Blakely: Celtics-Heat preview

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Blakely: Celtics-Heat preview

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

Celtics (56-26) vs Heat (58-24)
Celtics won regular season series 3-1, but the Heat will have home-court advantage.

How did they get here?
Celtics swept the New York Knicks, 4-0, in their first-round playoff series. The Heat defeated the Philadelphia 76ers, 4-1, in their first-round playoff series.

Playoff Team leadersCeltics: PPG Paul Pierce (22.3); RPG Kevin Garnett (11.3); APG Rajon Rondo (12.0)
Heat: PPG LeBron James (24.2); RPG LeBron James (10.6); APG LeBron James (6.2)

What to look for
The playoff series that we've all been waiting for, has finally arrived. You're going to hear a lot about Boston's Big Three versus their more youthful Big Three counterparts. But this series will ultimately be decided by the Celtics' point guard, Rajon Rondo, and the Boston bench. Rondo has a decisively lopsided advantage over Mike Bibby and to a lesser degree, Mario Chalmers. As for the bench, the C's backups finally showed a pulse in the Game 4 win over New York. They'll have to deliver games with a similar or greater impact against a Miami team whose bench has come under fire all season.

Matchup to watch
There are so many good battles to choose from, but Ray Allen versus Dwyane Wade sticks out. The C's won three of the four regular-season meetings in part because of Allen's accuracy shooting the ball (he shot 49.2 percent from the field, 57 percent on 3s and was perfect from the free throw line), and Wade's woeful play at both ends of the floor. Allen averaged a team-high 20.3 points against the Heat while Wade averaged just 12.8 pointson 28.1 percent shooting from the field.

X-factor
Again, the choices for this are plentiful. But it's a couple of injured players whose return - and the impact of that return - could tilt this series one way or another. For Boston, the C's have the ultimate wild card in Shaquille O'Neal. The issue isn't whether he'll play well, but will he play at all. If the Celtics can get 5-10 minutes from O'Neal, you figure that's four or five points or a couple of Miami Heat fouls. Miami has Udonis Haslem, who has actually missed more games this season than O'Neal. His ability to bang around the basket as well as knock down mid-range jumpers can be a major boost for the Heat against the Celtics' highly-regarded defense.
And the winner is . . .
NBA fans, because most would agree that the Conference Final will truly be anticlimatic after these two NBA Goliaths battle one another. Boston has experience and depth, while the Heat have arguably the most talented trio of players in the NBA with Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Both teams have their share of role players who will be counted on to step up and contribute in a big way.

But here's the thing about greatness. Before you triumph, you tend to go through your share of trials and tribulations. Each of Boston's Big Three had their share of trouble prior to coming to Boston. This current Big Three in Miami, haven't really gone through the rough times that all great teams must endure. Not having that experience, maybe more than anything else, contributed to the Heat's inability to initially get past the Celtics. And I think it will come back to bite them again. That's why I got Boston winning this series in six games.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Celtics' team plane receives bomb threat

Celtics' team plane receives bomb threat

BOSTON -- There was a bomb threat to the Boston Celtics’ team plane to Oklahoma City on Saturday afternoon, but no one was injured.

The incident will be investigated by NBA security which will work in conjunction with the FBI on this matter which was one of several hoaxes called into airports across the country on Saturday.

News of the bomb threat was first known when Celtics forward Jae Crowder posted an Instagram photo showing players departing the plane with the caption, “BOMB THREAT ON US”.

Celtics officials declined to comment on the matter and instead referred all bomb threat-related questions to the league office.

Messages to the league office were not immediately returned.

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

BOSTON – When it comes to winning basketball, keep it moving – the ball that is – has become a staple of the Celtics this season. 
 
And lately they’ve had to do it without Isaiah Thomas, the team’s leading scorer at 26 points per game as well as their top assists guy (6.2) who will miss hish third game in a row Sunday in Oklahoma City because of a right groin injury.
 
The Celtics have split their first two games without Thomas, with the most recent being a 101-94 home loss to Toronto on Friday.
 
When it comes to this team and ball movement, fans are just as divided when it pertains to whether the Celtics move the ball better without the high-scoring Thomas in the lineup. 
 
Regardless of what fans think they know about this team and how they move the ball, the numbers paint a very clear picture that this team’s ball movement is among the best in the NBA, with or without Thomas in the lineup. 

And that will be important on Sunday against an Oklahoma City team that doesn’t rely on the ball swinging from one side of the floor to the other, nearly as much as the Celtics. 
 
The Thunder, led by MVP candidate Russell Westbrook, are dead-last in the NBA when it comes to passes made per game (267.1). 
 
Meanwhile, the Celtics are at the opposite end of the passing game spectrum, averaging 331.7 passes per game, which is second in the NBA (Philadelphia, 354.3).
 
And in the two games without Thomas, Boston has averaged 347.0 passes per game, which ranks second in the NBA in that period of time. 
 
In addition to missing his points and assists, the Celtics must also find ways to make plays in filling the void left by a player who has the ball in his hands a lot of the time. 
 
Thomas’ usage percentage (percentage of plays used by a player while he’s on the floor) of 32.9 percent ranks seventh in the NBA, ahead of notable stars such as San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (30.9 percent), Portland’s Damian Lillard (30.8 percent), New York’s Carmelo Anthony (29.5 percent), as well as Cleveland’s LeBron James (29 percent) and Golden State’s back-to-back NBA MVP Stephen Curry (28.2 percent).
 
So, considering how involved Thomas has been in the team’s offense, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the numbers in terms of passing and ball movement are better without him than they are when he’s on the floor playing. 
 
What should be surprising is that the gap statistically without him, isn’t greater. 
 
Boston has been a top five team when it comes to assists this season, currently third in the league with 24.7 assists per game. In the past two games without Thomas, the Celtics’ assists numbers have risen to 26.5 per game, but that only ranks fifth in the league in that span.
 
When it comes to potential assists and secondary assists (a.k.a. the “hockey” assist), Boston’s numbers have improved slightly without Thomas as well, but in each category Boston is ranked second in the league. 
 
And that ranking is with, and without Thomas in the lineup. 
 
While it’s not clear if Thomas knows just how close the numbers in terms of ball movement are with and without him playing, he is acutely aware that there are some who believe they are a better team in terms of keeping the ball moving without him.
 
“I can’t control that,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “At this point, I laugh about it. I know what I mean to my teammates. I know what I mean to this organization, to Brad Stevens.”