Celtics-Lakers review: What we saw . . .

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Celtics-Lakers review: What we saw . . .

LOS ANGELES The Boston Celtics have had their issues with fourth quarter execution at times this season.

That was indeed the case in Sunday's 97-94 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, a game in which the Celtics were outscored 8-0 over the final 2:41 of play.

"We got great shots," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "It's a make-miss league. We didn't make and they did."

That inability to knock down big shots against the Lakers spoiled what would have been one of the better wins this season for the Celtics (21-19).

Boston's Rajon Rondo, who had a team-high 24 points to go with 10 assists, echoed Rivers' sentiments about the team's play down the stretch.

"They made shots down the stretch and we didn't," Rondo said.

But Boston's problems down the stretch had more to do with than just missing shots.

"The problem was we couldn't get any stops," said Paul Pierce. "Kobe made a couple of tough shots. And they went down to (Andrew) Bynum and (Pau) Gasol."

The Lakers twin tower tandem each had a double-double with Bynum tallying 20 points and 14 rebounds, while Gasol chipped in with 13 points and 13 rebounds.

Fourth quarter execution was indeed a major factor in the game's outcome, but it wasn't the only one. Here are a few we identified prior to the game, and how they actually factored into the game's outcome.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Both teams have had their problems scoring, and today's game should not be any different. The Lakers come into the game ranked 19th in scoring, at 94.2 per game. Meanwhile, the Celtics are bottom-five in the NBA with a 90.8 points per game scoring average that ranks No. 26. With both teams also ranked among the top six in scoring defense, look for a repeat of their Feb. 9 game at the Garden which ended with a low scoring affair that was eventually won by the Lakers, 88-87.

WHAT WE SAW: Scoring was a bit up for both teams, primarily because both shot a fairly high percentage from the field. Boston connected on 47 percent of its shots, while the Lakers were successful on 50.7 percent of its shot attempts.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Brandon Bass vs. Pau Gasol: Gasol's length and craftiness around the basket should make this a favorable matchup for the Lakers, but Bass has continually proven to play bigger than his undersized, 6-foot-8 frame. As much as the Celtics will need him to provide rebounding and solid play defensively, they will also need him to do what he does best and that's score. In their first matchup on Feb. 9, Bass had eight points. He came into that game having reached double figures scoring in 10 of the previous 11 games. And when you consider it was a one-point loss for the C's, that one more made basket is huge.

WHAT WE SAW: Bass didn't get off to the greatest of starts, but seemed to find a good flow through the final three quarters and finished with a respectable 15 points on 7-for-12 shooting. Although he did at times have trouble keeping Gasol off the boards, for the most part Bass did a decent job of holding his own as Gasol had 13 points and 13 rebounds.

PLAYER TO WATCH: With Chris Wilcox out for additional tests on his heart, rookie Greg Stiemsma is expected to play some tonight against Lakers all-star center Andrew Bynum. The 7-foot rookie played a career-high 27 minutes in Boston's blowout win against Portland on Friday. He has struggled at times, often relying too much on his shot-blocking prowess and not enough on playing good positional defense. But he's a rookie who is still learning. And looking at the C's other big man options right now (Wilcox is out, as well as Jermaine O'Neal with a wrist injury), he's the best (and only big man option) they have right now coming off the bench.
WHAT WE SAW: Considering his role with the Celtics, Stiemsma actually had a decent night for the Green team. He only had two points, but grabbed four rebounds and swatted a game-high three blocked shots which includes sending a Pau Gasol shot a few rows deep.

STAT TO TRACK: Rebound, rebound, rebound. The Celtics hear it all the time, and yet seldom do a good job at it. They'll have to today if they are to give themselves a legit shot at winning tonight. The Lakers come in averaging 54.6 rebounds per game which ranks No. 2 in the NBA. Even more impressive is that their average rebounding margin is plus-5 per game. In their Feb. 9 game, the Lakers were plus-10 on the boards which contributed to them having a 24-13 advantage on second-chance points.

WHAT WE SAW: As expected, Boston's lack of size - and thus, ability to rebound - was indeed a factor in the game's outcome. The Lakers had their way around the basket most of the game, and finished plus-8 on the boards. "That's no secret," said Paul Pierce. "Everybody knows what the Laker's strengths are. They have tremendous size."

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.

NCAA TOURNAMENT: Maye hits late jumper to lift North Carolina to Final Four

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NCAA TOURNAMENT: Maye hits late jumper to lift North Carolina to Final Four

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Luke Maye hit a jumper with 0.3 seconds left, and top-seeded North Carolina held off Kentucky 75-73 to earn the Tar Heels' second straight trip to the Final Four and 20th all-time in Sunday's showdown of college basketball's elite in the South Regional.

The Tar Heels (31-7) will play Midwest champ Oregon on Saturday in Phoenix in the national semifinal.

North Carolina took control with a 12-0 run within the final 5 minutes. Kentucky's freshmen De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk hit three quick 3s, the last two by Monk and his second with 7.2 seconds left tied it up at 73.

Theo Pinson brought the ball down, passed back to Maye. The sophomore from Huntersville, North Carolina, knocked it down for the win with his feet on the 3-point line.

The Wildcats had one last chance, but Derek Willis' inbound pass went out of bounds on the far end.

Kentucky (32-6) will miss out on the Final Four for the second straight year.