Game over, Heat win 93-79: There was very little encouragement the Celtics could have taken home from this one.
The Celtics were owned on the boards, in the paint and on the overall scoreboard as the Heat took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. The Celtics looked undermanned and overmatched, as fatigue and injuries showed signs of finally catching up with the experienced squad.
Kevin Garnett led the Celtics with 23 points and 10 rebounds, while LeBron James finished with 32 points and 13 boards.
Fourth quarter, 1:41, Heat 91-75: Wade played with Sasha Pavlovic out beyond the arc for a bit, wound some clock, then dished to Chalmers. The Miami point guard then faked a jumper and dropped the ball to Battier, who banked home a jumper to stretch the Heat's lead to 16 points.
That was the type of game it was for the Heat. They played with the Celtics when they had to, leading to an inevitable runaway victory that will not be as close as the final score indicated.
Fourth quarter, 10:13, Heat 76-61: In order for the Celtics to win against the Heat, we predicted the Celtics would have to do three things.
1. Pierce would have to play James to a standstill.
2. Allen would have to find some way to slow down Wade.
3. Garnett and Rondo would have to dominate their respective matchups.
James had 27 points with more than 10 minutes to go in the game, which was decidedly not a "standstill" with Pierce, who had 12 points. Allen had done a strong defensive job on Wade, considering Allen's painful ankles, and Garnett handled his business against Anthony, Battier and the crew. But Rondo was hardly any better than Chalmers.
Losing two out of three of those areas was not good news for Boston. Not surprisingly, they trailed by 15 points.
End of third quarter, Heat 72-61: Nobody handles prosperity quite like the Celtics. A strong second quarter helped them pull back into a tie at the half, so they followed that with an unsightly third quarter that featured 16 misses out of their 22 field goal attempts and fell behind by as many as 13 points, their largest deficit of the game.
Rondo was the catalyst — or whatever to opposite of catalyst is — in the frame, missing all but one of his six shots and failing to register an assist.
Rondo posted one strong quarter out of the first three in Miami. The Celtics, not coincidentally, did the same.
Third quarter, 2:55, Heat 66-58: The book is out on Mickael Pietrus. The reserve swingman bit on two pump-fake, lean-in moves to foul Wade and James. Pietrus was a victim of the move in the first half against Wade and again in the third quarter against James. Pietrus could play an important defensive role in this series — if he could stay on the floor. He had three personal fouls in only nine minutes on the floor.
Garnett continued to be immense in the third quarter, but James was simply better. James was up to a game-high 23 points and shared the game high in rebounds with Garnett, with seven. James also made Rondo the victim of another help block, as three of Rondo's 16 shots had been blocked. Rondo was just 5-for-16 from the field with five assists.
Third quarter, 6:25, Heat 59-52: Pierce took umbrage with a non-call, and as he appeared to dispute the matter with an official, James dashed downcourt. Off the missed shot, Wade fired a football pass to a streaking James for an easy score, contributing to the Heat's 9-2 run to retake a commanding lead.
Such mistakes cannot happen for the Celtics to win this game, no matter how strongly they may feel a foul should have been called.
Halftime, game tied 46-46: If the Celtics could ever string together 48 minutes of the same quality they play in eight-to-10 minutes stretches, they would walk away with this series and the title.
Following an abysmal first quarter that saw them score 11 points, the Celtics surged for 35 points in the second quarter to cut an 11-point deficit to zero.
That's right, it is a tie game. The officials reviewed a putback by Joel Anthony and ruled that the ball had not left Anthony's hand before the shot clock expired, so two points were taken off the board. That ruling, and the Celtics' improved shooting, accounted for the tie score. They Celtics worked their shooting percentage up to 43 percent by shooting 13-for-22 from the field in the second frame.
The Good: Rajon Rondo picked it up after a sluggish first quarter, scoring all eight of his points and dishing out three of his five assists in the second quarter. He did not commit a single turnover after committing for in the first 12 minutes. … Kevin Garnett is a free agent at the end of the season, as you may have heard, and the way he is playing the Celtics may want to pay him whatever he wants. Garnett led the Celtics with 13 points in the first half, but more importantly he made several other plays that did not translate to the box score, like keeping alive loose balls and playing excellent positional defense. … LeBron James is a pretty good player. Someone should make him, like, the Most Valuable Player or something. King James scored 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting with four points and three assists. … Mike Miller could hardly walk, but he hit three of his five shots and helped stretch the floor for James and Dwyane Wade.
