Identity crisis

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Identity crisis

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

Celtics vs. Heat: Drama at its most profitable.

It is Good vs. Evil, Old vs. New, Blue Collar vs. High Roller. It is Shaq Vs. himself.

It could end tonight.

Game 5 tips off in Miami at 7 p.m., and I have no idea who's going to win. It depends on which Green Team we see.

The difference between what the Celtics are capable of and what they have produced is bizarre. Ray Allen's career PPG average in the playoffs is 21.5. In Game 2, he was held to 7 points in 34 minutes.

Seven.

You know what that number should be an answer for? How many triples did Ray drop on Miami? (Seven.) How many miles did Ray run for fun during halftime? (Seven.) How many times has LeBron James seen "He Got Game"? (Seven. In one day.)

Folks were ready to take Kevin Garnett behind the barn before the series opener even ended. When he got his first rebound in the next game, I applauded him the way you cheer a 98-year-old who remembers to use the potty instead of his pants. "Ohh, yay! You did it!" I clapped, sad smile tight on my face.

Then Game 3 hit the windshield.

Boston finally looked pissed off about losing and ready to do something about it. KG didn't look old, he looked vintage with 28 points and 18 rebounds. Rajon Rondo was nabbing steals and scoring layup despite having the functionality of a stroke victim. Even broken-down Shaq got buckets. (One. Just one bucket.)

And Miami laid down and bared its neck.

Chris Bosh went back to being comically useless, claiming his six-point, five-rebound performance was due to the "jitters."

Jitters.

It's one thing if Mario Chalmers feels anxious; he's 12. But Bosh has been playing through hangnails and whatnot for seven years. How do you claim jitters with a straight face?

"Hey, Rondo. You feeling jittery?"

"Naw. I don't feel jittery."

"But you got your arm ripped off."

"I don't feel pain. I'm gonna punk the Heat with my nub."

"Okie dokie, then."

But everything since Rondo's bravery has been forgettable.

Garnett went back to soiling himself (1-for-10 FG) in Game 4, and he wasn't alone. Passing was ugly. Glen Davis was -- in his own words-- "nowhere." Shaq might as well have been elsewhere (3 minutes and 31 seconds, zero points).

It was Miami who was supposed to be deflated. It was James who was supposed to choke. But the Heat stole Game 4 in overtime and may have taken Boston's will along with it.

Game 3 created reasonable doubt. It was the kind of game that reminded everyone why this is supposed to be such a great series in the first place. And it might be enough to give hope that the Celtics can drag things out as long as they need to.

Can Boston do it tonight?

It all depends on which Green Team shows up.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

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.