Showdown with Heat is more than just a game

191544.jpg

Showdown with Heat is more than just a game

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

BOSTON NBA players and coaches will tell you all the time, games this time of year have little bearing on what you can expect in the playoffs.

But if you massage that theory enough, you'll see it loosen up to the point where you see that there are indeed exceptions.

Sunday's game between Boston and Miami?

That would be one of those exceptions.

At the end of the season, the win-loss tally will tell you it was just one game.

That's a lie, people!

Sunday's game is so much more than just another one of 82 on the schedule.

When these two teams met to open the season and Boston came away with the win, no one made too big a deal about.

Why?

Because the Celtics had already gone throughout the morphing from a Big Three triumvirate, to a Fantastic Foursome that now included Rajon Rondo.

Meanwhile, the Heat's Big Three of Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were too busy trying to not step on each other's toes and in the process, tripped and stumbled their way out to start the season.

When the two met for a second matchup, Miami was better - but not good enough as the Celtics once again came away victorious.

Now that Round Three between the two teams is here, the Celtics are in position to unleash the kind of mental warfare that frankly, I don't believe the Heat can come back from.

Beating the Heat once?

OK, it happens.

Beating them twice?

Still, not that big a deal.

Beating them a third time, with three of their top four centers out and a couple of banged up bodies in the backcourt?

It would easily qualify as the most impressive win of the season for a Celtics team that has already knocked off San Antonio, beat the Los Angeles Lakers in their own building, and won two out of three over the Orlando Magic.

But let's be clear.

Even if the Celtics were at full strength, Sunday afternoon's game would still be a tough one.

Miami comes in riding an eight-game winning streak.

And their win at Detroit on Friday coupled with Boston's home loss to the Lakers on Thursday, gave the Heat a half-game lead in the race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

But as much as these two teams are speeding ahead for the No. 1 seed in the East, they're battling for something that might be even more valuable.

NBA games are just as much about what happens in between the ears, as it is what happens between the lines.

Miami has not been phased by the two losses to Boston this season because in both instances, there were circumstances by which the games could have been easily dismissed.

But there is no way the Heat could explain away a Celtics victory on Sunday.

Miami's coming in with the better record.

They have a nice eight-game winning streak while the C's have lost three of the last four.

It makes for a matchup that on paper at least, heavily favors the Heat.

But this game isn't being played on paper.

It's being played on the parquet.

And the Celtics have proven repeatedly that in the games in which they are giving the steepest odds of being successful, they are money.

That's why as lopsided as Sunday's game appears to be, the C's are exactly where they need to be.

Now that Ray Allen and the 3-point record are done with, he'll continue to be his usually efficient self.

Paul Pierce will get his share of big buckets from the perimeter.

Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, all of those guys seem to be at their best in big games like this - even if they tell you it's just another one of 82.

That's a lie, people!

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

Horford, Johnson wasting no time in developing chemistry

Horford, Johnson wasting no time in developing chemistry

WALTHAM, Mass. – When the news came out that Al Horford was going to be a Boston Celtic, Amir Johnson couldn’t wait to meet his new teammate.

He didn’t have to.

Johnson soon found himself on plane headed to Atlanta to not only work out with Horford, but also try and work out some of the kinks that tend to come up among new teammates in those early days of training camp.

“I took it upon myself when I saw Al was part of the team, I automatically wanted to go down to Atlanta and work,” said Johnson who added that he brought his daughter along for the trip and they went to dinner with Horford’s family during the visit. “I thought it was great just to get that chemistry going. I just wanted to get to known him, make him feel comfortable.”

It’s still early in training camp, but Johnson and Horford seem to be meshing quite well on the floor. 

“The chemistry’s definitely coming along,” Johnson said. “I know when Al wants to roll or pop, and just working my way around it. Al’s more of a popper and eventually he’ll roll. It’s up to me to read whether I stay up or work the baseline.”

Johnson has been in the NBA long enough to know that often the keys to success are subtle nuances that may be overlooked by fans and spectators, but players know are essential to them being successful.

Being able to not only understand a player’s game but figure out how to play well with them, are critical to teammates being successful.

Last season, Johnson was Boston’s primary rim-protecting big man which is a role the 29-year-old Johnson has been cast in the last few years he was in Toronto. Horford brings a similar set of defensive skills to the table which gives Boston a true 1-2 defensive punch along the frontline.

“It’s big time,” Johnson said. “We communicate to each other. It’s all about communication out there; just knowing he can hold it down and he trusts me to hold it down. It’s key.”

GREEN INJURY UPDATE

Gerald Green is expected to get a few more days to rest his hip flexor injury which he said on Thursday was feeling better.

The injury should keep the 6-6 wing from participating in the team’s Green-White scrimmage on Friday, but it isn’t considered serious.

Still, Green is eager to get back and return to full contact work which is why he is getting a steady diet of treatments during the day and returning in the evening for more treatments from the Celtics’ medical staff.

“It’s almost like a precautionary thing; make sure it doesn’t get worst,” Green said.

The injury occurred earlier this week but Green could not pinpoint exactly what he did to suffer the injury.

“I don’t think I stretched properly,” Green said. “I’m not 25 no more. Just try to come out there and go at full speed. Those are things I’ve got to learn now I’m in my 30s.”
Indeed, one of the many benefits of being older now is that Green sees the big picture of things better now, which is why he isn’t trying to rush back to the floor too quickly.

As a veteran, it’s a long season,” Green said. “You’re not trying to do too much to make it worst. Training camp is important, but being healthy at the beginning of the season is even more important.”

RUN, YOUNGSTERS, RUN

Near the end of Thursday’s practice, the Celtics had a full court game of 3-on-3 involving some of the team’s rookies and end-of-the-bench training camp invitees like Jalen Jones of Texas A&M. The 6-7 undrafted rookie had a dunk over Jordan Mickey, a 3-pointer and another strong, uncontested flush at the rim in a matter of minutes. He’s likely to wind up with Boston’s Developmental League team, the Maine Red Claws.

With Thursday morning’s session being the team’s fifth practice this season, head coach Brad Stevens thought it was a good idea to get some of the team’s younger players on the court.

“It was good to play some 3-on-3,” said Stevens who added that it was good for their conditioning since a lot of the running at this point involves trying to get the starters and the likely rotation players as acclimated and familiar with one another as possible. “We try to do that occasionally even through the season just to get everybody up and down.”

TURNOVERS? WHAT TURNOVERS?

Five practices in the books and there’s only one thing that really has stood out to the eyes of Isaiah Thomas.

It’s turnovers.

Apparently the Celtics haven’t committed too many thus far.

“We haven’t turned the ball over as much as teams usually do the first couple of days,” Thomas said. “We’re trying to learn the system, trying to get everybody familiar with what we do. But we’ve been playing well together. Guys are playing hard. Guys have gotten better, worked on their game.”

Ball-handling will be one of the areas to watch during the preseason as the Celtics look to find a replacement for Evan Turner (Portland) who has been one of the team’s best ball-handlers the past couple of seasons.

The Celtics were middle-of-the-pack last season with 13.5 turnovers per game which ranked 14th in the NBA.

Low turnovers often serve as a common trait among playoff teams. Just last season, eight of the top-nine teams in fewest turnovers committed, were in the playoffs.