Celtics fall flat against Heat in Game 1, 99-90

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Celtics fall flat against Heat in Game 1, 99-90

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

MIAMI Miami Heat forward LeBron James probably said it best late last week.

As Rajon Rondo goes, so go the Boston Celtics.

So when he went to the bench early in the second quarter, so went just about any chance the C's had of digging themselves out of an early deficit against the Heat.

What started off as a small hole soon became a grave for the Celtics, whose chances of stealing home court away from Miami died a quick and early death with a 99-90 Game 1 loss.

"Give them credit," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "I thought they were prepared, they were ready, they played with unbelievable intensity. And I didn't think we handled that very well."

That wasn't the only problem for the Celtics.

Paul Pierce, who scored 19 points on 6-for-14 shooting, was ejected with seven minutes to play after being whistled for a double technical foul along with Dwyane Wade.

It was Pierce's second technical foul - he was whistled for a double technical foul earlier in the game, along with Miami's James Jones - which is an automatic ejection.

Pierce was fouled on both plays in which he later received a technical foul, fouls that Rivers believes should have been called flagrant fouls.

But he added, "I don't think we should react to either one. I thought as a whole we were the retaliating team tonight. We were never the first-hit team."

Miami has repeatedly said that they need to bring a certain brand of physical play to this series, the kind of physical play that has been a Celtics trademark for years.

For the most part, they did just that.

And the Celtics didn't handle it very well, evident by the C's being whistled for three individual technical fouls and a flagrant against Jermaine O'Neal.

But the problems for Boston began well before Pierce getting ejected.

After picking up two fouls in the first quarter, Rondo picked up a third less than a minute into the second quarter.

Rondo played just over 32 minutes, and spent the bulk of the second quarter on the bench as the Heat continued to pull away.

The foul trouble wasn't an issue in the second half.

But by then, it was too late.

The C's were in too deep a ditch to come out of, even with Rondo on the floor.

"I just tried to play aggressive in the second half," said Rondo, who had eight points and seven assists while turning the ball over five times.

With Rondo a non-factor for most of the game, Miami relied heavily on Wade to carry the Heat.

He finished with a game-high 38 points, which included 23 in the first half that he capped off with a running bank shot over Boston's Delonte West.

"Dwyane is a special player; he really is," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "I've said this so many times, he just figures it out. He is very diligent."

And deadly when he's on top of his game, which was indeed the case on Sunday.

As impressive as Wade was, he had some company - and it wasn't the usual cast of characters, either.

Jones, a backup, had a career playoff-high 25 points off the bench, a back-breaking performance that the C's simply could not recover from.

"I tried to focus this week because I knew that Boston was going to try and take our big three away and somebody was going to have to step up," Jones said.

Boston fell behind by as many as 19 points in the third quarter, but went on a 10-0 run to cut the deficit back to single digits.

They had ample opportunities to inch even closer, but repeatedly failed to make shots that on most nights, were a given to be made.

And while the Celtics are certainly disappointed with the loss, there is still a sense within the locker room that this series is far from over.

"This is a loss. That's it," Rivers said. "We will learn and watch film. It's only one game, but I don't know if it's a winnable game or not. We didn't play very well and we had our chances. I just thought they outplayed us tonight."

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

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

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Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

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Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.