Blakely's Celtics-Heat Game 3 preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Heat Game 3 preview

BOSTON The fact that the Miami Heat have spent a lot of time at the free throw line isn't a surprise. They have LeBron James (8.1 free throw attempts) and Dwyane Wade (6.1 attempts) who ranked No. 3 and No. 14, respectively in the regular season in free throw attempts per game. In the playoffs, James leads all players in free throw attempts per game (10.8) with Wade ranking No. 6 with 7.7 attempts per game. The Heat as a team rank second in free throw attempts (29.5) per game in the playoffs, which is up from their No. 8 ranking during the regular season.

Miami spends a lot of time at the free throw line because their core guys -- James and Wade -- play with an aggressive, steady attack-mode demeanor. It's a demeanor that Celtics coach Doc Rivers understands his team must try in tonight's Game 3 matchup.

"They are going to shoot a lot of free throws, but we need to as well," Rivers said.

It certainly hasn't been like that for the Celtics this season. They were ranked No. 27 during the regular season in free throw attempts, and they haven't been much better in the playoffs. They rank 12th (out of 16 teams) with a 21.6 free throw attempts per game average in the postseason.

The key to Boston getting to the line more often is Paul Pierce, who led the C's in free throw attempts (5.6) per game this season. In the playoffs this year, Pierce is up to 6.5 attempts per game but is averaging just three per game in the first two meetings against the Heat.

One of the more glaring statistics in the Eastern Conference finals thus far has been the discrepancy between the number of free throws taken by James (33) in comparison to Pierce (6).

"Paul is a powerful guy," Rivers said. "There's a lot of contact as well when he drives. We just want them (Pierce and his Celtic teammates) to continue to be aggressive. You know Lebron and Wade will be. There's nothing wrong with it. That's who they are. You know going into it, they're going to go to the free throw line. But we have to get there as well, and we have to do it being just as aggressive."

Finding a way to translate more aggressive play into points at the line will certainly be a factor in tonight's outcome. Here are some other keys to watch heading into what a must-win game for the Boston Celtics.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- Coming off the kind of performance Rajon Rondo had in Game 2, you can expect the Heat to look at ways to not allow him to be such a dominant force. Do not be surprised if Rondo sees more double-teams along with the Heat making a more concerted effort to get the ball out of Rondo's hands. "(Rondo) almost single-handedly beat us," said Heat forward Shane Battier.

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Kevin Garnett vs. Ronny Turiaf: The Heat fully understand and accept that they will not win this matchup. But what they have been able to do in the first two games is make Garnett work hard for all his points, limiting him primarily to scoring from the perimeter which is not what the Celtics want. One of the reasons Boston was able to move past both Atlanta and Philadelphia in the playoffs, was because of Garnett's ability to impact the game as a scorer or a passer, from the post. That has not been the case in the first two games against Miami, a trend the C's need to stop if they are to get back into this series.

PLAYER TO WATCH -- Brandon Bass has to continue to find ways to maximize his minutes on the floor, knowing his playing time will be somewhat limited because of the Celtics success with a small ball lineup that more often than not, doesn't include him. The best way for him to get more minutes, is to do what he does best and that is to knock down mid-range jumpers. During the regular season, only four players (Dirk Nowitzki, Carlos Boozer, Russell Westbrook and Kobe Bryant) took more mid-range jumpers (15-19 feet) than Bass. It has been more of the same in the playoffs, where Bass ranks third in 15-19 foot shots taken, trailing only Westbrook and teammate Kevin Garnett. And with the Heat doing so much switching defensively, there's a very good chance that he'll at various points in the game have a matchup that's decidedly in his favor.

STAT TO TRACK -- The three-point shot was never a real weapon of choice for the Miami Heat during the regular season, which explains why they were ranked just 20th in the regular season in 3-pointers made per game (5.6). They have been better in the playoffs in that category, ranking fifth with 6.2 3s made per game. Two games into this series, and Miami's ability to connect on the long ball has played a major role in both Miami victories. Boston's ability to limit the Heat's effectiveness from 3-point range will go far in their effort to win Game Three.

Celtics-Bucks preview: C's preferred starting five making an impact

Celtics-Bucks preview: C's preferred starting five making an impact

BOSTON – It took Brad Stevens about eight minutes to realize his starters worked well together.

That’s how long they were on the floor to start Boston’s first preseason game back in October, opening the season with a 23-9 run against Philadelphia.

Now the rest of the NBA basketball world is starting to take notice with the Celtics (48-26) holding down the best record in the Eastern Conference with a chance to add to that tonight against the hard-charging Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bucks (38-36), coming off a 118-108 win at Charlotte on Tuesday, have won 12 of their last 15 games.

