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Fast Break: Rajon Rondo’s return sparks Celtics 05.07.11 at 10:57 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo played with one arm, Shaquille O’Neal actually played basketball and Kevin Garnett submitted a vintage performance — and it all added up to a gritty 97-81 Celtics victory in what was essentially a must-win Game 3 against the Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

In a scary third-quarter moment, Rondo got tangled up with Dwyane Wade and dislocated his elbow. After receiving treatment, he shockingly returned for the fourth quarter — finishing with 11 assists and six points with essentially one arm. Meanwhile, Shaq scored just two points in eight minutes.

If not for those two Celtics comebacks, Garnett would’ve been the headliner — totaling 28 points and 18 rebounds in the victory. Wade led the Heat with 23 points, and Mario Chalmers added 17 off the bench.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

The Big Three: Even before Rondo went to the locker room with an elbow injury — and especially while Rondo got treatment — the Celtics’ Big Three asserted themselves and carried the team on both ends of the floor. The trio looked as sharp as they had all series, totaling 70 points on 26-of-51 shooting. Paul Pierce nearly matched Garnett’s output with 27 points of his own.

Meanwhile, the C’s Big Three held Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh to 43 combined points on 15-of-41 shooting. Bosh was nearly invisible, totaling only six points and five rebounds.

Encouraging start: For the first 5:07 of Game 3, the Celtics appeared ready to seize early control and set a tone for what the Heat could expect in Boston. The Garden crowd was loud, and the starting five’s play spoke louder. Behind a stifling defense and out of the flow of a well executed offense, Pierce scored 10 early points as the Celtics took a 16-7 lead — forcing Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to spend a timeout with 6:53 still remaining in the first quarter.

Shaq comes back: With 2:41 remaining in the first quarter, Shaq returned to the court for the first time this postseason and just the second time since Feb. 1. A minute and a half later, he scored his first bucket to put the Celtics up 27-20.  He played 4:46 in the first half — lumbering for much of it, but also altering at least a few Miami shots on the defensive end. His final line of two points and one rebound were less climactic — but his 8:29 playing time was certainly encouraging.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Down goes Rajon Rondo: With 7:01 left in the third quarter, Wade and Rondo got tied up in the paint on the Celtics end, and Rondo landed awkwardly on his arm — appearing to hyperextend his left elbow. After clutching his arm on the floor for what seemed like an eternity, trainer Ed Lacerte ushered Rondo — and what appeared to be the C’s season — into the locker room.

At the end of the third quarter, Rondo returned to the Celtics bench with a dislocated elbow. And he returned to the floor to start the fourth quarter, bringing the crowd to a deafening level. He played the entire fourth quarter.

Joel Anthony’s energy: As has been the case all series long, the Celtics had no answer for Anthony (12 points, 11 rebounds) off the bench. He recorded 10 points (on 5-of-5 shooting) and seven rebounds in the first half alone. Four of those seven boards came on the offensive end, where he often found himself wide open underneath the basket (hence the perfect first-half field-goal percentage).

Ray Allen’s foul trouble: Questionable or not, Allen picked up his third foul with 6:48 still to play in the second quarter as he brushed Wade’s elbow on a 3-point attempt. The whistle came on the heels of a string of questionable calls by the refereeing crew of Bob Delaney, Bill Kennedy and Steve Javie. Also, Moments after Rondo’s injury, Wade took down Allen underneath the basket, and Allen had to be restrained from going after Wade — a rare but understandable burst of anger for the 3-point king, for certain.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, NBA playoffs, Rajon Rondo
Rajon Rondo returns after dislocating left elbow at 10:04 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo dislocated his left elbow in a collision with Dwayne Wade midway through the third quarter. He returned to start the fourth quarter of Game 3 Saturday night against the Heat after Celtics medical staff popped it back in place.

He was holding his left arm and had to be helped to the locker room by team medical staff with just over seven minutes left in the third quarter. Rondo appeared to fall awkwardly on his left elbow on a foul by Wade with 7:02 left in the quarter. Wade appeared to push Rondo to the floor after Rondo collected a loose ball rebound.

Moments later, Wade pushed Ray Allen under the Celtics basket and the two came face-to-face before tempers cooled.

