Celtics-Heat: Game 7 preview

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Celtics-Heat: Game 7 preview

MIAMI The disappointment of Thursday's Game 6 loss is a thing of the past now for the Boston Celtics. And while that punch-in-the-gut moment hurt the entire team, it's hard to imagine it hitting anyone harder than it did Paul Pierce.

An elimination game, at home. A chance to send the heavily-favored Miami Heat home for the summer. It was the kind of situation, the kind of moment that typically brings out the best in Pierce. Instead, Celtics Nation had to witness Pierce at his worst, scoring just nine points on 4-for-18 shooting.

If there's a player due for a breakout game in this series, it's Pierce.

The struggles in Game 6 were a reflection on how this entire series has been for the Celtics' Captain.

He is shooting just 33.6 percent in this series which is the worst shooting percentage he has had in 22 playoff series.

"He'll bounce back," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "Paul is a big-game player. Game 7s are the biggest that you can possibly have. What I saw (in Game 6) was I thought he was ready for the game. He just didn't have a great game. We don't look into it much more than that; at least I don't. He was down. Kevin (Garnett) was down. But you can see their resolve in the locker room. They're not just going to pack for (Game 7). They're going to bring suits for Tuesday (Game 1 of the NBA Finals), and they're going to bring suits for Thursday (Game 2 of the NBA Finals). And that's the way we're going to plan it."

Pierce's ability to bounce back and lead the way for the Celtics will indeed be a factor in tonight's Game 7 matchup. Here are some other keys to pay attention to as the Celtics look to do what hasn't been done in the Big Three era - win a Game 7 on the road.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - Kevin Garnett didn't get nearly as many touches around the basket in Game 6 that he's used to, or the Celtics need in order to be successful. Plan on a heavy diet of Garnett around the basket tonight. "He really made the first post shot, and then he didn't get one for ten touches," said C's coach Doc Rivers. I thought they (Miami Heat) threw him out of his rhythm. We threw him out of his rhythm. And all great scorers or great players are rhythmic. I didn't think we did a very good job of keeping him within the rhythm of our offense."
MATCHUP TO WATCH - Rajon Rondo vs. LeBron James: They won't face each other to start the game, but there's no question they are the two biggest stars in this series. Each has had an out-of-this-world game in this series, the kind of performances that will pale in comparison if they were to have a good game tonight and lead their respective teams to victory.
PLAYER TO WATCH - Brandon Bass is indeed a wild card in this game tonight. The Celtics need him to be a factor both on the boards and in the scorer's column. With so much attention being paid to Kevin Garnett in the post, the perimeter shooting of Paul Pierce and Ray Allen along with Rajon Rondo's dribble penetration, he'll get opportunities to make a difference in what has to be one of the biggest games of his career.

STAT TO TRACK - Of all the statistics from Boston's Game 6 loss that contributed to the C's defeat, their 14 team assists stood out. It was the fewest assists they had in the playoffs, which to some degree spoke volumes about how poorly they shot the ball and to some degree, their ball movement not being as crisp as it usually is. "You can't just look at a stat sheet and say that we only had 14 (assists) and say we didn't move the ball," said C's Rajon Rondo, who had 10 of the team's 14 assists. "Guys missed shots. When you shoot the ball well, if you make a couple of lay-ups, that's more assists. We moved the ball well. We just didn't put the ball in the hole."

Young getting on floor more for Celtics, including key fourth-quarter stints

Young getting on floor more for Celtics, including key fourth-quarter stints

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – For most of his life, basketball has come easy to James Young.
 
So, the idea that in training camp he wasn’t just fighting to get playing time but also to stay in the NBA, was a jarring eye-opener.
 
To Young’s credit, he rose to the challenge and beat out R.J. Hunter for the Celtics' final roster spot.
 
And while Young’s playing time has been sporadic, he has done a much better job of maximizing his opportunities.
 
So, as the Celtics roll into Detroit to face the Pistons, Young finds himself playing his best basketball as a pro, good enough to make coach Brad Stevens not hesitate to put him in the game in the fourth quarter of a close matchup.
 
“It’s exciting to come back home,” Young, who grew up in nearby Rochester Hills, Mich., told CSNNE.com. “A lot of my family will be there. I’m not thinking about me. I’m just trying to do what I can to help the team.”
 
And lately, he’s getting an opportunity to do just that beyond being someone who helps in practice.
 
