Commentary

Celtics need to toughen up

Boston hopes to make life more difficult in paint for Heat in Game 2

Updated: May 29, 2012, 9:37 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

MIAMI -- As Boston Celtics players settled in for an off-day film session at the team hotel on Tuesday afternoon, they were greeted by an opening montage of the 19 layups the team allowed the Miami Heat to score in a Game 1 loss to open the Eastern Conference finals the night before.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he had already watched the reel about five times and one gets the impression his blood pressure jumped up a little higher with each replay of the spliced-together layup line.

[+] EnlargeLeBron James
Robert Mayer/US PresswireLeBron James was 10-of-11 in the paint in Game 1, and the Heat made 19 layups -- numbers the Celtics know need to change.

"Who wants to watch that?" Rivers said. "I didn't."

Neither did his players, who Rivers said were still fuming about their performance on Monday. The Celtics offered little resistance to Miami, allowing the Heat to score at will around the basket in their 93-79 triumph at AmericanAirlines Arena.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Miami shot 77.8 percent in the paint in Game 1, led by LeBron James (10 of 11) and Dwyane Wade (6 of 7). The Heat piled up 42 points and had only one shot blocked. Conversely, Boston generated 34 points in the paint, but shot only 45.9 percent and had a season-high 11 shots blocked.

The message from Rivers after the game -- and again in film on Tuesday -- was quite clear. The Heat were far too comfortable around the basket.

"Everything can't be so simple and so easy," Kevin Garnett said. "You have to put some type of defensive impact into the game. You're playing a team on the road, you have to try to make it as uncomfortable as you can. We're playing against two of the greatest to ever play the game, guys who are offensively gifted and have high basketball IQs. I feel like we're a defensive team, (but) we didn't get into a flow defensively, or slow down anything."

Added Garnett, "Nineteen layups is a lot of layups in a playoff game, the conference finals. That can't happen. You can't win a game like that."

Rajon Rondo raised some eyebrows when he noted after Monday's game that the Celtics had to make the Heat "hit the deck" moving forward, the insinuation seemingly being that Miami could expect some hard fouls and going hard to the floor in the process.

"Nothing flagrant, nothing dirty," Rondo clarified Tuesday. "When we drove, we hit the deck a lot."

Now the Celtics simply want the Heat to have to endure the same amount of deck-hitting as Boston did in Game 1.

"It's got to be more physical from our part," captain Paul Pierce said. "We've got to show better resistance. We thought it was way too easy for them in Game 1 and they looked very comfortable. Hopefully in Game 2 we can make it a little bit more uncomfortable for them. We're a team that really thrives on our physicality, our defense, our half-court grind-it-out style. And now we have to show it."

But how do the Celtics do that without escalating things to the level of chippy play that invaded Miami's last series against the Indiana Pacers?

"It's not about getting technicals or things of that nature," Pierce said, a day after the Celtics were tagged with five technicals in Monday's loss, but only one as a result of anything resembling chippiness.

"The balance is being a little bit more scrappy with the loose balls, not allowing layups, boxing out, no second shots, getting your hands dirty in the paint or getting tough baskets -- that type of stuff. It's not about going chest-to-chest or getting technical fouls, that's not toughness to me at all."

Even still, Rondo's "hit the deck" comments created a buzz at Heat practice earlier in the day.

"I expect to be quote-unquote 'put on the deck' or whatever the case may be and then you go to the free throw line," said James, who had 32 points in Game 1. "I don't need to prepare for something I already think is going to happen every game."

"We're men, just like they're men," Wade said. "We're not going to let anyone just come and punk us. That is not our mentality, to go out there and make people hit the deck."

Both sides seemed to agree that the intensity of this series is likely to jump up a notch on Wednesday. Even as Pierce cautioned against panicking after one loss, Rondo didn't hesitate to call Game 2 a must-win situation for Boston.

After all, teams that have fallen behind 0-2 in best-of-seven series have gone on to lose 94.3 percent of those series (winning just 14 of 232), according to ESPN Stats and Info.

That's an uncomfortable place for any team to be. In order to avoid it, the Celtics have to find a way to make the Heat uncomfortable in Game 2.

"It entails not letting them have 19 layups," Rivers said when asked about wanting his team to be more physical. "But that doesn't mean physical as far as we're going to start fouling and knocking people down. We foul on our own anyway. What we have to do is protect the paint better, play better defense."

And that means a more physical brand of basketball from Boston.

"I think you have to expect it to be physical," Garnett said. "Nothing more, nothing less than that."

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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