Arbella Game Preview: Game 5 - Celtics at Heat


BOSTON – Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals series between Boston and Miami were figuratively “must-wins” for the Celtics. The C’s needed to win those two contests in order to crawl back into the series after falling behind 2-0 in the opening two games.

They took care of business in Game 3, but floundered away Game 4 and eventually lost in overtime. That defeat has now put the Celtics in a 3-1 series hole, which means tonight’s Game 5 matchup, set to tip off at 7 p.m. in Miami, is no longer a figurative must-win; it’s now a literal must-win.

A loss to the Heat in Game 5 would end the Celtics’ season and send the team packing until the upcoming season commences. Simply put, it’s do or die for the Celtics.

It cannot be ignored that Boston was in a similar situation during Games 3 and 4. No, the C’s weren’t on the brink of elimination, but a loss in either of those games meant the Heat would move just one win away from the next round. Boston played very good basketball for the majority of both of those contests, blowing out Miami in Game 3 and then outplaying the Heat for most of Game 4.

All the Celtics can hope for is to play in a similar fashion tonight in AmericanAirlines Arena and put themselves in a position to salvage a road victory for the first time in this series. Doc Rivers believes his team can do that, and then some, and he stated as much shortly after Game 4 came to an end.

“It’s going to be extremely hard, and if we’re not up for that then we’ll lose; but if we’re up for that, I think we can win three games,” Rivers said. “But we have to play great basketball. Two of them are on the road, one’s at home. And we’ve just got to look at them one game at a time.”

That statement was Rivers’ response to being asked if overcoming this 3-1 series deficit would be the most difficult thing this group of Celtics has had to do in the last four seasons. On the other side of the ball, Erik Speolstra believes closing out a series against this Celtics team will be the most difficult thing his Heat squad has had to do, and that’s saying something considering the scrutiny his team has played under this season.

“[TD Garden is] a tough place to win but what we’re going to face on Wednesday will be our greatest challenge of this season,” Spoelstra said. “It will be the toughest thing we have to do up to this point is to put away a champion. We’ll have to play our very best with our best effort probably to win by one.”

Spoelstra’s motives for making that comment are probably threefold. He wants to show his opponent respect, he doesn’t want to motivate his opponent with a misguided statement, and he wants to keep his own team’s mindset in the necessary state.

Talking won’t do the trick for either of these teams, though. This game, and series, will be decided on the court.

Despite Miami’s Big Three combining for 83 points on Monday, one game after their lowest total output of the season, Boston was able to outplay the Heat on Monday night. While Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and nearly all of the Celtics struggled to shoot the ball, Paul Pierce carried the load with his 27 points. The Heat were only afforded an opportunity to win in overtime because the Celtics made several careless turnovers down the stretch and missed a couple of easy shots. Oh, and LeBron James made the biggest shot of his career to quiet a roaring Garden crowd with two minutes left in regulation.

The intensity and defense displayed by Boston throughout that game was essential, and it will need to be present yet again during Game 5. In addition, the Celtics will absolutely need better performances from basically every player not named Pierce.

Garnett and Allen combined to shoot just 6-of-22 from the floor, and that can’t be the case when they’re the second and third offensive options on the team. We all know what Rajon Rondo was dealing with – a recently-dislocated left elbow – and he certainly wasn’t himself. He wasn’t able to dribble, penetrate or pass effectively.

All three of those players have had 48 hours to allow their below average performances to simmer in their minds, and the hope is that they’ll bounce back tonight. That’s exactly what Garnett did in Game 3 after struggling in Game 2, and Spoelstra did everything he could Monday night to avoid providing some extra motivation for the Big Ticket.

“I’m not going to say anything about it,” he said. “Now [Garnett’s] got 48 hours to gain all his fuel again and fuel him up.”

Garnett and the Celtics will need all the fuel they can find for Game 5, because their season is officially on the line.

Play With Poise

Considering all of the negative factors that the Celtics were dealing with throughout Game 4 (i.e. shooting struggles, Rondo’s limited impact, etc.), they still managed to play a pretty solid basketball game on Monday night. But by the end of the contest, turnovers had turned into an enormous issue.

Boston finished the game with 18 turnovers that led to a whopping 28 points for Miami. Rivers has said all series long that his team simply cannot afford to let the Heat play in transition, but that’s essentially where Miami won the game on Monday.

Many of those turnovers were unforced and could have easily been avoided. Everyone from Rondo down to Glen Davis will need to take care of the ball tonight and not force the issue. When the Celtics allow the offense to come to them, rather than seeking it out, good things always happen.

Must Play Tough

To put it bluntly, the Celtics were no-shows in the toughness category of Game 4. Boston was dominated in every statistic that exemplifies toughness: it was outrebounded 45-28, it did not score a single second chance point and only two of its players recorded a block.

For a team that is supposed to be known for its physicality and toughness, playing against a team that is supposed to be known for the opposite, the Celtics did not deliver in Game 4. Boston has a size advantage in the frontcourt nearly every minute of every game against Miami. There is no excuse for being drastically outrebounded to that level. These areas must be cleaned up for the C’s to continue this series beyond tonight.

Rondo, West, or Both?

Rivers had to make the difficult decision to take Rondo out of the game during crunch time on Monday after the point guard had already logged more than 38 minutes of playing time. It was obvious by the end of the game that Rondo’s inability to keep his dribble with his left hand was hampering the Celtics on offense. Rivers replaced Rondo with Delonte West in crunch time, and the coach noted how difficult that decision was on Monday night.

“I don’t know what the right call was,” said Rivers. “They clearly were trapping off of [Rondo] and trapping him. He struggled getting the ball (to) the guys in their right spot.”

Rondo did finish with a game-high five assists, but he just wasn’t himself. Rivers also alluded to the fact that West’s shooting ability, which has logged 31 points on 12-of-18 shooting in the past three games, helps open up Boston’s offense. In addition to West’s shooting, he had provided stellar defense on Dwyane Wade.

With 38 minutes of game action and use of his elbow on Monday night, the assumption is that Rondo won’t be feeling substantially better for tonight’s game than he did for Game 4. If he cannot perform at a higher level, Rivers is again going to be forced to make the decision of relying on Rondo, West, or both guards to lead the Celtics to a critical victory.