Two weeks ago, the C's beat the Miami Heat in their season opener at the TD Garden. Nothing's changed since then — the Celtics are still top dog in the Eastern Conference, and they've proven it with a 112-107 win in Miami.
Ray Allen goes off for 35 points for Boston; LeBron James one-ups him with 35 of his own plus 10 rebounds, nine assists and three steals. But the difference in this game is Boston's supporting cast.
Paul Pierce drops a quiet 25, Kevin Garnett notches a double-double with 16 points and 13 boards, and Rajon Rondo does his thing with 16 assists. The C's are in midseason form — they're dominating with a complete team effort.
The Celtics improve to 7-2 on the season, still the best mark in the East. The Heat have lost three of their last four games, dropping them to 5-4.
The C's will take on the Grizzlies in the final stop on their four-city tour Saturday night.
Fourth quarter, 18.9 seconds, Celtics 110-105: Oops. Ray Allen just missed a dunk with a chance to ice the Celtics' win.
That can't be good.
Fourth quarter, 47.8 seconds, Celtics 110-103: Doc Rivers calls for a full timeout. The Celtics have the healthy lead, the ball and under a minute to play.
Doc's message in this huddle: "Just don't do anything stupid, and you should be just fine."
Fourth quarter, 1:01, Celtics 110-103: Back-to-back huge misses from LeBron James in crunch time — one a layup where he had blown right by Ray Allen, and the other a corner 3. If he makes those, this is a whole new ballgame.
Instead, the Heat are on the brink of death.
Fourth quarter, 3:24, Celtics 106-99: News flash: The Heat aren't going away.
We're back to a seven-point game for the first time in a while.
Who takes over for the Heat in crunch time, LeBron or Wade? They can't both get the ball every time, as much as they might want it.
Erik Spoelstra's got to step up here and be the architect for this fourth-quarter comeback. Can he do it?
Fourth quarter, 4:45, Celtics 106-97: Make no mistake — LeBron James wants to win this game. You can see it in the way he throws himself into the lane on every drive, no fear, just desperate to make something happen.
But when you miss two free throws with your team losing in crunch time, desire isn't enough.
Fourth quarter, 5:51, Celtics 104-93: Dwyane Wade makes the mistake of gambling for a steal, and Rajon Rondo drives by him for an easy floater. The C's lead is back in double digits.
Rondo is having another one of those "take over the game without scoring" nights. Only six points, but 15 assists and three turnovers. He didn't score a lick in the second or third quarters — and no one cared.
Fourth quarter, 7:01, Celtics 102-89: Ray Allen has now made seven straight 3-pointers. He's got 31 points.
Ray's 12-for-18 from the field; Dwyane Wade is 2-for-11. I really can't stress that enough.
Fourth quarter, 7:45, Celtics 99-89: Twelve points in 11 minutes for Nate Robinson.
This is the breakout game we've been waiting for all season from Nate. This could be a big turning point for him. Nate's 5-for-7 from the floor — that shooting slump is over.
Fourth quarter, 8:58, Celtics 97-87: If there's one guy that can spoil the Celtics' chances of a win in Miami, it might be James Jones. Does that sound crazy?
Maybe so, but Jones knocks down a corner 3 here that cuts the Celtics' lead to 10. Suddenly their advantage doesn't seem so insurmountable anymore.
Jones is a deadly shooter when he gets hot. And what's more, he speads the floor for LeBron James to do his thing and attack the basket. That's bad news all the way around for Boston.
The C's need to work hard to close out on those 3s in the fourth quarter. They can't let Jones or anyone else have anything easy.
Fourth quarter, 10:10, Celtics 91-80: Ray Allen has a new season high with 28 points. His high last year was 33, set in the Celtics' Easter Sunday win over the Cavaliers.
Something about facing LeBron James brings out the best in the Celtics' sharpshooter.
End of third quarter, Celtics 88-78: Paul Pierce has come through with 10 third-quarter points, and the C's have withstood a rocky defensive effort to keep their lead in double digit with 12 minutes to play.
The C's effort since halftime hasn't been all that good, truth be told. But as long as Pierce (23 points overall) and Ray Allen (26) continue hitting their shots, it might not matter. The C's are unbeatable when their stars are this hot.
Twelve minutes to go. The Celtics have a chance to be 2-0 this season against the most hyped team in the Eastern Conference.
Third quarter, 1:48, Celtics 84-70: Ray Allen has now made all six of his 3-point attempts tonight. Just think — if he goes 1-for-6 tonight, the Heat have a lead right now.
The biggest difference in this game is the shooting disparity between Ray and Dwyane Wade. Without Ray's hot hand, this is a totally different game.
Third quarter, 3:16, Celtics 79-66: The Heat make their push with an 8-4 run late in the quarter, but Paul Pierce nails a difficult corner two to push right back.
Miami keeps threatening to make a run, but the Celtics just keep hitting enough shots to stay ahead. The defense has been a little spotty, but it hasn't seemed to matter.
