Celtics, With New Bench, Seek Another Title

The who show up at Madison Square Garden on Sunday will not look all that different from the team out of Madison Square Garden on April 24.

The starting five has not changed, although is doubtful because of a bruised right heel. He missed both exhibition games and has been unable to participate in practice for some time.

This year’s Celtics, with an eye on one more run at the franchise’s 18th N.B.A. championship, still lean heavily on Pierce, , and , the only holdovers from .

They have completely reconfigured their bench, trading Glen Davis to the Orlando Magic for . They are adjusting to the loss of their best reserve, , for the season, as he prepares to undergo heart surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm.

They have brought in hungry veterans like , who has played nine seasons without a sniff of the playoffs, and , who has played 11 seasons. They are counting on the second-year pro to contribute. They are hoping that has recovered mentally and physically from a near career-ending injury (bruised spinal cord.) So far, it looks as if he has.

The new additions give the Celtics more experience, more athleticism and, as Pierce noted recently, fewer histrionics.

“I thought a year ago we had a lot of immaturity with our bench, and it brought inconsistent play from them,” Pierce said. “I think these guys are a lot more experienced, bring a lot more professionalism on a day-to-day basis.”

But, in the end, the fortunes of this team are going to rise and fall on the shoulders of the so-called Big Four. That has been the case since they first all came together in 2007, and nothing in 2011 has changed the equation.

“We look around and see Bass and Wilcox and Dooling, guys that are veteran players that we expect a great deal from,” Allen said. “But the four of us that have been here — we have to play our best basketball, and we have to make sure we bring everybody along. Everyone here has to be good. We can’t be dead weight, any of us.”

The injury to Pierce drives home the rather critical point that Allen (36), Garnett (35), Pierce (34) and Jermaine O’Neal (33) could be especially vulnerable to injuries given the shortened season and the squeezing of 66 games into 124 days. O’Neal has a history of being an injury waiting to happen. Garnett has been unable to get through a single season without an injury since coming to Boston before the 2007-8 season. Before that, he was a paragon of health and durability in Minnesota.

In a regular season, there would be room and time for someone like Pierce to heal. There is no such luxury this time around, and, given his reputation as a player who likes the spotlight, many feel he will not pass up playing in the season opener on national television, sore heel or not.

“He’s a gamer, he’s always been that,” Coach said. “This is an extraordinary circumstance — where we’ve been in a lockout, we’ve had a week to two weeks together, and he’s been a part of none of that. And then we’re going to just throw him in a game when he gets healthy? It’s not the best situation you want to be in, but when you play 66 games in 124 days, you don’t have a choice.”

Rondo, the team’s point guard, arrived in camp hearing his name in trade rumors for on an almost daily basis. Rondo is starting his sixth season with the Celtics, and he is only 25. He has developed into an All-Star and one of the league’s premier defenders at his position. More and more, the Celtics are being viewed as his team.

General Manager Danny Ainge did his best to assure Rondo, who has a reputation for being temperamental, that he was not shopping him, and that even being mentioned in a trade for Paul was a huge compliment. The Rondo of a couple years ago might have pouted and sulked. This year’s version appears to have accepted it as business as usual.

“I’m already pretty fueled up, man,” Rondo said on the day camp opened. He has not spoken with reporters since. “Honestly. I’m running over, actually. I’m just anxious to play. It’s a short season, we’re going to take advantage of this opportunity with this great team we have. We have great chemistry. I’m just ready to go. I’m really excited about our team, and the main goal for me and the team is to win a championship.”

One more season. One more shot. This may be it for the Celtics as fans have known them over the last half-decade.

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With Emotions Running High, Heat Top Celtics 99-90

Fans immediately reacted angrily.

But by day’s end, that hit would seem like a mere love tap. And already, the Miami-Boston series is boiling over with emotion.

