Heat, Celtics: No excuses
MIAMI -- Despite establishing one of the more bitter playoff rivalries recently, there's at least one thing the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics can agree on entering their Eastern Conference finals showdown: Leave the excuses at home.
Both teams are coping with major injuries that have knocked key players out of the series, as well as nagging bumps and bruises affecting other stars. Miami and Boston are coming off conference semifinal series where they were pushed to six and seven games, respectively.
And with games scheduled for every other night in the conference finals, starting with Game 1 in Miami on Monday, there might be legitimate concerns about fatigue, particularly with Boston's aging and ailing core.
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Just don't mention any of those issues to the Heat.
"Get out of here with that," guard Dwyane Wade said Sunday. "I don't believe none of that. No feet hurting, no (one being) tired, nothing. This is the Boston Celtics. They're all 100 percent to me. When they play the Miami Heat, it's a different ball game. And vice versa. No storylines. No excuses."
Instead, both teams vow to focus on what they have working for them entering the series. But regardless of which team wins and advances to the NBA Finals, it will be one that had to survive significant adversity to get there.
The Celtics will be without shooting guard and defensive specialist Avery Bradley, who underwent shoulder surgery last week and won't be available to defend Wade. Boston is also dealing with Ray Allen's lingering ankle injury that has affected his play and will require surgery after the season.
Meanwhile, the Heat aren't expected to have Chris Bosh for the series, as the perennial All-Star forward continues his methodical recovery from a strained abdominal muscle he sustained in Game 1 of the semifinal series against Indiana.
Boston did not hold practice Sunday, instead handing out scouting reports and flying to Miami. Celtics coach Doc Rivers was packed with the hopes of making a Miami trip even before Game 7 of the Philly series, just so he could take every possible moment after the game Saturday night to watch film of the Heat, and he planned more of the same on the three-hour flight from Boston.
"We'll be ready," Rivers said. "It's going to be a tough turnaround, but listen, we're not an excuse team. We'll be ready on Monday."
His players said they welcomed the short turnaround.
"I kind of like it for us," Celtics captain Paul Pierce said. "It keeps us in rhythm. It keeps us playing. We're an older team so we get kind of stiff when we sit around for too long. We like the fact that we're going to go right into it."
This is the Boston Celtics. They're all 100 percent to me. When they play the Miami Heat, it's a different ball game. And vice versa. No storylines. No excuses.” -- Dwyane Wade on facing the Celtics
For the fifth time in seven years, it'll be Boston or Miami winning the Eastern Conference championship. The Heat say it almost seemed predestined that they would be seeing the Celtics again, and Boston's perspective being that the team in green is exactly where it expected to be as well.
"Inevitable. It's the matchup the game of basketball wants," Wade said Sunday afternoon. "Obviously, with the Chicago Bulls being out, this is the biggest matchup the Eastern Conference can have. So we accept the challenge and we look forward to the series."
Added Heat coach Erik Spoelstra: "Was there any doubt that it'd be us and Boston?"
Well, maybe a little.
Spoelstra watched Boston's Game 7 East semifinal matchup against Philadelphia without a notepad, not wanting to start game planning until the winner was decided. And that didn't come until late in the night, when Rajon Rondo -- forced into the closer's role after Pierce fouled out with 4:16 left -- delivered time and again down the stretch, carrying the Celtics to an 85-75 closeout victory.
"This is a good time right now," Celtics forward Kevin Garnett said. "This is the cream of the cream. This is what it's all about, you know, conference finals. We definitely didn't like the way we left last year. So we'll see what happens, man. We'll see what happens. Let's get it on."
Miami beat Boston in five games in last year's East semifinals, and the Celtics took three of four games from Miami this season. Both sides cautioned against reading too much into any of those results.
Neither team is short on desperation this time around. With Pierce, Garnett and Allen possibly playing their final season together, the Celtics hope to send their veteran core out with a second championship after they won the 2007-08 title in their first season together.
After squandering a 2-1 series lead and losing to the Dallas Mavericks in last season's NBA Finals, the Heat are under pressure to complete the job in the second season of their own "Big 3" era. But that task is even greater now that Miami is without Bosh, who averaged 18 points and 7.9 rebounds this season.
LeBron James said the game changes in the playoffs, even more so as teams get deeper into it. The Celtics know what he wants to do, he knows what the Celtics will try, familiarity born from James having already faced Boston in 18 playoff games -- more than any other active player, and more than any club the reigning MVP has squared off with in the postseason.
"I wouldn't have it no other way, personally," James said. "It's really the only team I'm accustomed to playing in the playoffs. No matter where I go, I find a way to play Boston. ... We've got a lot of history."
James and the Cleveland Cavaliers lost in seven games to Boston in 2008. In 2010, the Celtics topped the Cavs in six games, one round after easily beating the Heat in a series punctuated by Wade vowing that he wouldn't lose another first-round series for a long time to come.
The Celtics are averaging 88.1 points in the playoffs. James and Wade are averaging nearly 53 in the postseason by themselves, and combined to score 197 in the last three games -- all Miami wins -- in the second-round series against Indiana.
Clearly, a clash in styles is possible, and the Celtics are leery of what Miami can do in the open floor.
"We will lose in a track meet," Allen said. "This team, they get up and down the floor. They want to score in transition. They pride themselves off of getting easy baskets. Defensively, we have to get back. Offensively, we can't play with the ball, we can't turn the ball over, we can't not execute."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.