Celtics

Blakely's Celtics-Heat Game 5 preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Heat Game 5 preview

MIAMI Paul Pierce (knee) and Ray Allen won't be completely healthy at any point during the playoffs. But it's clear that they've figured out to not just play through the pain, but play well enough to give the Celtics a fighting chance while matched up against Miami's two best players.

Pierce isn't going to be able to match LeBron James point-for-point, but he can make those points scored by James tough to come by. And for Allen, Dwyane Wade's inability to take over games the way he's used to has been aided by Allen gradually returning to the big-shot, perimeter scoring threat that he has been for so many years.

When asked as to whether the improved play of both in Games 3 and 4 had something to do with them having figured out how to play through the pain, C's coach Doc Rivers said, "yeah. I wold say it's probably 100 percent of that."

This is particularly true in Allen's case.

"It's more he has just kind of resigned to the fact that this is what he has to play with," Rivers said. "He has figured out to move and cut on it."

Pierce had similar comments in describing his medial collateral ligament sprain he has in his left knee.

"It's going to be what it is," Pierce said. "It's not going to get any better until I'm completely done with the season. I have no complaints about it. I understand this is what it is. I'm at peace with it."

The ability for Pierce and Allen to play well gives the Celtics hope that they can come into Miami and steal Game 5 tonight. Here are some other factors that are likely to come into play as Miami and Boston square off in a pivotal Game 5 battle with the winner positioning themselves to be one win away from moving on to the NBA Finals.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: All eyes will of course be on the expected return of Chris Bosh, who has missed the last nine games with an abdominal strain injury. If he looks anything like most players upon their first return after missing a few games, chances are high that he'll be a bit too hyped and too amped up initially, but will gradually calm down and play his game. The Celtics would be wise to put him in as many situations early on in which he has to move, just to find out where he's at physically.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Paul Pierce vs LeBron James: It's rare that you'll find the leading scorers for two teams foul out in the same game, but it speaks to some degree to how tough a battle this series has been at the small forward position. The C's will probably look at ways to get Pierce off LeBron defensively, which should result in more playing time for Mickael Pietrus and Marquis Daniels. As for James, look for his always-aggressive style of basketball to be rewarded with trips to the free throw line - a lot of them - tonight instead of fouls.

PLAYER TO WATCH: The pressure to perform will once again be on Rajon Rondo, who called out the Heat for "whining and crying" about calls at halftime of Boston's Game 4 win. Miami will look to be as aggressive as ever in their defense of him, which means we're likely to see the most physical play on Rondo in this series, tonight.STAT TO TRACK: Whether it's unfavorable calls or a lack of aggressiveness, the Celtics have to do a better job of closing the free throw gap that existed in Games 1 and 2 in Miami. In those two games, the Heat were plus-20 on free throw attempts. In the two games in Boston, the C's were plus-2 in free throw attempts.

Larkin provides fourth-quarter spark, Celtics beat Sixers, 102-92

Larkin provides fourth-quarter spark, Celtics beat Sixers, 102-92

PHILADELPHIA – Despite playing its second straight game without a key rotation player, the Boston Celtics did just enough to get their first win of the season, 102-92, over Philadelphia.

Boston (1-2) was led by Kyrie Irving’s game-high 21 points, but it was Shane Larkin's floor game down the stretch that truly catapulted Boston to its first win of the season.

Larkin, who was seeing action in large part because Marcus Smart was out with a left ankle injury, provided a huge spark in the fourth before finishing with 10 points and four assists.

He drained a 3-pointer that tied the game at 75-all, which was part of an 18-9 Celtics run.

The Sixers (0-2) were led by J.J. Redick and Jerryd Bayless who had 19 and 18 points, respectively. Joel Embiid got off to a slow start, but finished with a double-double of 11 points and 13 rebounds.

Boston played with a lead for most of the first half, but Philadelphia took over with a 7-0 run to end the second quarter and had the Celtics playing catch-up for all of the third and some of the fourth quarter.

Boston was once again short-handed, with Marcus Smart out with a left ankle injury. He replaced Gordon Hayward, whose left ankle injury in the first quarter of Boston’s loss to Cleveland on Tuesday, is expected to keep him sidelined for the rest of the season.

But with players out, that opens up opportunities for others to step up.

Larkin, who walked away from a contract overseas that would have paid about $5 million more than he’s making with the Celtics, was one of those players.

Aron Baynes, who got the start with Smart out, had 10 points and eight rebounds. Boston also got another strong game off the bench from Terry Rozier who had 14 points and seven rebounds

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Moving to power forward 'presents a different challenge' for Horford

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Moving to power forward 'presents a different challenge' for Horford

PHILADELPHIA – For the third time in as many games, the Boston Celtics will field a different lineup.

It will have a domino effect on Boston’s usual starters, but no one more than Al Horford who will slide over to power forward with Aron Baynes inserted into the starting lineup where he’ll be charged with trying to defend Sixers 7-footer Joel Embiid.

Meanwhile, Horford will be assigned to defend Robert Covington who is one of Philadelphia’s better perimeter scorers.

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“I feel like one of my strengths is being able to play multiple positions,” Horford told NBC Sports Boston. “It presents a different challenge for me, which is making sure I do a good job of covering him out on the perimeter, staying between him and the basket.”

In Philadelphia’s 120-115 season-opening loss to Washington, Covington led all Sixers with 29 points which included him going 7-for-11 from 3-point range in addition to grabbing seven rebounds.

While Covington will be Horford’s first defensive assignment, he knows he will also be called upon at times to defend Embiid who ranks among the best centers in the NBA despite having played just 32 games over the course of three NBA seasons.

In the loss to the Wizards, Embiid had a double-double of 18 points and 13 rebounds.

Horford’s defense will be critical for Boston (0-2) to get its first win of the season, but the Celtics will also need him to take advantage of scoring opportunities as well.

“We have some guys down, but that creates opportunities for other guys to step up and contribute,” Horford said. “It’s going to all of us, the veterans, the young players, all of us to get that first win.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens agreed.

“I think that’s how we have to look at it,” Stevens said. “We’re going to have to make a few tweaks on how we do things, obviously. Hey, it’s gonna be something that we’re going to have to do really, really well on the fly.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE