Archive for May, 2012
The trick is to find a way to slow down LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. But it’s just as hard, if not harder, than what it sounds. The Celtics are not expected to win this series. Looking back at how they played in game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals in South Beach, it seems that forcing a game 5 would be more than what many fans are expecting to see from the veteran Celtics. Then again, this is a squad that knows very well what it is like to win a title, a squad that in it’s core still has most of the key components from the team that has made it twice to the Finals and has taken the championship trophy once.
Now the game itself was interesting and yet the referees got a little too much attention to themselves with the fast-whistle, issuing the Boston Celtics 5 technical fouls, 80% of which were certainly uncalled for. But other than that, the Celtics need to realize that they were soft, that they lacked the physicality to keep James and Wade from storming into the lane. The Miami Heat took a 93-79 win at home over the Boston Celtics, but the truth is that since the halftime break, the Celtics simply didn’t have an answer for the faster and perhaps stronger Heat.
At the end of the game, the Celtics publicly said that they would get more physical. That they had to really put their soul and bodies into winning a game at Miami, otherwise the series will get pretty complicated once they return to the Boston Garden. Things got fired up last night when Rajon Rondo, the Celtics point guard say that they will have to bring down their a-game. “Nothing dirty but they have to hit the deck, too,” said Rajon Rondo. That got the attention of the Heat. On a short interview after practice LeBron James came out with a quick answer to Rondo’s response. “I expect to be quote, unquote ‘put on the deck’ or whatever the case may be and then you go to the free throw line,” said James, who had 32 points in the Heat’s 93-79 Game 1 win. “I don’t need to prepare for something I already think is going to happen every game.”
“We’re men just like they’re men; we’re not going to let anyone just come and punk us,” said the other Miami Heat star Dwayne Wade. “That is not our mentality, to go out there and make people hit the deck.” Both Wade and James were a very important part of jail breaking the Celtics defense. It was obvious even to head coach Doc Rivers that allowing the Heat to get 19 layups was just unacceptable. In Game 1, the Heat shot a remarkable 21-of-27. And that’s just not going to fly in Doc Rivers book. He is going to urge the Celtics to be strong, to hold their ground and to get physical. The Miami Heat defeated the Celtics in five games last season, and they do have this urge to get back at the guy from South Beach.
“We have to put up more a fight and more of an effort,” said Kevin Garnett, who has been the best player the Celtics have had this postseason. “We have to make sure we take them out of their comfort zone.” If they can managed to get Rondo and Paul Pierce to give out this kinds of performances they might just have a chance to turn this series around.
For a moment there, the Oklahoma City Thunder were about to do something that no other team had done since early April: defeat the San Antonio Spurs. With a brilliant performance from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the third quarter, the Thunder came out to the last quarter with a beefy 9-point lead. Truth is that in the third quarter alone, a solid defense by Oklahoma City had held the Spurs to only 16 points in the quarter. Things were looking well for the Thunder and the scenario for a possible upset on game one of the Western Conference Finals at San Antonio seemed to be only 12 minutes away. Little did the Oklahoma City Thunder knew that things were about to get nasty. The San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich came out and told his team early in the fourth quarter: “I want some nasty”. And Nasty he got from his veteran players.
In the postgame press conference Popovich tried not to make too much of a deal about it. He asked the press if he had really told his team he wanted some nasty. Well, we all heard it over national television. Still, the somewhat vociferous head coach kept it low-key and said that it was all part of the pressure of playing in the Playoffs. “The heat of the game, stuff comes up,” Popovich said. “So I talked to them about they’ve got to get a little bit uglier, get a little more nasty, play with more fiber and take it to these guys. Meaning you have to drive it, you have to shoot it.” He got plenty of fiber. The Thunder were younger and perhaps faster and more athletic. There is just one big and fundamental difference between these two squads: the Spurs have been here and have done that, twice.
But perhaps the biggest surprise of the night came via the Argentinean Manu Ginobili. He wasn’t part of the starting 5 for the Spurs but somehow playing from the bench Manu played 34:03 during the whole game, getting very little rest, and still been the most productive player for San Antonio. Let’s not forget that Manu missed at least half of the regular season with a series of injuries that made it doubtful, to say the least, if he was going to be a factor at all once the postseason got underway. Well, he was. He finished the night with 26 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. That was enough to give the Spurs their 19th consecutive win, tying an NBA record for longest winning streak kept alive in the playoffs.
The young and restless Oklahoma City Thunder were lead by Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 27 points. Russell Westbrook had 17. They had a good overall game. Defensively, the Thunder managed to hold the San Antonio Spurs to only16 third-quarter points. But everything went south once San Antonio got going in the fourth. At the end, when the game was on the line, the Spurs scored 39 points in the fourth quarter to take the lead and never look back.
