Celtics-Heat Game 1 review: Rondo can't get it going

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Celtics-Heat Game 1 review: Rondo can't get it going

MIAMI Rajon Rondo didn't have a triple-double for the Boston Celtics.

Heck, he failed to crack double digits in assists for only the third time in the C's 14 playoff games this year.

It was that kind of game for Rondo and the Boston Celtics as they dropped a 93-79 loss to the Miami Heat in Game One of the Eastern Conference finals.

Rondo finished with 16 points and nine rebounds, but only tallied six assists.

For most players, such numbers would be construed as having a pretty good game. But then again, most players don't mean as much to their team's success as Rondo means to the Celtics.

For the C's to have any shot at winning this series, Rondo has to play better - a lot better - than he did in Game 1. As you talk to one Heat player after another, they'll all tell you that limiting Rondo's impact will be the key to them winning this series.

"We have to be in tune with Rondo," said Heat forward LeBron James, who led all players with 32 points and 13 rebounds on Monday. "He's probably the number one unpredictable guy we have in our league as far as how he forces his action."

Rondo has shown the ability at times to take over games as a passer, scorer and rebounder.

On Monday, the All-Star point guard came up short on all those fronts.

"(Rajon Rondo) is the head of their team," said Miami's Mario Chalmers, the initial defender for the Heat on Rondo. "I was trying to make it a tough night for him."

Chalmers, with the help of teammates like James, were successful as Rondo shot 8-for-20 from the field and had four turnovers - all of which came in the first quarter.

But as is the case often on nights when Rondo struggled, he too played a role in his less-than-stellar play.

"He's got to be in attack (mode)," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "The second quarter he was attacking and attacking."

Because of that, the C's were able to wipe out a double digit deficit and go into the half tied at 46.

However, soon after that he began to seemingly focus more on trying to figure out the Heat defense, than simply make the necessary play.

"I thought he was reading a lot instead of playing on his instincts," Rivers said. "Sometimes his IQ hurts him at times. He's trying to read the defense. You can't read and play at that speed at the same time."

Of course, Monday's loss serves as a reminder of how so much of Rondo's success is predicated on whether his teammates can knock down shots.

Far too often, they came up short on Monday.

"We're human," Rondo says.

He's right.

Rondo's problems on Monday certainly played a role in Boston's Game 1 loss. But there were others. Here are some of the keys outlined prior to the game, and how they actually played out in Monday's Game One defeat for the Celtics.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Even with rosters filled with dynamic scorers, both teams will be hard-pressed to crack the 100-point barrier during this series. Both were among the top teams defensively during the regular season in terms of limiting opponents scoring. In the playoffs, it has been more of the same. Boston is giving up just 83.9 points per game, the fewest of any team in the playoffs this year. Right behind them is Miami, which is giving up just 85.5 points per game.

WHAT WE SAW: Points were indeed hard to come by for both teams, as each team went about trying to control the game's pace. For the most part, the scoring was indeed to the Heat's liking as Miami scored 10 points above the C's playoff average of points given up. "I didn't think we played great defensively, and we still held them to 93 points," Rivers said. "But at the pace the game was played, 93 felt like 110 because it was a slow-paced game."

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Brandon Bass vs. Shane Battier: This is one of the few head-to-head battles that on paper at least, appears to be a toss-up. Bass has a definite strength advantage over Battier and if you're the Celtics, you'd love for him to take advantage of it. But because he spends so much time - and with good reason - looking for his mid-range jumper, there's a good chance that this edge won't be utilized much at all. Battier has proven himself to be a better-than-average NBA defender. But most of his best work has come at defending small forwards who for the most part, aren't as strong as Bass.

WHAT WE SAW: This was a battle that was as decisively lopsided as any of the matchups among starters. Bass had eight points on 4-for-11 shooting, with just two rebounds. In addition to corralling just about every loose ball along with making damn near every hustle play under the sun, Battier emerged with a 10-point, 10-rebound double-double that was a major factor in Miami's victory. "I take a lot of pride in it (rebounding)," Battier said. "I have not had 10 rebounds in about three years."

PLAYER TO WATCH: Ray Allen didn't shoot the ball well against the Sixers, but he delivered a couple of 3-point bombs in the fourth quarter that in typical Ray Allen fashion, came right on time. Look for the Heat to play off Allen some in the game's early moments, just to see if he can pick up where he left off in Game Seven, or will he revert back to struggling to knock down open or lightly-contested shots.

WHAT WE SAW: Doc Rivers he has to do something about Ray Allen, who continues to struggle at both ends of the floor for the Celtics. The plan for now is to keep him in the starting lineup, but Rivers said he will look at ways to potentially shift around when he comes in and out of the game. "Ray is going to try and figure it out. We're going to try and figure out a way of even maybe subbing him differently to keep him strong," Rivers said. "Honestly, I don't know yet with Ray."

STAT TO TRACK: Miami is one of the highest scoring teams in the playoffs with a 95.5 points per game average which ranks fourth among postseason clubs. For Boston to keep the score more manageable, they have to limit the Heat's point production off turnovers. During the regular season, Miami averaged a league-best 19.7 points off turnovers. They're still at the top of the NBA heap in that category, averaging a league-high 18.9 points per game off turnovers. Meanwhile, the Celtics will try to keep the Heat relatively close to the C's postseason average in points allowed off turnovers, which is 13.8 points which ranks fifth among playoff teams.

