Showdown with Heat is more than just a game

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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

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

BOSTON – Prior to Saturday’s game, Terry Rozier talked to CSNNE.com about the importance of staying ready always, because “you never know when your name or number is going to be called.”

Like when trailing by three points in the fourth quarter with less than 10 seconds to play?

Yes, Rozier was on the floor in that scenario and the second-year guard delivered when his team needed it.

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But Rozier’s fourth quarter heroics which forced overtime against Portland, did not provide that much-needed jolt that Boston needed as the Blazers managed to fend off the Celtics in overtime, 127-123.

For Rozier’s part, he had 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

The 15 points scored for Rozier was the most for him since he tallied 16 in a 30-point Celtics win at Orlando on Dec. 7.

But more than the points, the decision by head coach Brad Stevens to draw up a play for him in that moment, a time when most of what Boston does revolves around the shooting of Isaiah Thomas who has been among the top-3 scorers in the fourth quarter most of this season, was surprising to many.

And at that point in the game, Thomas already had 13 fourth-quarter points.

Stevens confirmed after the game that the last shot in the fourth was indeed for Rozier, but Thomas’ presence on the floor was important to its execution.

“He (Thomas) also draws a lot of attention,” Stevens said. “So I think you just weigh kind of … what kind of shot you’re going to get, depending on who it is.”

Rozier had initially screened for Thomas, and Thomas came back and screened for him.

“I was open as soon as I caught … and I let it fly,” Rozier said. “Coach drew up a play for me and it felt good to see the ball go in.”

Being on the floor at that time, win or lose, was a victory of sorts for Rozier.

He has seen first-hand how quickly the tide can change in the NBA for a young player.

After a strong summer league showing and a solid training camp, Rozier had earned himself a firm spot in the team’s regular rotation.

But a series of not-so-great games coupled with Gerald Green’s breakout night on Christmas Day, led to his playing time since then becoming more sporadic.

Rozier, in an interview with CSNNE.com, acknowledged it hasn’t been easy going from playing regular minutes to not being sure how much court time, if any, he would receive.

But he says the veterans on the team have been good about keeping his spirits up, and one in particular – Avery Bradley – has been especially helpful.

Like Rozier, Bradley’s first couple of years saw his playing time go from non-existent to inconsistent. But Bradley stayed the course and listened to the team’s veterans who continued to tell him that his hard work would pay off sooner or later.

Those same words of wisdom Bradley received in his early days, he passes on to Rozier.

“It’s big,” Rozier told CSNNE.com. “He (Bradley) tells me things like that. I felt I was ready for this (inconsistent minutes) after all that he told me. It’s big to have a guy like him that has been through it all with a championship team, been around this organization for a while; have him talk to you is big. It’s always good. That’s why I stay positive, and be ready.”

Which is part of the reason why Stevens didn’t hesitate to call up a play for the second-year guard despite him being a 33.3 percent shooter from 3-point range this season – that ranks eighth on this team, mind you.

“He’s a really good shooter,” Stevens said of Rozier. “I think with more opportunity that will show itself true, but he made some big ones in the fourth quarter. We went to him a few different times out of time-outs, and felt good about him making that one.”

And to know that Stevens will turn to him not just to spell Thomas or one of the team’s other guards, but to actually make a game-altering play in the final seconds … that’s major.

“It helps tremendously,” said Rozier who added that his confidence is through “the roof. It makes me want to do everything. You know defense, all of that. It’s great, especially to have a guy like Brad trust you."