Celtics-Lakers preview: Barbosa rolling along

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Celtics-Lakers preview: Barbosa rolling along

BOSTON No matter if you're a Celtics fan or a die-hard lover of the Los Angeles Lakers, both teams have players who were seldom-used that are now benefiting from injuries and opportunities of late to play.

Few stick out more than Celtics guard Leandro Barbosa whose play in the fourth quarter on Wednesday was arguably the difference in the C's pulling out a 99-95 win at Toronto.

Barbosa had 14 points, 12 of which came in the fourth quarter on an array of drives to the basket and jumpers.

It is that ability to provide instant offense that makes Barbosa such an invaluable member of this squad, which will have an offensive lull or two every night.

"Barbosa is just a player," said Paul Pierce. "You can throw him out there pretty much with anybody. He knows how to score the ball, he knows how to play the game. He's so quick when he gets the ball in transition. He's so crafty . . . he can do so many things."

Which is why the Celtics felt they were getting a steal in landing him for the veteran's minimum.

And that's why Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, put to bed quickly the rumors floating about that Barbosa wanted to be released from his contract with the Celtics which later turned out to be something both Barbosa and Ainge denied.

"We love Leandro and what he brings to this team, obviously," Ainge told CSNNE.com. "But he knew that the opportunities he has had in the past, probably wouldn't be as plentiful here based on the players we have. You look at our roster, and we're really deep at his position. Having said that, he is still an important part of what we're doing here."

Especially now with Rajon Rondo (torn right ACL) out for the season.

"I just want to help the team win," Barbosa told CSNNE.com recently. "And when I get a chance to play, I want to play well. Scoring, passing, whatever it is Doc (Rivers) needs me to do, that's what I want to do. I just want to win, that's all."

He will get more opportunities to do just that in tonight's game against the Lakers who have knocked off the Celtics in each of their last three meetings.

Here are some key factors to pay attention to as the C's try to match their season-best winning streak of six against their cross-coastal rival.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: With significant injuries hampering both the Celtics and the Lakers, veteran stars on both teams have stepped up their games, especially on the boards. Paul Pierce is averaging 10 rebounds per game in the last five without Rajon Rondo, while Kobe Bryant is averaging 7.5 rebounds per game in the Lakers' last six while both Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol have been hurting or out. Both Pierce and Bryant average just over 5 rebounds per game for their careers.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Brandon Bass vs. Earl Clark. Bass has become a more reliable rebounder as well as facilitator. Yes, "No Pass" Bass does in fact pass the rock every now and then. As for Clark, he has done a solid job as a starter for the Lakers. It will be interesting to see how he handles continuing to play well while trying to provide some of the production that the Lakers will surely lose with Pau Gasol out for at least a month with a foot injury.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jason Terry was one of the few Celtics players that didn't put up impressive numbers at Toronto on Wednesday. The C's will need a lift from someone not named Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce tonight. This would be a good night for the Jet to take off and have a big game.

STAT TO TRACK: The three-point shot has been a part of both Boston's and the Los Angeles Lakers' success of late, but in a different way. In the last five games, Boston has limited opponents to 5.2 threes made per game, the fifth-best mark in the league during that span. In that same period of time, the Lakers have connected on 8.2 threes per game, which ranks fifth in the league.

Celtics hold off Heat fourth-quarter rally for 112-108 win

Celtics hold off Heat fourth-quarter rally for 112-108 win

BOSTON –  As the final 10 or so games for playoff-bound teams like the Boston Celtics were poked and prodded to see who would have the toughest go of things down the stretch, the Celtics were deemed to have the easiest go of things.

Somebody forgot to tell their foes because it seems every night the Celtics are in a down-to-the-wire battle that’s not decided until the final minute or so of play.

And Sunday’s game against the Miami Heat was no exception with the Celtics managing to outlast the Heat for a 112-108 win. 

A 3-pointer by Jae Crowder put the Celtics ahead 102-101, which was soon followed by a pair of Isaiah Thomas free throws and a Thomas lay-up which made it a 106-101 game.

Miami's James Johnson scored four straight to make it a one-point game (106-105) with a minute to play. 

