OFFSEASON

Celtics-Heat: Game 7 preview

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Celtics-Heat: Game 7 preview

MIAMI The disappointment of Thursday's Game 6 loss is a thing of the past now for the Boston Celtics. And while that punch-in-the-gut moment hurt the entire team, it's hard to imagine it hitting anyone harder than it did Paul Pierce.

An elimination game, at home. A chance to send the heavily-favored Miami Heat home for the summer. It was the kind of situation, the kind of moment that typically brings out the best in Pierce. Instead, Celtics Nation had to witness Pierce at his worst, scoring just nine points on 4-for-18 shooting.

If there's a player due for a breakout game in this series, it's Pierce.

The struggles in Game 6 were a reflection on how this entire series has been for the Celtics' Captain.

He is shooting just 33.6 percent in this series which is the worst shooting percentage he has had in 22 playoff series.

"He'll bounce back," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "Paul is a big-game player. Game 7s are the biggest that you can possibly have. What I saw (in Game 6) was I thought he was ready for the game. He just didn't have a great game. We don't look into it much more than that; at least I don't. He was down. Kevin (Garnett) was down. But you can see their resolve in the locker room. They're not just going to pack for (Game 7). They're going to bring suits for Tuesday (Game 1 of the NBA Finals), and they're going to bring suits for Thursday (Game 2 of the NBA Finals). And that's the way we're going to plan it."

Pierce's ability to bounce back and lead the way for the Celtics will indeed be a factor in tonight's Game 7 matchup. Here are some other keys to pay attention to as the Celtics look to do what hasn't been done in the Big Three era - win a Game 7 on the road.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - Kevin Garnett didn't get nearly as many touches around the basket in Game 6 that he's used to, or the Celtics need in order to be successful. Plan on a heavy diet of Garnett around the basket tonight. "He really made the first post shot, and then he didn't get one for ten touches," said C's coach Doc Rivers. I thought they (Miami Heat) threw him out of his rhythm. We threw him out of his rhythm. And all great scorers or great players are rhythmic. I didn't think we did a very good job of keeping him within the rhythm of our offense."
MATCHUP TO WATCH - Rajon Rondo vs. LeBron James: They won't face each other to start the game, but there's no question they are the two biggest stars in this series. Each has had an out-of-this-world game in this series, the kind of performances that will pale in comparison if they were to have a good game tonight and lead their respective teams to victory.
PLAYER TO WATCH - Brandon Bass is indeed a wild card in this game tonight. The Celtics need him to be a factor both on the boards and in the scorer's column. With so much attention being paid to Kevin Garnett in the post, the perimeter shooting of Paul Pierce and Ray Allen along with Rajon Rondo's dribble penetration, he'll get opportunities to make a difference in what has to be one of the biggest games of his career.

STAT TO TRACK - Of all the statistics from Boston's Game 6 loss that contributed to the C's defeat, their 14 team assists stood out. It was the fewest assists they had in the playoffs, which to some degree spoke volumes about how poorly they shot the ball and to some degree, their ball movement not being as crisp as it usually is. "You can't just look at a stat sheet and say that we only had 14 (assists) and say we didn't move the ball," said C's Rajon Rondo, who had 10 of the team's 14 assists. "Guys missed shots. When you shoot the ball well, if you make a couple of lay-ups, that's more assists. We moved the ball well. We just didn't put the ball in the hole."

OFFSEASON

Report: Celtics make qualifying offers to Zeller, Sullinger

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Report: Celtics make qualifying offers to Zeller, Sullinger

All the free-agent focus on the Celtics has been on players -- Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard -- who they might bring in. But they have players they might lose, too.

One, of course, is Evan Turner, who's an unrestricted free agent, free to sign to anyone after July 1. But they also have two others, Tyler Zeller and Jared Sullinger, who could have joined Turner on the completely open market if they didn't tender them qualifying offers.

Yesterday, according to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald, they did just that:

Zeller and Sullinger are still free to solicit offers. But, because they made the qualifying offers, the Celtics have the right to match any deal the two might receive and keep them in Boston.

OFFSEASON

Blakely: Boston becoming a favored destination for free agents

Blakely: Boston becoming a favored destination for free agents

BOSTON -- In some circles the pursuit of Dwight Howard by the Boston Celtics is just as perplexing as Boston being one of the six teams getting an audience with Kevin Durant and, with that, a shot at the Durant sweepstakes this summer. 
 
Both serve as examples of how the Celts are no longer at the back of the line when it comes to being a potential destination for the best free agents. 
 
Of course it’s about sealing the deal, and getting the best free agents on the market under contract, and all that good stuff.
 
But before that can happen, Boston has to be seen as a place to even be seriously considered by free agents. That's exactly what we’re starting to see happen right now.
 
It’s easy to point to the Celtics having a ton of salary cap space, which in itself makes them a possible landing spot for players who we all know will be hauling in max to near-max salaries this offseason.
 
But there’s just one problem with that line of thought. More than half the league enters free agency with enough money to sign one max player.

The fact that Boston is on the short list for the summer’s top free agent (Durant) and have already secured a sit-down with one of the top centers (Howard) says a lot in terms of how far Boston has come in the eyes of players. 
 
And several factors point towards the Celtics getting an audience with other top-shelf free agents this summer if they fail to secure one or two of their top choices.
 
But let’s not kid ourselves. How others view this franchise is the reality of what the Celtics have to deal with when it comes to adding elite, upper-echelon talent like Durant. 
 
The fact that Durant is willing to include Boston in his short-list of teams is a bit of a head-scratcher when you see that the Celtics are the farthest away from the group in terms of competing for an NBA title (although an argument can be made that they are neck-and-neck with the Miami Heat along those lines). Durant has said in the past that would be something he would be looking for in whatever team he signed with.
 
The biggest selling point the Celtics have to offer Durant or any other free agent (besides money) is that they are a franchise on the rise, they have stability on the floor with Brad Stevens as the head coach, and they have stability in the front office with Danny Ainge. Both Stevens and Ainge signed long-term extensions earlier this month. 
 
And one of the perks that players who come to Boston quickly discover is the fan base, which is about as rabid a group as you'll find in the NBA.
 
There’s no mistaking they wear their emotions on their sleeves, whether it’s cheering the team on following a season-ending playoff loss, or booing the owner after the team makes a draft pick they don’t particularly care for. 
 
They bleed green!
 
Add all those things up and it’s clear that Boston has the kind of environment, the kind of culture, where a star can come and thrive. 
 
The Celtics and their fans have known this for a while.
 
Now it seems some of the game’s best players are starting to catch on, as well.

OFFSEASON

Is it curious that Kevin Durant is even giving the Celtics an audience?

Is it curious that Kevin Durant is even giving the Celtics an audience?

Mike Felger, Dan Shaughnessy and Glenn Ordway wonder why the Celtics are even getting a meeting with Kevin Durant when free agency begins. Does it mean they have a legitimate chance of signing him?