MIAMI Paul Pierce (knee) and Ray Allen won't be completely healthy at any point during the playoffs. But it's clear that they've figured out to not just play through the pain, but play well enough to give the Celtics a fighting chance while matched up against Miami's two best players.
Pierce isn't going to be able to match LeBron James point-for-point, but he can make those points scored by James tough to come by. And for Allen, Dwyane Wade's inability to take over games the way he's used to has been aided by Allen gradually returning to the big-shot, perimeter scoring threat that he has been for so many years.
When asked as to whether the improved play of both in Games 3 and 4 had something to do with them having figured out how to play through the pain, C's coach Doc Rivers said, "yeah. I wold say it's probably 100 percent of that."
This is particularly true in Allen's case.
"It's more he has just kind of resigned to the fact that this is what he has to play with," Rivers said. "He has figured out to move and cut on it."
Pierce had similar comments in describing his medial collateral ligament sprain he has in his left knee.
"It's going to be what it is," Pierce said. "It's not going to get any better until I'm completely done with the season. I have no complaints about it. I understand this is what it is. I'm at peace with it."
The ability for Pierce and Allen to play well gives the Celtics hope that they can come into Miami and steal Game 5 tonight. Here are some other factors that are likely to come into play as Miami and Boston square off in a pivotal Game 5 battle with the winner positioning themselves to be one win away from moving on to the NBA Finals.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: All eyes will of course be on the expected return of Chris Bosh, who has missed the last nine games with an abdominal strain injury. If he looks anything like most players upon their first return after missing a few games, chances are high that he'll be a bit too hyped and too amped up initially, but will gradually calm down and play his game. The Celtics would be wise to put him in as many situations early on in which he has to move, just to find out where he's at physically.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Paul Pierce vs LeBron James: It's rare that you'll find the leading scorers for two teams foul out in the same game, but it speaks to some degree to how tough a battle this series has been at the small forward position. The C's will probably look at ways to get Pierce off LeBron defensively, which should result in more playing time for Mickael Pietrus and Marquis Daniels. As for James, look for his always-aggressive style of basketball to be rewarded with trips to the free throw line - a lot of them - tonight instead of fouls.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The pressure to perform will once again be on Rajon Rondo, who called out the Heat for "whining and crying" about calls at halftime of Boston's Game 4 win. Miami will look to be as aggressive as ever in their defense of him, which means we're likely to see the most physical play on Rondo in this series, tonight.STAT TO TRACK: Whether it's unfavorable calls or a lack of aggressiveness, the Celtics have to do a better job of closing the free throw gap that existed in Games 1 and 2 in Miami. In those two games, the Heat were plus-20 on free throw attempts. In the two games in Boston, the C's were plus-2 in free throw attempts.