The Bad: Ray Allen was playing hurt, but his shooting hurt just as much to watch. Allen missed four of his five field goal attempts and four of his seven foul shots, adding a (probably unwarranted) foul.
The So-so: Wade did not go off in the first half, shooting just 2-for-5 from the field with two turnovers, but nobody should put Wade in the "bad" category if they know what is good for them. This may all have been part of Wade's diabolical plan, after all. He may just have been waiting to bust out in the second half.
Second quarter, 2:58, Heat 43-38: Apparently, the Celtics would be getting all the technicals in this game.
Garnett picked up a by-the-book technical for tipping the ball after it went through the basket, a second offense that drew an automatic tech. Celtics coach Doc Rivers picked up a technical of his own for apparently yelling "Come on, Eddie" to referee Ed Malloy on a drive to the hoop by Rondo.
Whatever. In basketball matters, Allen's cold shooting at the foul line continued. He went to the line for three shots and missed two of the three, dropping him to 3-for-7 for the game.
Second quarter, 8:12, Heat 30-24: The pickup of Keyon Dooling in a December trade with the Milwaukee Bucks hardly registered on the Celtics' transaction log, but it has turned out to be crucial in the playoffs. Dooling played his usual energetic defense off the bench, troubling Wade with and without the ball, and trailed on a Celtics break to drain a 3-pointer from the wing to pull the Celtics within six points.
Second quarter, 10:01, Heat 28-17: It's just one of those games for Allen. After beating Wade to the spot on defense, Allen was whistled for a defensive call. When Allen twisted away in disbelief, he was hit with a technical foul.
On replay, it did not appear Allen fouled Wade or did anything to merit a tech. For a guy who is still without a field goal, not much went his way on either end of the court.
End of first quarter, Heat 21-11: If 33 percent field goal shooting was not good enough to beat the Sixers, it sure as heck will not be good enough to beat the Heat.
Of course, 33 percent would be a welcome improvement for the Celtics after their cold-shooting first quarter. The Celtics shot 25 percent from the field in the first 12 minutes. Allen, who missed three good looks, and Rondo, who took three wild shots that never really had a chance, the biggest perpetrators of the Celtics' 5-for-20 shooting mark.
First quarter, 2:58, Heat 17-9: The Celtics are known as a disciplined defensive team, but if they did not get it together on that end of the court, they were in for a long night.
Wade again eluded Allen to grab a pass in the lane, although Wade elected not to shoot what would have been an eight-footer. James then back-cut when Pierce overplayed him on the wing, catching a flawless lob from Mario Chalmers for a two-handed dunk.
The Celtics will not be able to score with the Heat, so slowing down Miami's offensive attack is the only way the Celtics will have a prayer in this series.
First quarter, 5:38, Heat 10-5: For anyone expecting this series to feature crisper offense after the defensive show in the last round, you should know better.
Apart from a poor pass by Rondo that resulted in a dunk by James, the Celtics forced the Heat to play at their brutal pace in the early going. The Celtics missed nine of their first 11 shots but limited the Heat by forcing three turnovers and contesting 3-pointers. Garnett scored Boston's first two baskets and Allen played solid on-ball defense against Wade, but the Heat guard slipped past Allen twice for easy layups on off-ball cuts.
7:50 p.m.: Chris Bosh will not play, Ray Allen will, and the sun will set in the West. All things are as expected and as usual as the Celtics prepare for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Celtics take a stab at unseating the defending East champs starting Monday at American Airlines Arena. This is the Celtics' third conference finals trip in five years, and the previous two trips led to the NBA Finals.
Kevin Garnett will be a huge factor in this series for the Heat, who could be without Bosh for the duration. Without big performances by Garnett, the Celtics could find it difficult to overcome the combined exploits of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, who accounted for 55 percent of Miami's scoring in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
The probable starting lineups appear below.
8 a.m. ET: The Celtics discover how much they have left in the tank when they take on the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Celtics only got one day off between their grueling Game 7 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers and the opener of the conference finals, but there will be no complaints about rest heading into Monday's game. After all, the Celtics' alternative would have been losing to the Sixers and getting all the rest they wanted.
The storyline has been the Celtics' health, or lack thereof, but the Heat are dealing with injury issues of their own. Chris Bosh was sidelined for most of the second round with an abdominal strain, and Dwyane Wade was dealing with leg issues. Miami still has a fully operable LeBron James, though, and as long as the reigning MVP is in the building, his team will never be viewed as an underdog.
Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 8:30 p.m.
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