Blakely's Celtics-Heat Game 6 preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Heat Game 6 preview

BOSTON It's hard to imagine that the biggest X-factor in the Eastern Conference finals between Boston and Miami is a seven-time all-star.

But that's the reality of this Celtics-Heat series, with the outcome in tonight's Game 6 matchup hinging heavily on the play of Chris Bosh.

The 6-foot-9 Heat forward returned from a nine-game absence (abdominal strain) in Boston's Game 5 victory at Miami on Tuesday, tallying nine points along with seven rebounds (six offensive) in just over 14 minutes.

Following the Heat loss, Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra has been heavily criticized for not using Bosh at all in the fourth quarter when the game was up for grabs.

"I thought those are the decisions you have to make as a head coach," Spoelstra said. "I know after the fact those can always be secondguessed. But we're treading in kind of new waters right now, and he had been out quite a while. But he'll play more (in Game 6)."

And that will put even more pressure on a Celtics defense that has already had its hands full with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

"You know, I was very surprised how good he looked (in Game 5)," C's coach Doc Rivers said of Bosh. "He looked like he had been playing. So we were very surprised with that."

But as far as why Bosh didn't play more in Game 5, Rivers wasn't about to touch that question.

"I will stay away from that," Rivers said. "That's the other thing. I didn't notice it until after the game. That's how focused we were. I was really focused on us. Then after the game when one of my coaches brought it up, I said, well, yeah, that's interesting. But I'm sure there was a reason."

For the Celtics, why Bosh wasn't on the floor down the stretch isn't important. He will play tonight, more than he did in Game 5. And dealing with that will be more than enough of a challenge for the Celtics.

Indeed, Bosh's play will be a major subplot to follow in tonight's game. Here are some other keys to keep tabs on as the Celtics hope to continue their dominance at home (8-1 in the playoffs) needing just one win to move on to the NBA Finals for the third time in the Big Three era.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- Keeping Dwyane Wade in check in the first half has been a huge factor in Boston being in control of this series. He's averaging 22 points per game in the Conference finals, but only 5.8 of those points has come in the first half. More significant, he's connecting on just 27.5 percent of his shots in the first half, shooting 40 percent or less in every game thus far.

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Kevin Garnett vs. Chris Bosh: For the first time in the postseason, Kevin Garnett will not have a decisive advantage at the center position. In many ways, Garnett will have to deal with a mirror-image of himself in Bosh only younger. Both will score points, but the edge will go to which player does a better rebounding the ball.

PLAYER TO WATCH -- Three-time league MVP LeBron James is a must-see every game, but he's especially eye-grabbing in elimination games for all the wrong reasons. Between his years in Cleveland and Miami, James has been in eight elimination games and has emerged victorious just two times. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, James has averaged just 24.3 points in his last three elimination games. Not only are those numbers down from what he usually does scoring-wise in the playoffs, but those last three games? They all ended with James' team losing.

STAT TO TRACK -- Bench play tends to pick up at home, which bodes well for a Celtics' second unit that is coming off its first game in this series in which they outscored their Heat backup brethren, 19-16. Between Mickael Pietrus and Keyon Dooling, the C's defensive duo has stepped up their game offensively by averaging 13 points off the bench in the Celtics last two games.

Highlights: Boston Celtics 109, Indiana Pacers 100

Highlights: Boston Celtics 109, Indiana Pacers 100

Catch the highlights of the Boston Celtics 109-100 win over the Indiana Pacers at home and hear from Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Al Horford.

Bradley 'not even tired' after playing 39 minutes vs. Pacers

Bradley 'not even tired' after playing 39 minutes vs. Pacers

BOSTON – As Avery Bradley made his way to the middle of the post-game media scrum inside the Boston Celtics locker room, he was informed that he had played 39 minutes in their 109-100 win over Indiana.

“I played 39?” Bradley said. “Man, I’m not even tired.”

And that may be the clearest sign to date that Bradley, a defensive pest who has been pestered by injuries this season, is as healthy as we’ve seen him in some time.

In addition to scoring 18 points on 7-for-13 shooting, he also grabbed eight rebounds, dished out a couple of assists, had a steal and was the head of the defensive snake that made life as hard as possible on Paul George who still managed to have a big night scoring the ball.

For Bradley to play so many minutes is a bit of a surprise when you consider how overcautious the Celtics were with his return from a right Achilles injury that kept him out for 18 straight games.

Bradley attributes the Celtics having some time off leading up Wednesday’s game.

“It was good for us and we were definitely prepared (on Wednesday),” Bradley said. “And it showed we’re improving every day as a team. We’re really locking in when we need to.”

And while he was one of three different primary defenders on George (Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder were the others), Bradley was the guy head coach Brad Stevens turned to most consistently down the stretch.

Bradley was the only Celtic to play all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter. The only other players that were on the floor for the entire fourth quarter, were Indiana's Monta Ellis and George.

You think Bradley was out there to shut down (2-for-10 from the field) Ellis?

Uh … nope!

“He (Bradley) was on Paul some,” Stevens said. “Not the whole time he was in. Marcus (Smart) guarded him a lot. Jae (Crowder) guarded him some as well. We just felt like we had to rotate bodies on them. I did not plan on playing Avery quite that many minutes.”

Stevens put Bradley back in the game to start the second and fourth quarters, something he normally does for Terry Rozier who did not play (coaches decision).

“And he maybe sat a minute at the end of the second,” Stevens said. “So that’s 24 minutes and usually it’s about twelve-to-fifteen.”

The additional playing time is something Bradley certainly isn’t going to ever complain about.

The same holds true for the Celtics having clinched a playoff spot prior to Wednesday’s tip-off.

“I don’t think anyone talked about it,” Bradley said. “We were just treating this like any other game, try to be prepared, go out there and execute the offensive game plan … I feel we did a great job of doing that.”

Indeed, the Celtics are playing with a flow and overall rhythm that’s making it extremely tough on their foes.

“If you look at their roster, everybody knows what to expect out of everybody,” said Paul George. “There’s never a moment where a guy is like, ‘What kind of shot are you taking?’ or ‘what are you doing?’ They are beyond that.”