The Celtics' edge is gone

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The Celtics' edge is gone

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

MIAMI With seven minutes left in Game 2 Tuesday night, the Celtics had the Heat right where they wanted them.

To that point, Bostons play had been largely uneven. As in Game 1, the Celts spent most of the night chasing LeBron and Co., reacting to Miamis game instead of enforcing their own. Often times, the Cs looked overmatched, on the verge of disaster, only to repeatedly respond with the resiliency to crawl back within striking distance and keep hope alive.

And with seven minutes to go, hope was never higher, as Paul Pierce drained two free throws to tie the game at 80-80.

If you erase the debt record, we all go back to zero. It'll create total chaos. The Narrator, Fight Club.

Suddenly, all the Heat had done over those first 41 minutes was meaningless. Now, all the Celtics struggles were irrelevant. Everyone was back to zero and chaos was about to set in. And thats when Boston had always been at its best.

For all the advantages the Heat had in this series in terms of speed, athleticism, home court and overall talent, the Celtics' crunch-time edge was the assumed difference maker.

When experts, or anyone, predicted the Celtics to win this series, it was for that very reason. When it came down to it, the Celtics were the team that knew how to win. When chaos ensued, the Celtics would remain calm. They'd come together, while Miami would fold. LeBron would get caught up in his own ridiculous sense of self. Chris Bosh would crumble in the face of KG. Dwyane Wade wouldnt want overstep LeBrons jurisdiction and never quite find his groove. Without the Big Three in gear, the supporting cast would collapse under the pressure, while the Celtics pushed them around, laughed in their faces and forced their way into the conference finals. Bostons psychological edge would once again rule the day.

That was how the last seven minutes were supposed to play out.

Instead the plot was flipped on its back.

With everything on the line on Tuesday, the Heat went on a 14-0 run to put the game away and send the Celtics to back Boston not only resting uncomfortably in a 2-0 hole, but also with one very important and unfortunate piece of knowledge.

The edge is gone.

The fear is gone.

They can no longer count on just outlasting Miami for 40 minutes and then ripping out their hearts in crunch time. The Heat have grown. Theyre better. Theyre no longer afraid to make the right move. Theyre no longer waiting around for one of their teammates to take the reigns or fearing how others might react if they take it themselves. Now theyre a team. They have clear roles, legitimate chemistry and honest on-court relationships. And unless the Celtics can match that, all those experts are going to be wrong.

And the question is: Can they?

Are the Celtics prepared to go toe-to-toe with the new and improved Heat? Do they have what it takes to win four of the next five games, knowing that now, if they push the Heat, the Heat will push back? Or even more, are they ready for the Heat to initiate the pushing? Are the Celtics, the team that is always the instigator, ready, willing and able to win from the other side? Or once you're on that other side, does that mean you've already lost?

We'll find out Saturday, and of course, a lot can happen between now and then. When the Celtics take the court, for the first time at home in what seems like an eternity, you never know exactly where their heads will be. You can only assume they'll be right, or maybe you can only hope, because make no mistake: As much as it's physical, the rest of this series will be a mental battle. Once fueled on swagger, confidence, and the ability to get it done when everything seasons, legacies, in some cases, careers is on the line.

The Celtics cant match Miamis firepower in this series. If they want to get in a game of "top this" with Lebron and Dwyane Wade, two of the top five players in this league currently playing at the absolute top of their games, they will lose.

If the Celtics are going to pull this out, and somehow take four of the next five games, theyre going to have to regain that inner strength and prideful identity that was lost sometime over the past two months.

Otherwise, the Heat have Boston right where they want them

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

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Quotes, notes and stars: Swihart flashes power and speed

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Quotes, notes and stars: Swihart flashes power and speed

BOSTON - Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox' 10-3 win over the Colorado Rockies:

 

QUOTES

"I felt a little cramp. I'm fine. I appreciate John and everybody looking out (for me). We obviously don't want anything to happen like last year, but I'm good.'' - Dustin Pedroia, who left the game in the fifth after experiencing some tightness in his right hamstring.

"It's nice to be able to get deep into the game. That's my goal every time. My goal is nine innings, so if I don't get nine innings, I'm a little disappointed because I want to be able to go out there and pitch as many innings as I can.'' - Steven Wright.

"I think my release point was just a little off. That definitely makes it hard, especially when it's moving, because it's not a consistent release point.'' - Wright on the early-inning unpredictability of his signature pitch.