We saw that in the 107-97 loss at Toronto on Friday. Young came off the bench to play four minutes, 36 seconds in the fourth quarter with only two other Celtics reserves, Marcus Smart (8:39) and Jonas Jerebko (5:10) seeing more action down the stretch.
 
“It means a lot,” Young said. “He’s starting to trust me a little bit more. That’s a good thing. I’m just trying to do little things; rebound, get defensive stops and score when I get a chance.”
 
The fact that his scoring is just starting to take shape helps shed some light on why he has been buried so deep on the Celtics bench.
 
For his first couple seasons, Young seemed a hesitant shooter physically overwhelmed by opponents too strong for him to defend as well as too physical for him to limit their effectiveness.
 
But this season, he has done a better job at holding his own as a defender while making himself an available scoring option who can play off his teammates.
 
Young is averaging just 2.9 points per game this season, but he’s shooting a career-high 48.9 percent from the field and 41.7 percent on 3’s, which is also a career-high.
 
Getting on the floor more often has in many ways provided yet another boost of confidence to Young.
 
“I’m getting used to the flow of the game playing more consistently,” Young said. “I know what to do. It’s slowing up a little more and it’s getting easier.”
 

Blakely: Raptors newcomers show Celtics what they're missing

Blakely: Raptors newcomers show Celtics what they're missing

TORONTO – It’s far too soon to say if the Celtics’ decision to stand pat at the trade deadline was a mistake.
 
But the early returns aren’t encouraging.
 
Their 107-97 loss Friday night to the Toronto Raptors wasn’t because of Kyle Lowry (right wrist), who didn’t even play, or DeMar DeRozan, who played out his mind while scoring a career-high 43 points.
 
The game will be remembered by the new guys Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, both acquired at the trade deadline by the Raptors.
 
Ibaka, who was a bad fit, and on most nights a bad player, in Orlando, looked like the O-K-C Ibaka while scoring 15 points to go with seven rebounds against the Celtics – numbers that were better than his two games combined against the Celtics this season with the Magic when he scored a total of just 12 points while grabbing eight rebounds.
 
And then there was Tucker, who got a crash video course on Raptors playbook just hours before the game, and proceeded to show the kind of toughness at both ends of the floor that has made him one of the league’s more underrated defenders as he finished with a near double-double of nine points and 10 rebounds.
 
It was their first game with their new team, but you would have thought they had been with Toronto all season long with how seamless they seemed to fit in.
 
Ibaka draining jumpers, Tucker causing chaos defensively, while absolutely crushing the Celtics on the boards...their play was a painful reminder of what could have been for the Green team.
 
Both were rumored to have been in the Celtics’ crosshairs prior to the Thursday 3 p.m. trade deadline. The Celtics were lukewarm at best on Ibaka (they didn’t want what would have been a 25-game rental) and just couldn’t quite strike a deal and cross the finish line for Tucker.
 
It’s too soon to hit the panic button and rip Danny Ainge for not getting a minor deal done like adding Tucker or Ibaka.
 
Still, his players have to embrace the truth behind what transpired this trade season.
 
Ainge went big-game hunting, focusing most of the team's efforts on landing a major difference-maker, a la Jimmy Butler or Paul George.
 
When that didn’t work out, he settled for the next best thing, which was to keep this group together.
 
The onus is now on them to prove that trust Ainge has in them, was well-placed.
 
Putting too much stock in the first game after the break is a risky proposition that no one should subscribe to.
 
But in the loss, it revealed many of the concerns and weaknesses of this roster that tend to get magnified in defeat while glossed over when they manage to win despite those flaws.
 
Isaiah Thomas may be the best scorer in the fourth quarter, but he’s human.
 
There will be games when Mr. Fourth Quarter can’t get it done.
 
Friday night was that kind of game for him. He scored just four of his team-high 20 points in the fourth.
 
And as the Raptors blitzed him repeatedly with two and three defenders, his teammates failed to step up when the opportunity was there to make impactful, game-altering plays down the stretch.
 
Watching the Celtics’ defense in the second half was painful.
 
DeRozan got whatever he wanted, when he wanted it.
 
And when he missed, the Raptors controlled the boards, got all the 50/50 balls and repeatedly out-worked Boston.
 
It exposed Boston in a way that’s painful to see, especially when those inflicting the greatest amount of damage could have been in the Celtics huddle and not the one on the other sideline.