Celtics fall flat against Heat in Game 1, 99-90

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Celtics fall flat against Heat in Game 1, 99-90

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

MIAMI Miami Heat forward LeBron James probably said it best late last week.

As Rajon Rondo goes, so go the Boston Celtics.

So when he went to the bench early in the second quarter, so went just about any chance the C's had of digging themselves out of an early deficit against the Heat.

What started off as a small hole soon became a grave for the Celtics, whose chances of stealing home court away from Miami died a quick and early death with a 99-90 Game 1 loss.

"Give them credit," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "I thought they were prepared, they were ready, they played with unbelievable intensity. And I didn't think we handled that very well."

That wasn't the only problem for the Celtics.

Paul Pierce, who scored 19 points on 6-for-14 shooting, was ejected with seven minutes to play after being whistled for a double technical foul along with Dwyane Wade.

It was Pierce's second technical foul - he was whistled for a double technical foul earlier in the game, along with Miami's James Jones - which is an automatic ejection.

Pierce was fouled on both plays in which he later received a technical foul, fouls that Rivers believes should have been called flagrant fouls.

But he added, "I don't think we should react to either one. I thought as a whole we were the retaliating team tonight. We were never the first-hit team."

Miami has repeatedly said that they need to bring a certain brand of physical play to this series, the kind of physical play that has been a Celtics trademark for years.

For the most part, they did just that.

And the Celtics didn't handle it very well, evident by the C's being whistled for three individual technical fouls and a flagrant against Jermaine O'Neal.

But the problems for Boston began well before Pierce getting ejected.

After picking up two fouls in the first quarter, Rondo picked up a third less than a minute into the second quarter.

Rondo played just over 32 minutes, and spent the bulk of the second quarter on the bench as the Heat continued to pull away.

The foul trouble wasn't an issue in the second half.

But by then, it was too late.

The C's were in too deep a ditch to come out of, even with Rondo on the floor.

"I just tried to play aggressive in the second half," said Rondo, who had eight points and seven assists while turning the ball over five times.

With Rondo a non-factor for most of the game, Miami relied heavily on Wade to carry the Heat.

He finished with a game-high 38 points, which included 23 in the first half that he capped off with a running bank shot over Boston's Delonte West.

"Dwyane is a special player; he really is," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "I've said this so many times, he just figures it out. He is very diligent."

And deadly when he's on top of his game, which was indeed the case on Sunday.

As impressive as Wade was, he had some company - and it wasn't the usual cast of characters, either.

Jones, a backup, had a career playoff-high 25 points off the bench, a back-breaking performance that the C's simply could not recover from.

"I tried to focus this week because I knew that Boston was going to try and take our big three away and somebody was going to have to step up," Jones said.

Boston fell behind by as many as 19 points in the third quarter, but went on a 10-0 run to cut the deficit back to single digits.

They had ample opportunities to inch even closer, but repeatedly failed to make shots that on most nights, were a given to be made.

And while the Celtics are certainly disappointed with the loss, there is still a sense within the locker room that this series is far from over.

"This is a loss. That's it," Rivers said. "We will learn and watch film. It's only one game, but I don't know if it's a winnable game or not. We didn't play very well and we had our chances. I just thought they outplayed us tonight."

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

Blakely: Game 4 loss shows just how much Celtics miss Isaiah

Blakely: Game 4 loss shows just how much Celtics miss Isaiah

CLEVELAND --  Down the stretch in Game 4, the Celtics were desperate for someone, anyone, who could slow down Kyrie Irving.
 
But short of that, Boston could have used an offensive closer, too. You know, someone like Isaiah Thomas.

GAME 4: CAVS 112, CELTICS 99

 

The Celtics have relied on the two-time All-Star to carry much of the offensive burden this season, but he was almost always at his best in the fourth quarter.
 
A right hip injury knocked him out of this series after 1 1/2 games. Still, Boston managed to win Game 3 without him and, for large chunks of Tuesday night, seemed poised to beat the Cavs again on their home floor.
 
But as much as Game 4 was a reminder of just how special a talent Irving is (42 points, 21 in the third quarter when the game’s momentum swung in Cleveland's favor), it also provided a clue to the clueless who thought the Celtics were actually better without Isaiah Thomas.
 
Defensively?
 
Absolutely.
 
It’s no secret that teams go to great lengths to try and use his 5-foot-9 stature against him. And as we have seen, the deeper we get into the postseason the more trouble he and the Celtics seem to encounter from a defensive standpoint.
 
But just as we praise Irving for being such a special talent, Thomas has shown that he, too, has offensive gifts that, throughout this season, have left many fans, media and defenders befuddled as to how “the little fella” keeps coming up with one big play, one big shot after another.
 
But as we have learned, he has been dealing with a sore right hip injury for several weeks. The pain and discomfort eventually became too much to bear and so the Celtics did the right thing and shut him down.
 
Without him, the C's are still a good team that on any given night can knock off anyone, even the defending champs.
 
But as Game 4 reminded us, they need Thomas in order to be their best.
 
When Irving torched Boston’s entire defense with jumpers, ankle-breaking crossovers, Euro-step lay-ups and free throws, the Celtics had no one to turn to who could maybe, just maybe, go back at Irving at the other end of the floor.
 
That's what Thomas does that makes him such a special, unique talent in this league.
 
He can score in a variety of ways, with the best in the NBA.
 
We saw that this past season, when he led all players in the Eastern Conference in scoring with a 28.9 points-per-game average.
 
Boston’s excellent ball movement and high assist numbers are certainly important to the team’s success. But to make a deep and meaningful playoff run, you need one or two guys who can just go get buckets regardless of what the opponent does defensively.
 
That’s not Avery Bradley.
 
That’s not Al Horford.
 
That’s not Kelly Olynyk.
 
You can search, poke and prod this roster all you want, and you'll come up empty when it comes to finding a player like that . . . other than Isaiah Thomas.
 
The fact the Celtics were able to avoid getting swept is a victory of sorts in itself. Boston’s coaching staff, as well as the front office, has repeatedly said that as talented as their team is, they aren’t on the same level of the defending champion Cavaliers.
 
And yet here we are four games into this series and the Celtics are basically a bad half of basketball away from being tied, 2-2.
 
It says a lot about their mental toughness, their ability to handle and navigate past adversity to give themselves a chance to be competitive against any team -- including the Cavs.
 
But their success this season has always been about the collective group, regardless of how many late-game shots Isaiah Thomas knocks down.
 
And while he has his shortcomings defensively, not having him available is going to hurt them in those late-game moments when they need a closer. It’s not a coincidence the Celtics were just 2-4 when he didn’t play during the regular season.
 
So as cool as it was for them to win Game 3 without Thomas, he’s still the straw that stirs the Celtics emotionally, bringing them to levels few think they're capable of reaching.
 
They were able to get by for one night without him, but remember this: It took Marcus Smart having an Isaiah Thomas-like game of 27 points and seven made 3’s, for them to win.
 
No one did anything remotely close to that Tuesday night.
 
They looked like the Isaiah Thomas-less Celtics, which is a look they don’t need this time of year.
 
Because that look is so not about winning.