Dwyane Wade scored 38 points on 14-of-21 shooting, James Jones set a Miami postseason record with 25 points off the bench, and beat the 99-90 on Sunday to open their Eastern Conference semifinal series in a game marked by five technical fouls, one flagrant foul and the ejection of Boston’s Paul Pierce with 7 minutes remaining.

“We’re going to have to fight for every inch, every game we get,” Wade said. “Right now, we won Game 1. We’re supposed to. We’ll go back and focus on winning Game 2. We’re at home, we have home-court advantage. They’re just trying to come in and steal one like they’ve done in the past. So it’s our job to come out with the same mentality in the next one.”

Game 2 is Tuesday.

Within minutes of Sunday’s game ending, workers began turning AmericanAirlines Arena from a basketball facility into one that’ll get used Monday night for a professional wrestling card.

Seemed fitting after Sunday’s show.

There was plenty of hitting and jawing, even a spectacular leap from by one of the stars into the seats — yes, Wade dove headfirst into a sea of Heat fans behind the baseline in the final minutes, an attempt to save a ridiculously overthrown pass by Mario Chalmers.

Pierce wasn’t around to see that play.

He got a pair of technicals 59 seconds apart for taking too much exception to fouls by Jones and Wade, and pulled his jersey over his head on the way to the Boston locker room.

“We can’t worry about other players and if they want to throw dirty shots or anything like that,” Celtics forward Glen Davis said. “Yeah, we want to protect ourselves, stand up for ourselves, but at the same time we have to keep our composure and play the way we need to play.”

That didn’t happen with Pierce.

Jones fouled him hard — his arm ended up around Pierce’s neck — with 7:59 left, and Pierce got a technical for making contact with him after play had been stopped, crew chief Dan Crawford said. On Pierce’s second technical, he set a screen for Wade — who collided with him at nearly a full sprint.

Wade stepped toward Pierce, who Crawford said was guilty of a verbal taunt. That merited the second technical and ejection.

“James Jones was a clear flagrant,” Celtics coach said. “He went right for the head and grabbed. And I thought Dwyane Wade’s was an absolute flagrant. He had no intentions … he was just trying to run through Paul. I told Paul, ‘You still don’t react.'”

Ray Allen scored 25 points for Boston, which lost for the first time in five games this postseason. Pierce scored 19 and Delonte West finished with 10 for the Celtics, while Rondo and were held to a combined 14 points on 6-for-19 shooting.

“There’s so many things we need to do to get better,” Allen said. “I think everybody in that locker room knows that, just from a small conversation we just had.”

Pierce did not speak with reporters postgame.

After he departed, the Celtics tried to rally. Allen made a 3-pointer to get within 90-82, but Chris Bosh and Wade had Miami’s next two baskets, restoring a double-digit lead that wasn’t again seriously threatened.

“Every game is going to go like this,” Wade said. “We look forward to the challenge.”

Wade averaged 12.8 points on 28 percent shooting against the Celtics in four regular-season matchups, his worst numbers in both categories against any opponent this season.

Whatever wasn’t working then, well, it was fixed for Game 1.

He had nine field goals and 23 points by halftime — while the entire Boston starting five combined for eight field goals and 21 points in the first 24 minutes. He had a steal to set up Mario Chalmers’ layup with 0.1 seconds left in the first quarter that put Miami up 20-14, and added a more spectacular buzzer-beater near halftime.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra wanted a 20-second timeout to set up the final possession of the half, only to get overruled — surely without complaint, either. Wade waved it off, then kept waving his arm to clear his teammates away, setting up a drive past West for a bank shot with 0.8 ticks remaining that put Miami ahead 51-36 at the break.

Boston was completely out of sorts, perhaps rusty from sitting around for a week after sweeping the , and partly because Miami’s defense bottled up everything the Celtics tried. Rondo was on the bench with three fouls for the final 11 minutes of the half, and the Celtics missed 20 of their first 26 shots from the field.

“Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is beat the Boston Celtics in basketball, the game of basketball, four times,” Spoelstra said. “We have one of them right now.”

Jones drew Rondo’s third foul on a play where he ended up sprawled out under the Boston basket, grabbing his lower back and writhing in pain. Jones inflicted hurt the rest of the quarter, shooting 4 for 5 from 3-point range in the second period alone.

The previous scoring record off the Heat bench in a playoff game was 22, set by Grant Long in 1994 and matched two years ago by Michael Beasley.

“JJ probably had the best game of anybody,” James said.

Jones took down Pierce and Allen in the 3-point shootout at All-Star weekend — and some of that same form returned Sunday.

“Someone had to step up,” Jones said. “I got some good looks. All of our playmakers got me good looks and I was able to knock them down with confidence because these guys trust me in the big moments.”

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In a Rain of 3-Pointers, the Celtics Come Together

The Madison Square Garden rims were still friendly to Pierce and a day after they combined for 14 3-pointers in Game 3 of a first-round playoff series and pushed the to the brink of elimination with a victory.

The game continued a splendid series for Allen, one of the best shooters in history. This season, Allen, 35, set the league’s career record for 3-pointers on his way to shooting a career-best 44.4 percent from behind the 3-point line.

It was Allen’s first playoff game in New York; the Knicks, after all, only recently broke a seven-year postseason drought. Allen made the game-sealing 3-pointer in the series opener and hit another eight 3-pointers on his way to 32 points Friday. In the series, he is shooting a blistering 75 percent from long range, having made 15 of 20 3-point attempts. Allen said he noticed that Pierce, who scored 38 points in Game 3, was having a solid game, and was not aware of his own performance until afterward.

“I don’t think you can say that they are playing wrong,” Allen said of the Knicks’ defense. “When me and Paul come off, you have to help, so for a split second, someone is shifted. If I come off not open, that means a big might be open. So many things have to happen at the right time. If you do it the right way, someone is going to have a shot, and we just have to knock it down.”

The statement is a frustrating reality for opponents. Coach said he was most impressed by his frontcourt players — , and Glen Davis — who helped create space for Pierce and Allen by setting solid screens. “You could see our bigs — we showed them our film today — they were sprinting across court just to get a piece of one of those two guys’ man to get them open,” Rivers said. “They realized what they had going and instead of recreating the wheel, they just stayed with it.”

Of setting the screens, Rivers said, “I don’t know if it’s a lost art, but it’s an art we can all work on.”

Now the Knicks will try to avoid the ignominy of being swept out the playoffs Sunday. Since Pierce, Allen and Garnett united in 2007, the Celtics have played in 10 playoff series, but have never swept an opponent.

Last season, Boston won the first three games in its first-round series against Miami. In Game 4, Dwyane Wade scored 46 points to a force a fifth game, which Boston won. This season, Boston will almost certainly face the revamped Heat in the next round. Any added rest would benefit a veteran squad and , who has yet to make an appearance because of a leg injury. Rivers ruled him out for Sunday’s game.

“You just don’t want to give a team confidence, regardless of resting your legs,” Pierce said. “Any little kind of confidence you give a team, you never know what can happen. I don’t want to be a part of that team, part of N.B.A. history, being the first team to give up a 3-0 lead. It’s a combination of the rest and playing well; you want to play well.”

Friday was the first time in the three playoff games that Boston resembled a championship team after a shaky second half of the regular season. The same dip occurred last season before Boston righted itself and took the to a seventh game in the N.B.A. finals.

“The way we played last year and this year at the end of the season, it’s definitely not a recipe we want to stick to because going into the playoffs you want to be playing well,” Pierce said.

“This year has been trying with the injuries, just a number of things, long season, maybe the age of the group. But for some reason when playoffs come around, guys just know how to step up. And it’s really frustrating for me that you can play so inconsistently, then come to the playoffs and things just start happening the way you want them to happen.”

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