WHAT WE SAW: The Celtics did a pretty good job of keeping turnovers low which in turn, meant fewer opportunities for the Heat to score in transition. Miami had 12 points off of Boston's turnovers, and had just 10 fast-break points for the game. Boston's poor free throw shooting (11-for-21) and inability to keep the Heat from scoring in the paint - Miami was 21 for 27 on field goal attempts in the paint - were far more critical in the game's outcome, than the C's turnovers and fast-break point totals.

Avery Bradley (Achilles) returning to Celtics lineup vs. Hawks

Avery Bradley (Achilles) returning to Celtics lineup vs. Hawks

BOSTON – The wait is finally over for the Boston Celtics and Avery Bradley.

Bradley will return to the Celtics starting lineup tonight after having missed the previous 18 games (and 22 out of 23) with a right Achilles injury.

“I’m excited to be back out there,” Bradley said. “I can’t wait for the game to start.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said Bradley will play with a minutes restriction for the first week, and adjust accordingly.

“I wanted to come back four weeks ago,” Bradley said. “But I have to do what’s smartest. Those (medical) guys know better than me. It was tough listening to them. But we came to a compromise I guess you could say and I can play tonight. I’m happy with that decision.”

Bradley said the training staff wanted him to get more practices playing at the level he’s accustomed to, prior to returning to action.

But with the Celtics’ schedule, practice time would be few and far between so limiting his minutes initially is indeed a compromise of sorts.

Although rookie Jaylen Brown has done a solid job filling in for Bradley with the first unit, Stevens had every intention of Bradley returning as a starter.

“He’s our starting two-guard,” Stevens said. “We started the year really well as far as that group playing together. We haven’t had that group playing together very often. Jaylen and Marcus (Smart) are both able to give us a lot off the bench as well as if we need to plug them into a (starting) lineup later on. We feel good about that.”

As far as handling Bradley’s minutes this week, Stevens has a very simple approach to what he needs to do.

“I’m just going to play him in the first couple of stints,” Stevens said. “And when his minutes run out he won’t play anymore. It is hard if you’re trying to save minutes for the end. I’m not sure that makes a lot of sense with getting stiff, sitting for a long time, coming off a long lay-off.”

Bradley is the Celtics’ second-leading scorer at 17.7 points per game along with a team-high 6.9 rebounds. A first-team All-NBA Defender last season, Bradley is also shooting a career-high 40.9 percent from 3-point range.

Thomas says he's 'not even worried about' bad blood with Schroder

Thomas says he's 'not even worried about' bad blood with Schroder

BOSTON -- No matter what Isaiah Thomas and Dennis Schroder say, you get the feeling there’s still some bad blood between these two.
 
It goes back to the playoffs last season when Thomas slapped Schroder in the face and extended into their last meeting in which Schroder said Thomas spoke unkind words about his family in Atlanta (allegations that Thomas has repeatedly denied).
 
Following Atlanta’s shoot-around this morning, Schroder doubled down on his previous comments about Thomas having said things about his family.
 
“Everybody heard it, too,” Schroder said earlier today. “My family sat courtside too. Thabu (Sefolosha) heard some things; he was involved in that. It is what it is. We just try to compete and it’s getting heated in the game. It is what it is.”
 
I asked Thomas about the Schroder allegations following Boston’s 104-98 win at Detroit on Sunday night.
 
“Man, I’m past that. I’m not worried about that guy,” Thomas said. “Once he did that the last game, where he tried to damage my character, (saying I was) talking about his parents … I’m past that. Hopefully we can beat the Atlanta Hawks. I’m not even worried about him.”
 
Schroder speaks a similar tone about his approach to tonight’s game.
 
Boston (38-21) is looking to build off the win at Detroit which snapped a two-game losing streak.
 
Meanwhile, the Hawks (32-26) have lost three straight -- each defeat by at least 15 points -- and four of their last five.
 
In the last two losses, Schroder was suspended for one game because he missed practice following the All-Star break (he told the Hawks there was a visa mix-up) and was late arriving to the team bus for another so he began that game on the bench.
 
That’s why the beef that still exist between both players isn’t likely to be a major deal tonight; at least that’s what they want us to believe.
 
“We gotta win,” Schroder said. “We lost two in a row after All-Star break. I think the team is more important than a player on the other team. We just focus on winning this game and try to compete for 48 minutes.”
 
Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer will be the first to tell you that Schroder’s competitive drive is among the reasons the franchise hasn’t looked back on its decision to trade all-star Jeff Teague and give Schroder the keys to running the team.
 
He has certainly had his moments when that decision might be questioned, but for the most part he has shown the kind of growth individually that they were hoping for as a full-time starter.
 
This season he’s averaging career highs in scoring (17.4) and assists (6.3) per game.
 
However, Atlanta hasn’t enjoyed the same level of success this year that we’ve seen from them recently.
 
A fixture among the top two or three teams the past couple of years, they are currently fifth in the NBA, trailing East-leading Cleveland by 8.5 games and the No. 2 Celtics by 5.5 games.
 
And while Boston does have a nice cushion with 24 games left to play, they know a strong finish will position them to better control their postseason destiny -- something that hasn’t been the case the past couple of seasons in which Boston began the playoffs on the road as a lower seed.
 
As much as the need to win will be front and center tonight, all eyes will be on the two point guards.
 
But in the end, both understand that tonight’s game isn’t about which of them can out-perform the other.
 
“Dennis is a competitive guy, as is Isaiah,” Budenholzer said. “They both are more concerned about their teams and what’s best for their teams.”