The Boston Celtics were a two-point underdog in the NBA betting lines for game 6 at Philadelphia in the second round of the 2012 Playoffs. Ahead 3-2 in the series, the Celtics had a chance to finish off the 76ers and take a well-needed rest before facing either the Miami Heat or the Indiana Pacers for the Eastern Conference Finals. For a moment there, it seemed that the Celtics were going to prevail and that the veteran squad would keep on improving their 3-point margin after the second half break. But just like they did in game 4, the Philadelphia 76ers had a brilliant second half and were able to get back in the game and take an 82-75 win at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Philadelphia 76ers relied on young and restless players to overpower the Celtics in the second half. The third quarter was vital, for not only did the 76ers cut down on the 3-point halftime deficit, but they managed to outscore the Celtics 20-27 to take the lead and never look back. Jrue Holiday guided Philadelphia with 20 points, 6 assists and 3 rebounds in what is certainly one of his better playoffs matches. The power forward Elton Brand finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds while the man-of-the-hour, had 12 points and 6 rebounds, including some pace changing dunks that got the 20,000 plus fans going wild.
The big issue here is that these two teams have been playing poorly against each other, and their numbers are not exactly what you would expect of two teams going this deep into the postseason. For starters, both teams have not been able to win two consecutive games on this series and truth is that both teams have been playing so poorly that it is impossible to say that either team has been truly dominant. It’s not hard to figure out what went wrong in their last game for the Celtics. Boston numbers were as mediocre as they get all across the board. It’s hard to say what caused the loss, if it was the 33 percent shooting, the 17 turnovers or the 3 for 14 3-point shooting.
If they managed to stay in the game was basically because they have a very talented offensive end in the veterans Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce who were both well serviced by the talented point guard Rajon Rondo. Pierce finished the night with 24 points and 10 rebounds while KG had 20 points and 11 rebounds. But let’s be clear about this one: the 76ers won, but it certainly wasn’t pretty. Just consider for a moment that Philadelphia missed 8 of their 9 shots from behind the 3-point arc, and shot a painful to watch 17 of 28 from the free throw line while stumbling into 12 turnovers. It’s almost like saying that the winning team was that who played less poorly. And it doesn’t matter whether the Celtics or the 76ers make it to the next round, that’s just not going to make the cut against teams like the Miami Heat or the Indiana Pacers.
It is still uncertain if Avery Bradley is going to be able to play in game 7. He missed game 6 and it was up to veteran Ray Allen to take his spot in the starting five. If only Allen could find his three-point shot again, the Celtics could really have a chance at greater things.
The Indiana Pacers were up 2-1 against the Miami Heat and suddenly everything seemed possible for this squad. And then LeBron James and Dwayne Wade began to play like the stars that they are and things got a little difficult for the Pacers. Suddenly and without much of a warning, it was the Heat getting physical with the Pacers, and it was Larry Bird’s squat that looked fragile, unmotivated and in his own words, soft. The Miami Heat would go on to win two games in a row to take a 3-2 advantage in the series and are now just one game away from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals.
The President of Basketball Operations for the Pacers, and one of the finest players to have played the game, Larry Bird, was simply furious with the way the Heat manhandled his men. “I can’t believe my team went soft. S-O-F-T,” Bird told the Indianapolis Star Tuesday night. “I’m disappointed. I never thought it would happen.” A reporter later asked him to elaborate on his comment a little more. “That’s all I have to say” he responded. Truth is that even Danny Granger had to tke it from Bird. He knew deep inside that it was not just trash talking coming from the NBA legend, he really meant every word he said. “I’ve been with Larry since I’ve been in Indiana for seven years,” Granger added. “He’s not been one to hold his tongue, and 99 percent of the time what he’s saying is right. I think he just called out what everyone else saw. We played a soft game. We didn’t play with the playoff intensity that we needed to win.”
The Pacers had nothing to throw at the Miami Heat on game 5. It was all over by the end of the third quarter with starting forwards Danny Granger and David West having to leave the game with injuries. But even before these two guys walked out of the game, it was clear that this match was going to be all about Miami. James followed one of the finest Playoffs performances we’ve seen in years with a 30-point, 10 rebound, 8 assists game on Tuesday night. Dwayne Wade chipped in with 28 points, proving that his low numbers in the fist three games of the series were nothing but a slump.
Everything seemed to be working out for the Heat. Shane Battier scored 13 points, Mario Chalmers had eight points and 11 rebounds, and Udonis Haslem finished with 10 points for Miami. He will certainly be missed in game six, though. Sure enough the Heat dominated from the start, as a matter of fact they never trailed, and held a 22-2 edge in fast-break points. Perhaps even more significant, the squad shot a franchise playoff-record 61 percent — best of any team in the playoffs this season. But the NBA came down hard on Haslem and Dexter Pittman. Both players are suspended and will not play in game 6 after the NBA considered that their retaliatory flagrant fouls in game 5 deserved the suspension. Perhaps they will learn to play nice. According to Internet sources, the suspension will cost Haslem roughly $35,000 in salary and Pittman about $22,000.