Celtics-Heat review: Green steps up for Boston

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Celtics-Heat review: Green steps up for Boston

BOSTON Knowing the rest of the season will be a Rajon Rondo-less one, the Boston Celtics are going to need players to step up and fill the void.

The first to do so is Jeff Green, whose strong play on Sunday could not have come at a better time as the Celtics squeaked out a 100-98 double overtime win against Miami.

Green had 11 points off the bench, but more important than that, he played a pivotal role in forcing LeBron James into needing a ton of shots to put up LeBron-like numbers.

James had a game-high 34 points but needed 31 shots to do so.

There were times in the game when Doc Rivers would look over at Green and see that he was tired.

"The only coaching advice I had for him was, 'You can't get tired right now,'" Rivers said.

The fact that Rivers could tap into what Green was actually feeling, is a rarity.

Good or bad, winning or losing, Green rarely shows his emotions in the heat of battle.

Often that is seen as him not playing as hard as he should or giving the best effort.

"People outside this locker room, they don't know me," Green said. "What they see on the court, me not being a Kevin Garnett. But I play this game with all effort, all heart. I give it my all.

Green added, "I am emotional. I hate losing. I'm a competitive person. I just don't show it on the exterior."

The solid all-around play of Green was one of the keys to Boston's upset win over the Heat. Here are some other keys identified prior to the game and how they actually played out for the Celtics (21-23) as the C's snapped a season-long six game losing streak with the victory.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: This will be one of the few Miami Heat games in which the build-up isn't centered around LeBron James. Most of the attention leading up to today's game will be on former Celtic Ray Allen returning to the TD Garden for the first time since he left the C's for Miami during the offseason. The Celtics already have an idea of what Allen can do for the Heat. In the season-opener at Miami, Allen came off the Heat bench to score 19 points on 5-for-7 shooting in helping lead Miami to victory.

WHAT WE SAW: Ray Allen had a solid performance in his first game back facing the Celtics, leading all reserves in scoring with 21 points on 7-for-17 shooting.

After the game, Allen acknowledged it as being an emotional game, especially after the video tribute to him on the Jumbotron shortly before he entered the game in the first quarter.

"When you see something like that, you know when I saw it, just all those emotions came streaming back from all the great things we did here," Allen said. "And that's why I say I'll always remember the big games we played in and won, and I always know I'll always be a Celtic in my mind, regardless of what anyone else says."

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Avery Bradley vs Dwyane Wade: The Bradley block of D-Wade last year is still one of the better defensive plays the NBA has seen in recent years. But this individual matchup, like most for Boston against Miami, will be a difficult one for the C's to compete with let alone win.

WHAT WE SAW: Bradley made Wade into a high volume shooter as Wade tallied 17 points while needing 20 shots (he made just six) to do so.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Courtney Lee has been coming on strong of late and has earned the right to see more court time. He had 16 points off the Celtics bench against Atlanta despite not playing a single minute in the third quarter which as it turned out, was the C's worst quarter of the game and would ultimately prove to be their undoing.

WHAT WE SAW: Lee did not have a particularly impressive game offensively (4 points, 1-for-7 shooting), but his ability to defend all three perimeter positions at various times was a huge plus for the Celtics in getting the victory.

STAT TO TRACK: Keeping turnovers down will again be a priority for the Celtics. But it takes on even greater importance against a Heat team that's once again one of the best at generating offense off of their opponent's mistakes. Miami averages 18.1 points per game off of turnovers which ranks sixth in the NBA.

WHAT WE SAW: It was a pretty average night for the Heat's defense which forced the Celtics into turning the ball over 17 times which led to 18 points.

Chris Mannix: 'Great chance' Celtics capture No. 1 seed

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Chris Mannix: 'Great chance' Celtics capture No. 1 seed

Chris Mannix discusses the Boston Celtics chances of sealing the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and which low-seed team will give them the most problems in the playoffs.

Kelly Olynyk's 3-point game is helping him produce all over floor

Kelly Olynyk's 3-point game is helping him produce all over floor

Waltham, mass. – Kelly Olynyk is in a good place right now. 

He’s playing a key role on one of the top teams in the NBA, doing more than just stretch the floor with long-range jumpers and 3-pointers. He has been a solid positional defender most of his time in the NBA, but lately he has become one of the team’s best rebounders … really!

But more than anything, Olynyk is in the best shape of his career both mentally and physically, delivering strong play in several categories.

“When he plays aggressive and with confidence, that’s when he’s at his best,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. 

And lately, the best of Olynyk has been in steady rotation for the Celtics who will host the Phoenix Suns tonight. 

Olynyk attributes his recent strong play to seizing his opportunity to help the Celtics in what has been a season-long area of weakness. The fourth-year big man is a threat to score from 3-point range whenever he’s on the floor. Because of that, teams are overly concerned about his long-range shooting which has allowed him to be an effective driver into the paint and finisher around the rim. 

He has also benefited by being healthy, something he could not say was the case on the eve of the Celtics’ postseason run last season which ended in the second round to the Atlanta Hawks. Olynyk was hampered by a sore right shoulder injury that limited him in the playoffs against Atlanta, and later required surgery which sidelined him for the start of this season. 

But those pain-filled days where he gave more thought to his shoulder rather than shouldering a greater load for the Celtics, are behind him now. 

“It’s something that I had to deal with and I had to get surgery,” Olynyk said. “Now it feels better than it has. I feel strong, confident, ready to roll.”

Boston has won five of its last six games, and the play of Olynyk off the bench has been among the reasons for the team’s latest run of success. In those six games, Olynyk has averaged 10.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists while shooting a team-high 64.9 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from 3-point range in 20.5 minutes per game – all better than his season average in those respective categories. 

And among Celtics players who have averaged double-digit minutes in that span, Olynyk has a team-best rebounding percentage of .170 in addition to an effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) of .689 which is also tops among Boston players during their last six games.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens isn’t surprised to see Olynyk playing as well as he has now that he’s injury-free.

“I don’t think there’s anything more important than playing with clear minds and fresh legs,” Stevens said. “I just think that, and not being injured is a big part of that.”

For Olynyk, part of the challenge he has had since coming to the NBA was finding that balance between being aggressive and assertive, while making sure he got teammates involved when the opportunity presents itself.

“There’s definitely a fine line between being aggressive, forcing things, over-aggressive and create and open things up for others,” Olynyk said. “It’s kind of a balance, kind of like a yin and yang; just go out and play basketball the way you know how to play it. That’s what’s going to make you the best version of yourself and your team the best version they can be.”

Olynyk’s teammates encourage him often (Avery Bradley and Thomas are probably the two most consistent in his ear) to be more assertive, but they recognize he tends to be hesitant far too often for a player with his skillset.

“When he’s second-guessing and … shot-faking when he should have shot, just not being the aggressive player that we need him to be … we don’t need him to be like that,” said Thomas. “We believe in him. He just has to remain confident at all times. When he’s confident and aggressive, he’s a hell of a player.”