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Delonte West has picked up his play against the Heat.WALTHAM, Mass. -- Even the most hopeful of optimists would have difficulty drawing silver linings out of the current 0-2 series hole the Celtics find themselves in at the hands of the Miami Heat. But if ever there was one, it would have to be reserve guard Delonte West, who labored through the Celtics' first-round sweep of the New York Knicks, has once again channeled the aggressiveness that Boston needs out of him in order to be successful.
West only garnered a shade over 13 minutes per game against the Knicks, and seemed unsure as to where he could impact the game with such little floor time. The result was a string of four performances in which he averaged only two points, two rebounds, just over one assist, and less than three field goal attempts per game.
But following the series came a conversation with head coach Doc Rivers, who urged West to rekindle the assertiveness that is expected of him.
"He just wants me to turn up the aggressiveness," said West before the Celtics' final practice prior to their series with the Heat on April 29. "And for me that's not necessarily just shooting the basketball, because [anyone who] knows my game knows I can do a lot of things where I can affect the game more than just shooting the basketball. I think that's what he wants."
Rivers' message got through and it became apparent over the first two games against the Heat that that was a necessity, since West's playing time ended up rising dramatically due to Rajon Rondo dealing with foul trouble in Game 1 and a sore lower back in Game 2. With the Heat clicking on virtually all cylinders, the Celtics couldn't have afforded to roll out the West who looked to be in limbo against the Knicks. Instead, they got the version who's more than capable of being an X-factor and a difference-maker for Boston.
Through two games against the Heat, West has averaged 10 points and three rebounds on 53.8 percent shooting from the field and 57.1 percent from 3-point nation. His minutes jumped to 20.5 per game, and his field goal attempts soared to over six per contest. He was back firing away at the rim, and through two games against Miami, his average of made field goals per game (3.5) is higher than what his average of field goal attempts was against the Knicks (2.8).
At times he's been arguably too aggressive, like midway through the second half of Game 1 when he picked up a technical foul after tossing the ball at Heat guard Mario Chalmers. But overall, West has been the type of player the Celtics need him to be, and he's led a reserve group that still needs to contribute, despite Rivers' early-series claim that he will lean heavily on his starters against the Heat.
In Game 2, Boston's bench held its ground in the first half against Miami -- something it hasn't done consistently in the postseason -- with West contributing five vital points while the starters rested and nursed various injuries on the sideline. He buried a 3-pointer off a feed from Glen Davis three minutes into the second frame, cutting Miami's lead to a single point, and came back with a pull-up jumper over Chalmers two minutes later, which tied the game at 33. He even displayed his chops on defense, by checking Dwyane Wade on the opposite end of the floor, cutting off his angle to the hoop and stripping the ball from him.
West's biggest contribution in Game 2 came in the fourth quarter, before the Heat made their 22-11 run to end the game (which included a 14-0 burst). West first buried a 3-pointer from the left corner off of a baseline feed from Rondo, but then had to assume control of the team when Boston's All-Star point guard had to retreat to the bench to rest his back. The Celtics trailed by three when Rondo departed, but West helped guide the C's back as they tied the game at 80 with 7:09 to play in the game.
"Honestly, we made a run. Delonte was in," said Rivers of the Celtics' mini-comeback. "That's when we made our run, so that was fine. Delonte came in and gave us a lift, so, [Rondo being out] didn't hurt us, honestly, in that way."
West recovered from a turnover that led to a Joel Anthony dunk by taking Chalmers down in the post on the right side and firing a tough fading jumper over him. It was the type of shot Rivers wished the Celtics had kept trying to procure as the Heat geared up for their final spurt that ended the game. But that didn't lessen the fact that West did his job as well as the Celtics could have hoped for.
"Delonte West played great," Rondo proclaimed after Tuesday's loss.
He played aggressively, or, in other words, exactly the way the Celtics need him to play.
Greg Payne is a student intern for ESPNBoston.com