The Celtics knew they couldn't afford to turn the ball over against the Heat. They said so themselves in the three practices days leading up to Sunday's tilt. They knew the likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade would corral their miscues and feast on them. They knew they would have an immensely difficult time vanquishing the Heat if they handed them extra possession after extra possession.
But knowing didn't stop them from doing it. The C's handed the ball over 14 times -- certainly not an egregious amount, but many were the unforced, make-you-want-to-pull-your-hair-out miscues that Boston cannot afford over the course of this series. They were the ones that were mostly preventable. Worse off, they came at inopportune times, particularly in the first frame when the Celtics were attempting to establish a rhythm and a pace after having not played for a whole week, and over the final seven minutes, when the C's were attempting to claw back from a double-digit deficit without Paul Pierce who picked up two technical fouls earlier in the period and was ejected.
Miami simply played the part everyone knew it would play: It took Boston's handouts and converted them into 26 points.
"We turned the ball over and gave up  points and it was the one thing before the game -- I told [reporters], 'You can't turn the ball over,'" said Celtics coach Doc Rivers afterward. "They don't force a lot of turnovers, but when you do turn the ball over, it's a guaranteed basket. It was a guaranteed basket when LeBron was by himself in Cleveland, and Wade was by himself in Miami on a turnover. Now they're together. You just can't turn the ball over. We gifted  points."
Nearly a third of those points came in the first frame, when Boston sputtered on offense, and scored just 14 points on 5-of-20 shooting, committing four turnovers in the process, which the Heat converted into eight points. What was a credible first quarter defensive effort by the Celtics (Miami shot just 36.8 percent in the opening 12 minutes) was cast aside as almost half of the Heat's 20 points in the quarter came courtesy of Boston's miscues.
"We had plays where we just absolutely -- there wasn't even [anybody] there -- we just turned the ball over," said Jermaine O'Neal. "We weren't in the right spots defensively, and like I said, a lot of it is when they get out in transition and they really scramble around on defense. But most of it was really what we [did]. And against a good team like Miami you can't have self-inflicted wounds, because they tend to make you pay for it."
The Celtics might have paid most dearly for their errors in the fourth quarter, when, despite at one point in the game facing a 19-point deficit, and despite Pierce getting tossed with seven minutes to play, they still had a chance to steal the game, and, on cue, fumbled away a host of opportunities to cut further into Miami's dwindling lead.
Rajon Rondo, who was tabbed with five turnovers in the game, committed all of them in the final frame, as part of an underwhelming effort brought on by early foul trouble he could have avoided. The Celtics, as a team, were credited with six giveaways in the final quarter, good for 10 Miami points, which helped the Heat survive a flurry of late activity from Boston, which cut the deficit to as few as seven points at one juncture in the fourth period.
Not only were the Celtics sacrificing precious opportunities of their own to score the basketball and chip away at Miami's advantage, but they were practically asking the Heat to build it right back up by routinely handing the ball back to them. The Heat actually turned the ball over more than the Celtics did (18 times), and Boston capitalized to the tune of 26 points of their own, but they were unable to truly gain any sort of edge because of their own errors.
"Those extra possessions are very difficult to make up, and we didn't make them up tonight," said Rivers.
Rondo was willing to take the blame afterwards, acknowledging that his giveaways impeded Boston's recovery effort.
"I turned the ball over, I think [in] the last four or five minutes, maybe three times, maybe four," he said. "I think if I took care of the ball we still had a chance to win. And we still cut it to, I think, eight or 10, so [if we] take care of the ball in the beginning part of the game and closing games, we'll be fine."
As the Celtics learned after a week of preaching, that's easier said than done.
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