But Boston managed to maintain their lead for the remainder of the game as both teams exchanged free throws and defensive stops before the Heat simply ran out of time.

Boston (48-26) has now won four in a row and and eight of its last 10. 

In addition, Sunday's victory matched the team's win total from a year ago, with eight games to play. 

And maybe most important, Boston has now set itself up to at a minimum have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a really strong shot at finishing with the top overall record in the East and with it, home court advantage throughout every round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. 

Both teams swapped one defensive stop for another, a free throw here with a few made baskets sprinkled in for good measure.

And with 4:50 to play, the score was tied at 99 following an Isaiah Thomas lay-up.

Boston went on a 7-2 run capped off by a driving lay-up by Thomas that made it 106-101.

But the Heat responded with a James Johnson dunk followed by a pair of free throws by Johnson which made it a 106-105 game with 1:23 to play.

Boston countered with – who else? – Isaiah Thomas whose driving lay-up which was set up by a Marcus Smart offensive rebound, gave the Celtics a 108-105 lead with 60 seconds to play when Miami called a time-out.

Thomas led all scorers with 30 points while Horford once again flirted with a triple-double, finishing with seven points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. 

This game being so close down the stretch wasn’t all that surprising when you consider it was a relatively close game most of the night.

Trailing 58-53 at the half, the Celtics knew that changes had to be made in order for them to regain control.

It didn’t take long to see that the Celtics’ plan of attack in the second half was to do just that … attack!

They were more aggressive offensively with their drives and ball movement.

Defensively, their close-outs were tighter, rotations more crisp.

Within minutes, the Celtics had the game tied up on an Amir Johnson basket and 3-pointer from Jae Crowder.

Boston began to get some separation behind a 9-2 run that gave them a 79-73 lead, and closed the quarter off by scoring six of the last eight points to lead 85-75 going into the fourth.

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Johnson and Johnson doing damage off Heat bench

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Johnson and Johnson doing damage off Heat bench

BOSTON – Continuing their strong play at home won’t be easy for the Boston Celtics who trail the Miami Heat at the half 58-53.

The Celtics came into tonight’s game having won three straight and 12 of their last 13 at the TD Garden.

But the Heat have played well at both ends of the floor in a game that they have led for most of the night.

One of the biggest positives for the Celtics has been the return of Avery Bradley to the lineup. The 6-foot-2 Bradley, who has missed a team-high 24 games this season due to illness or injury, did not play in Friday’s win over Phoenix due to flu-like symptoms which kept him hospitalized. At the half he had eight points and two assists. 

The way Miami kept matching the Celtics shot-for-shot in the second quarter, it certainly had to make a number of Celtics feel ill.

But considering Boston fell behind by as many as 15 points, being just a couple possessions behind at the half is certainly something they can look to build upon against a Heat team that’s 35-37, but are playing as well as any team in the NBA when you consider they began the season with an 11-30 start.  

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from the first half of Sunday’s game between Boston and Miami.

 

STARS

Hassan Whiteside

Always a problem for Boston, he made an impact around the rim throughout the half in which he had a near double-double of nine points and eight rebounds.

Isaiah Thomas

Miami has done a nice job of keeping his touches at a minimum, but Thomas is too good a scorer to be shut down. He had 10 points at the half on just 2-for-4 shooting.

 

STUDS

Johnson and Johnson

We’re talking about Tyler Johnson and James Johnson (no relation) who have been a devastating 1-2 punch off the Heat bench. Johnson leads all Miami scorers with 12 points while Johnson has played the point-forward position really well with six points and five assists.

Jae Crowder

All the attention Thomas has been getting will continue to give Crowder great looks offensively, so it’s on him to the most of those opportunities. At the half, he led the Celtics with 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting.

Amir Johnson

He has made his usual share of hustle plays, but Johnson’s doing a nice job scoring when the opportunity is there, as well as holding his own defensively and on the boards. At the half, he has eight points while making all three of his shots from the field to go with four rebounds and two assists.

 

DUDS

Celtics turnovers

Too many mistakes by Boston not only allowed Miami to get some easy baskets but also took away opportunities for the Celtics offense to generate some points. At the half, Boston has turned the ball over 11 times which led to five points – the point differential in the game at the half.