Blakely: Celtics-Heat preview

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Blakely: Celtics-Heat preview

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

Celtics (56-26) vs Heat (58-24)
Celtics won regular season series 3-1, but the Heat will have home-court advantage.

How did they get here?
Celtics swept the New York Knicks, 4-0, in their first-round playoff series. The Heat defeated the Philadelphia 76ers, 4-1, in their first-round playoff series.

Playoff Team leadersCeltics: PPG Paul Pierce (22.3); RPG Kevin Garnett (11.3); APG Rajon Rondo (12.0)
Heat: PPG LeBron James (24.2); RPG LeBron James (10.6); APG LeBron James (6.2)

What to look for
The playoff series that we've all been waiting for, has finally arrived. You're going to hear a lot about Boston's Big Three versus their more youthful Big Three counterparts. But this series will ultimately be decided by the Celtics' point guard, Rajon Rondo, and the Boston bench. Rondo has a decisively lopsided advantage over Mike Bibby and to a lesser degree, Mario Chalmers. As for the bench, the C's backups finally showed a pulse in the Game 4 win over New York. They'll have to deliver games with a similar or greater impact against a Miami team whose bench has come under fire all season.

Matchup to watch
There are so many good battles to choose from, but Ray Allen versus Dwyane Wade sticks out. The C's won three of the four regular-season meetings in part because of Allen's accuracy shooting the ball (he shot 49.2 percent from the field, 57 percent on 3s and was perfect from the free throw line), and Wade's woeful play at both ends of the floor. Allen averaged a team-high 20.3 points against the Heat while Wade averaged just 12.8 pointson 28.1 percent shooting from the field.

X-factor
Again, the choices for this are plentiful. But it's a couple of injured players whose return - and the impact of that return - could tilt this series one way or another. For Boston, the C's have the ultimate wild card in Shaquille O'Neal. The issue isn't whether he'll play well, but will he play at all. If the Celtics can get 5-10 minutes from O'Neal, you figure that's four or five points or a couple of Miami Heat fouls. Miami has Udonis Haslem, who has actually missed more games this season than O'Neal. His ability to bang around the basket as well as knock down mid-range jumpers can be a major boost for the Heat against the Celtics' highly-regarded defense.
And the winner is . . .
NBA fans, because most would agree that the Conference Final will truly be anticlimatic after these two NBA Goliaths battle one another. Boston has experience and depth, while the Heat have arguably the most talented trio of players in the NBA with Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Both teams have their share of role players who will be counted on to step up and contribute in a big way.

But here's the thing about greatness. Before you triumph, you tend to go through your share of trials and tribulations. Each of Boston's Big Three had their share of trouble prior to coming to Boston. This current Big Three in Miami, haven't really gone through the rough times that all great teams must endure. Not having that experience, maybe more than anything else, contributed to the Heat's inability to initially get past the Celtics. And I think it will come back to bite them again. That's why I got Boston winning this series in six games.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Isaiah Thomas on the end of his streak: 'I'll break it again'

Isaiah Thomas on the end of his streak: 'I'll break it again'

Isaiah Thomas discusses the Boston Celtics struggles and the end of his streak in the loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Shots don't fall for Celtics in frustrating 114-98 loss to Hawks

Shots don't fall for Celtics in frustrating 114-98 loss to Hawks

BOSTON – You hear coaches and players often refer to the NBA as a make-miss league.

When summing up what happened in Boston’s 114-98 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, sadly it was that simple.

Dennis Schroder led the six double-figure scorers for the Hawks with 21 points on 9-for-14 shooting.

Boston got many of the shots that they have been getting throughout this run in which they came into Monday’s game having won 11 of their previous 14 games.

The Celtics (38-22) have now lost three of their last four games. Life won’t get any easier for them with defending NBA champion Cleveland coming into town on Wednesday.

We have seen the Celtics make some miraculous comebacks under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens, but Celtics fans understandably began hitting the exits with more than three minutes to play and Boston looking up at a 108-84 deficit.

Credit the Hawks defense which played with a greater sense of urgency, the kind you would expect from a team that had come in riding a three-game losing streak.

Meanwhile, Boston looked like the team that we have seen most of this season which relies heavily on their perimeter shooting to win games.

That’s not all that surprising against the Hawks whose interior defense is anchored by Dwight Howard.

Howard, who had 17 points and 12 rebounds, also had a pair of blocked shots and altered many others.

But the Celtics spent a good chunk of the second half with Howard out of the game.

Howard, an absolute unstoppable force for the Hawks all game, picked up his second technical foul (an automatic ejection) for hanging on the rim following a put-back dunk with 4:03 to play in the third and Atlanta ahead 74-65.

He had picked up his first technical foul for shoving Al Horford earlier in the game.

But with Howard out, the Celtics still couldn’t take advantage of an Atlanta team that was much more vulnerable to dribble-drive penetration.

In fact, Atlanta began to pull away and took their biggest lead up to that point of the game, 84-69, following a 3-pointer by Tim Hardaway Jr. late in the third quarter which ended with the Hawks ahead 84-71.

And Boston’s struggles stemmed from their inability to make open shots.

For the game, the Celtics shot 39.1 percent from field which is a somewhat inflated figure considering the mini-run Boston's backups went on in the final minute or two of play.

Not even the usual high-scoring exploits of Isaiah Thomas could save the day.

The NBA’s leading scorer in the fourth quarter, Thomas had another sub-par night in the game’s final quarter of play.

He led the Celtics with 19 points, but only two came in the fourth quarter. And by failing to reach 20 points, Thomas’ franchise-record of consecutive games with 20 or more comes to an end at 43 straight.