Third quarter, 5:14, Celtics 75-60: After six consecutive field goals missed by the Celtics, Glen Davis steps up and gets a bucket inside.
The Celtics need Big Baby to sustain the energy in the second half. He's the fountain of youth, surrounded by fatigued veterans, that can keep this team afloat late in games.
(There's also that Rondo guy, of course. But Baby's the one that can score in the low post.)
Third quarter, 6:50, Celtics 72-56: Which is quieter — Dwyane Wade (now 1-for-9, four points), or the crowd here at American Airlines Arena in Miami?
Floridian sports fans have always been frontrunners. They're really not enjoying the prospect of back-to-back Boston beatdowns.
Third quarter, 9:20, Celtics 68-50: Remember Game 2 of the Finals in L.A., when Ray Allen was invincible from beyond the arc? This is another one of those nights.
Ray's 5-for-5 from long range. That's a big, giant, cannot-possibly-be-understated reason why the Celtics have stretched their lead to 18 in the third quarter.
Which has been worse in this game, Wade's offense or his lack of defense against Ray?
Third quarter, 10:29, Celtics 63-50: After an 0-for-6 first half, Dwyane Wade finally comes alive with a bucket early in the third quarter.
The Heat need Wade to step up. LeBron can't carry the scoring load himself and win. He tried that for seven years in Cleveland, and he couldn't beat these Celtics.
Halftime, Celtics 61-46: Kevin Garnett has his game face on. And really, how could he not? KG and the Celtics are taking it to the Heat on their own home floor.
KG has a near-double-double at halftime — nine points and 10 rebounds. Rajon Rondo's not far away himself, with six points and nine assists. Ray Allen leads the way for the C's scorers with 18.
Despite a monster quarter from Chris Bosh (nine points), the C's have a solid lead over the South Beach All-Stars.
Of course, the C's have blown plenty of halftime leads this season, some against much weaker teams than these Heat. They can't get complacent now.
Second quarter, 2:42, Celtics 54-37: Ray Allen hits a deadly 3, extending the Celtics' lead to 17, their biggest of the night.
Chris Bosh has piled up seven points in four minutes, and no one's even noticed. The C's just keep moving and getting good shots on every single possession.
This is one of Boston's best halves of the year, right up there with the first half in Oklahoma City on Sunday.
Second quarter, 5:14, Celtics 46-34: Story of Dwyane Wade's night — he drives by Ray Allen for a running layup, misses the layup, and watches as Ray blows by him in transition and gets open for a 3. Swish.
Wade's execution hasn't been terrible, but the rims are just killing him. He's 0-for-5 from the field in this game, Ray's 5-for-6, and that's pretty much the difference in the game.
Allen now has 12 points and Paul Pierce has 11 for Boston.
Second quarter, 6:59, Celtics 39-29: Paul Pierce and Glen Davis have both come to life in the second quarter, knocking down shots and stretching the lead back to double digits. It's a 7-1 Boston run over the last two minutes.
LeBron James is watching from the bench.
The Heat could probably use his defense against Pierce.
Second quarter, 9:13, Celtics 32-28: The best (only?) thing Miami's bigs have going for them is they're working hard on the offensive glass.
Chris Bosh already has two rebounds on the offensive end, and Udonis Haslem gets a big one here to pick up a pair of second-chance points. The Heat are back in the game, thanks to runs of 4-0 and 11-5 dating back to the end of the first quarter. It's a four-point game.
Second quarter, 10:34, Celtics 32-24: Rajon Rondo only has three assists so far, but they've been gorgeous ones.
Rondo runs the break off a rebound from a LeBron miss, and while it looks like he has a clear path to the basket for a makable reverse layup, he instead finds an open Marquis Daniels for a better shot.
Rondo has such a knack for making high-percentage decisions with the ball in his hands. It's what makes this Celtics offense so efficient.
End of first quarter, Celtics 27-20: The Celtics' 57.9 percent shooting probably won't keep up all night. But if the effort does, the C's are in good shape on the road against the Miami Heat.
Despite nine point from former compadre Eddie House and eight from the much-reviled LeBron James, the Celtics have a comfortable lead after 12 minutes of play at the American Airlines Center.
Ray Allen leads the Celtics with nine points, while Rajon Rondo has six, along with two assists and a steal. Kevin Garnett has been a beast early with six rebounds.
The C's need to keep working hard on both ends — creating good shots for themselves, contesting them on the flip side. So far, so good.
First quarter, 2:49, Celtics 22-13: Not a good start for Nate Robinson, who's in the game for literally one second before a) fouling Eddie House in the act of a 3, and b) picking up a technical foul for moaning and groaning about the call.
Nate's got to step up and make a couple shots this season before he gets any license to talk back.
House has six points already. Robinson of course has zero so far.
You think maybe Danny Ainge is rethinking that trade?