Boston is well aware that Milwaukee is playing some of its best basketball at the moment, led by all-star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the Celtics, that doesn’t matter.

Regardless of where they are in the Eastern Conference pecking order or who they play, the number one priority for them at this point is to continue playing good basketball.

“Every team in the NBA should want to be the best team in the NBA,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “We’re showing that we can be if we’re playing the right kind of basketball. That’s an accomplishment, to be first in the east. We understand that. But at the same time, we understand we could lose it (tonight against Milwaukee). We have to worry about (tonight’s) game and everything will take care of itself.”

Especially if Boston’s preferred starting five – Isaiah Thomas; Bradley; Jae Crowder; Al Horford and Amir Johnson – are playing together.

Although they have only played 31 games together this season, they have reeled off an impressive 24-7 record which puts them among the best starting fives in the NBA this season.

“They really have complimented each other well,” Stevens said. “But you could see it. I remember the first exhibition game (against Philadelphia), we could all see it. Before that, the second unit had given them fits a little bit, the first couple of weeks of practice. But that subsided and I thought our guys, that starting unit has been pretty good.”

And it’s not just what they do during games, either.

Setting the tone in all phases of the game, on and off the court, is vital to both the success of the starting unit and the team as a whole.

“That’s part of it; part of us being leaders on the team,” Bradley said. “We have to bring it every single day. Shoot-around, being focused, film sessions. It’s our job to try to help the bench players focus just as much as we are. We’re a team. We all have to hold each other accountable. I feel like we’re doing a great job.”

But ultimately, every team and every unit within that team is judged on how their works contribute to winning.

And when it comes to the Celtics’ starting five, there’s little argument that they get the job done better than most of the NBA’s starting units.

So when asked why they have been so successful this season, Thomas delivered a straight-no-chaser response.

“Because we’re good; like we’re really good,” Thomas said. “That’s why it’s been so successful. When we are healthy, we know how to play with each other and guys are unselfish and know their roles. We have a really good starting lineup and when healthy, we play at a really high level. We have to continue to do that and end this season on a good note.”

First-place Celtics continue to focus on playing well, not standings

First-place Celtics continue to focus on playing well, not standings

WALTHAM, Mass. – When it comes to NBA standings, no Celtic pays closer attention to it than Isaiah Thomas.
 
But the 5-foot-9 All-Star is quick to say that while he’s aware of what’s happening with other teams record-wise, Thomas, like his teammates, isn’t obsessed with it, even with the Celtics (48-26) now in first place in the East following Cleveland’s loss at San Antonio on Monday.
 
“It’s a good feeling,” Thomas said. “It’s still not the end of the year; anything can happen. It’s a nice feeling to be the number one seed for once, but we just have to continue to control what we can control.”

The fact that Boston is even in position to finish with the best record in the East is amazing when you consider injuries and illnesses have forced them to use 13 different starting lineups this season.
 
And the preferred starting five of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Al Horford and Amir Johnson has played together 31 times and posted an impressive 24-7 record.
 
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has been consistent in his message that while having the best record in the East is nice, he’s more consumed with the team continuing to improve.
 
“It doesn’t mean a whole lot right now,” Stevens said of being in first place. “The whole idea is to make progress, get better every day and stay in the moment. You do that if you’re in last place trying to build up or whether you’re in a position where you’re fighting for seeding. Ultimately, we’ve been able to grow and get a little bit better. But I still think we can play a lot better. That’s where my focus is.”
 
And the same holds true for his players. Thomas knows how unusual this season has been for the Celtics, who continue finding ways to win despite frequently being short-handed.
 
The latest example of that involves forward Jonas Jerebko, who is questionable for Wednesday’s game against Milwaukee because of a sore left knee that limited him in Tuesday’s practice.
 
“It’s a long season. A lot of things can happen whether they be good or bad and we know that,” Thomas said. “We just try to withstand the storm we’ve had a few times this year, and continue to try and stay as positive as possible and we’ve done that. We’re in a good position right now. We just have to continue to take care of business.”
  
And that means steadily improving while piling up the wins, particularly against teams such as the Bucks (37-36), who are among a handful of teams that could potentially be Boston’s first-round opponent.
 
Milwaukee comes in having won 11 of its past 14 games.

“It makes the game that much more important,” said Celtics guard Avery Bradley. “Just like the Miami game. We want to let the teams know now, they go up against us in the playoffs, it’s no mercy. We’re going to play hard. We’re going to bring it every single night. We’re going to play Celtics basketball every single night. Them knowing that, we can scare a lot of teams if we’re playing the right way.”