"Even when I was catching, I pride myself on running. I want to be an athlete back there. I want to run the bases, steal bases, things most catchers aren't known to do.'' - Blake Swihart, who hit two triples.

 

NOTES

* Jackie Bradley Jr. extended his hitting streak to 29 games.

* Xander Bogaerts extended his hitting streak to 18 games.

* David Ortiz tied Paul Molitor for 12th on the all-time doubles list with 605.

* Ortiz has driven in multiple runs in three straight games

* Dustin Pedroia has a career batting average of .340 in interleague play, the highest ever for someone with 500 or more at-bats.

* Travis Shaw drove in three runs and now has 68 RBI in his first 111 games since Fred Lynn and Jim Rice in 1974-75.

* Blake Swihart became the third Red Sox hitter this season to post two triples in the same game.

* The Red Sox clinched their fifth straight home series win.

* The Sox are 21-8 since April 24 and are 13-2 in their last 15 home games.

 

STARS

1) Steven Wright

Backed by some rare run support, Wright evened his record at 4-4 with seven-plus innings and his eighth quality start this season.

2) Travis Shaw

Shaw produced two hits and knocked in three runs, making him the fourth Red Sox player this season to reach 30 RBI.

3) Blake Swihart

Swihart got to flash both his power and his speed by hitting two triples to the triangle, motoring around the bases.

 

Some questions and answers when it comes to Miller contract

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Some questions and answers when it comes to Miller contract

BOSTON -- A day after the Bruins announced a much-maligned four-year contract extension for defenseman Kevan Miller, B’s general manager Don Sweeney held court with the media to equal parts explain/defend the $10 million deal. Sweeney pointed to the very high character of a hardnosed player in Miller, and the relatively low mileage given that he’s played only 159 games at the NHL level.

There was also mention made of the room to grow in Miller’s game, though it’s difficult to imagine a much higher ceiling for a 28-year-old player than what the former UVM produced showed in 71 games last season.

“Kevan brings incredible character. His signing provides us with the necessary depth on our defense that all teams need. His relative low-mileage, having just played 160 games, we identified that we think Kevan has room for continued growth and development,” said Sweeney. “We certainly saw that in his play this year when he had an expanded role. Relative to the free market place, very, very comfortable with where Kevan fits into our group, and this provides us with the opportunity to explore the marketplace in every way, shape, or form, in having Kevan signed.”

Here’s the reality: Miller is a 5-6, bottom pairing defenseman on a good team, and a top-4 defenseman on a team like last year’s Bruins that finished a weak 19th in the league in goals allowed. The five goals and 18 points last season were solid career-high numbers for a player in the middle of his hockey prime, but he barely averaged 19 minutes of ice time per game as a front top-4 defenseman. Miller struggles with some of the fundamental needs in today’s NHL if you’re going to be a top-4 D-man: the tape-to-tape passes aren’t always accurate, there’s intermittent difficulty cleanly breaking the puck out of the defensive zone and Miller was exploited by the other team’s best players when paired with Zdeno Chara at points last season.

Certainly Miller has done some good things racking up a plus-55 rating during his three years in Boston, but executives and officials around the league were a bit surprised by the 4-year, $10 million contract extension. It’s viewed as a slight overpay in terms of both salary and term, but it’s more the redundancy of the contract that’s befuddling to some.

“Miller is certainly a rugged guy, but you already had one of those at roughly the same value in Adam McQuaid. I believe that you can’t win if you have both McQuaid and Miller in your top 6 because they are both No. 6 D’s in my mind,” said a rival NHL front office executive polled about the Miller contract. “You look at the playoffs and the direction that the league is headed in, and you need to have big, mobile defenseman that can quickly move the puck up the ice. You have too much of the same thing with Miller and McQuaid, and I think you can’t win with that in this day and age.”

The one facet of the four-year Miller contract that might make it okay for some Bruins fans: the tacit connection to the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes. According to several sources around the league, the Bruins taking care of Miller now will very likely have a positive impact on their chances of landing Vesey when he becomes a free agent on Aug. 15, and makes them the front-runner for the Harvard standout’s services. Both Miller and Vesey are represented by the same agent in Peter Fish, and those are the kinds of behind-the-scenes connections that many times factor into free agent signings and trades around the NHL.

So many, this humble hockey writer included, may owe Sweeney a slight apology if paying a $10 million premium for a bottom-pairing defenseman in Miller now pays dividends in landing a stud forward like Vesey that’s drawing interest all around the league.