First quarter, 3:59, Celtics 20-10: The Celtics are owning the Heat on the glass so far, 10-5. A lot of that is on Chris Bosh, who's being outrebounded 6-3 at the power forward position by Kevin Garnett.
Bosh needs to realize his role on this Heat team as a rebounding specialist. He's not working hard enough right now, and it's really showing.
First quarter, 6:08, Celtics 16-7: It doesn't seem to register with LeBron that he's not in Cleveland anymore. He's got two great teammates next to him, and he's completely ignoring them on every possession. Head down, drive to the basket. Every time.
LeBron's 3-for-6 from the field so far. The rest of the Heat are a combined 0-for-3.
LeBron isn't usually this selfish. Maybe it's something about taking on the Celtics, his longtime rivals, that makes him want to take the game over.
We'll see if it keeps up all night.
First quarter, 8:15, Celtics 14-5: The Celtics couldn't ask for a better start than this. They've made six of their first nine attempts from the field, blazing out to a nine-point lead early.
The Heat look a little discombobulated to start — LeBron James is doing his thing and trying to dominate with the ball in his hands, but his four teammates are standing there with nothing to do.
The Heat are still figuring things out. Erik Spoelstra has called a timeout. He needs it.
First quarter, 10:13, Celtics 8-4: That's where Shaq gives the Celtics their greatest advantage — the offensive glass. Every time he gets a rebound against this Heat team, it's a guaranteed putback with Joel Anthony guarding him.
Shaq's three-point play gives Boston a four-point lead early.
First quarter, 11:29, 2-2: We're underway, and the two stars have traded buckets to start. Rajon Rondo scores on the opening possession for Boston, and LeBron James comes right back to tie it at 2-2.
No better way than that to set the tone.
8 p.m.: All right, let's get started.
What will happen in this one? Will the Heat get revenge for opening night, winning one in their own building? Or will the Celtics prove that game one was no fluke, improving to 2-0 this season against the South Beach superteam?
Sound off in the comments below.
7 p.m.: Aside from Shaq, obviously, there's one other guy on the floor tonight who really needs to have a big game: Chris Bosh.
Serious doubts have been mounting over the past week or two about Bosh's role on the revamped Heat. He's not being asked to carry the scoring load as he was for seven years in Toronto — instead he's the energy guy.
Can he beat Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis on the glass? Can he guard Shaq if Joel Anthony isn't up to it? Can he do the little things to help his team — set picks and screens, rotate to help teammates on defense?
The Heat don't need a double-double from Bosh to win. But they do need consistent effort. If Bosh can bring it in a big game against Boston, it would be a huge breakthrough for him.
5:30 p.m.: Here's the crazy thing: This isn't the first time Joakim Noah has made himself the center of the Celtics' attention while not playing the Celtics.
Noah's feud with Kevin Garnett first made news last spring, when KG got into an altercation with Miami's Quentin Richardson and Noah chimed in from afar. The Bulls' center called KG a "dirty player," to which Boston coach Doc Rivers replied Noah should "focus on Cleveland." The Cavs eliminated the Bulls from the East playoffs in five games.
Once again, the Celtics are playing the Heat, and once again, Noah seems to have some trouble minding his own business.
Some things never change.
4 p.m.: As for the other O'Neal, it sure would be nice to have a clearer timetable on Jermaine's return. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like we have one at the moment.
J.O. left midway through the Dallas game on Monday night and hasn't returned since. He also hasn't exactly been forthcoming about his progress.
"I can’t tell you what it is," O'Neal said of his injury, "but if this is what it is, then you have to think long term."
Whatever that means.
There's a very good chance that J.O. misses both Thursday's game and Saturday's, in Memphis. The Celtics had better hope Shaq is healthy and ready for the long haul.
2:30 p.m.: With respect to the Celtics' ever-changing repertoire of O'Neals, the picture is starting to become a bit clearer for Thursday night.
Doc Rivers addressed the media Thursday morning and said there was a "fairly good chance" of center Shaquille O'Neal returning from the bruised right knee that's sidelined him for the last two weeks. As for the Celtics' other veteran center, Jermaine O'Neal, Rivers said he was "not so sure."
This is a good sign for the Celtics. The C's need Shaq's size and his low-post scoring ability against the Heat, whose undersized front line has emerged as a real problem this season. With Shaq back in the fold, Rivers has a definite matchup advantage he can exploit on Thursday night.
8 a.m.: As road trips go, they don't get much tougher than this one. The Celtics are in the midst of a four-game swing this week with stops in Oklahoma City, Dallas, Miami and Memphis.
That would make this, the Celtics' rendezvous with the Heat on Thursday night, the toughest game of the season's toughest road trip. After two days off to recover from a difficult loss in Dallas, the Celtics are set to tangle with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat.
The Celtics struck first on Oct. 26, winning a thrilling season opener at the TD Garden. Now the Heat get their turn to play host, and they'll be out for revenge.
Let's see who takes more talent to South Beach in this one.
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