Read More: 2011 NBA Playoffs, Boston Celtics, Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
Irish Coffee: Paul Pierce must captain Celtics ship 05.04.11 at 12:31 pm ET
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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?

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Read More: Boston Celtics, LeBron James, Miami Heat, Paul Pierce
Paul Pierce strains left Achilles 05.03.11 at 11:51 pm ET
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MIAMI ‘€” Paul Pierce strained his left Achilles tendon in the first quarter of Game 2 and had to go back to the locker room for a stretch. He returned soon after and scored 13 points in the Celtics‘ 102-91 loss. ‘€œIt’€™s day to day right now,’€ Pierce said. ‘€œWe’€™ll see how it feels the next couple of days.’€

Pierce said he wasn’€™t sure how the injury happened, but it was a problem for him. ‘€œWhen you strain your Achilles, every step is like a slight little pain,” he said. “It actually loosened up as I got back in there and it didn’€™t really affect me the rest of the game.’€

Pierce wasn’€™t the only Celtic playing in pain. Rajon Rondo‘€™s back tightened up and Ray Allen was dealing with a bruised chest. ‘€œ[Trainer] Eddie [Lacerte] and Dr. [Brian] McKeon did a hell of a job today,’€ Doc Rivers said. ‘€œWe had a circus going on at one point. Ray needed to be taken to the locker room. Paul was coming out of the locker room. Rondo was asking to come out almost simultaneously. It was sketchy.’€

Read More: Celtics, Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo
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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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
Adrian Wojnarowski on M&M: Leaving C’s would be difficult for Doc Rivers 04.25.11 at 2:43 pm ET
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Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports joined the Mut & Merloni show Monday afternoon to discuss the NBA playoffs and other Celtics items of interest. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Rajon Rondo put up huge numbers in the C’s first-round series sweep of the Knicks, and Wojnarowski said the point guard will again be tough for Boston’s opponent to handle in Round 2. “He’s Miami’s most difficult matchup,” Wojnarowski said. “They don’t have a guy to deal with him.”

The Heat, who need one more win to close out the 76ers, also appear to be at a disadvantage vs. the Celtics when it comes to bench play. “The question marks around Miami’s bench continue to be immense,” Wojnarowski said. “Mike Miller, who they had signed to be a key part of that team, he’s got issues with both thumbs. He can’t shoot the ball. And so, his minutes have diminished. They’re getting less and less from that bench. That’s why they thought about signing Eddy Curry. That’s the level of desperation they had with that group there. That’s where Boston’s supposed to have the advantage here.”

If Shaquille O’Neal can return and give the C’s some quality minutes to complement Jermaine O’Neal, that would give Boston another advantage. “We’ll see what happens with Shaq, if he comes back,” Wojnarowski said. “Because Jermaine O’Neal really established himself as a big part of this Celtics postseason run with the way he played. He probably won Game 2 for Boston. I think Doc said he did, and I agree with him. His ability to defend the rim and block shots. Now, if Shaq comes back ‘€” maybe Shaq comes off the bench, maybe Shaq starts ‘€” but Boston’s bench has shown some signs in that New York series of playing better.”

Added Wojnarowski: “Doc said it all along: They had to have one of the O’Neals play. And Jermaine has played better. He exceeded my expectations. ‘€¦ You saw him defending, rebounding and just his movement around the floor and getting out, really being a lot of places, his rotation on defense, getting back, showing on the pick and roll and then getting back and protecting the rim. He brings a very high basketball IQ. He’s a smart guy, a veteran guy. And I thought he played great in that series and was the difference for Boston.

“But listen, Shaq still commands a double team in the post offensively. He still can rebound the ball. He can’t move like Jermaine can and defend all over the floor defensively the way Jermaine has showed himself to do. But there’s still things that Shaq brings to them that are going to help them, not just against Miami.

“You know, it’s funny: They don’t need him against Miami in terms of, Miami doesn’t have great size. But what it is is, he gives you an advantage. He gives you an edge where they have trouble matching up, and guys still have to foul him or double him. And so, while you don’t need him to match up with one of their guys, you say, ‘Hey, we have an advantage with him playing.’ So, that’s why you want him to play.”

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Read More: Adrian Wojnarowski, Doc Rivers, Jermaine O'Neal, Rajon Rondo
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