been unable to come up with effective strategies late in the game, noting that the Heat usually fall back on an isolation play that hasn’t produced good results.
“How about running a play like the Celtics do?” Broussard said. “Doc Rivers goes out of every time out and they run a great play and usually score. At the end of the game, whether it’s something for [Paul] Pierce, something for Ray Allen — and even if it’s for one of those guys, there are other options. If Ray doesn’t have it, you have [Kevin Garnett] as an option somewhere. If Pierce doesn’t have it, Ray or KG is an option somewhere.”
Broussard said Boston’s late-game options are bolstered by the Celtics’ mindset to win.
“I don’t see the mental toughness to make me believe [the Heat are] going to win this game, and I see plenty of mental toughness for the Celtics,” Broussard said.
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