Celtics vs. Miami Heat, Friday, Dec 27, 2002  8:00pm
Consistency is a word that's been largely absent from the Celtics team vocabulary this season.  The Celtics would go through a series of games played extremely well followed by one or two games they played in a mediocre manner, and finally slip down into what was too often an inexcusable loss.  This would be followed by their re-assertion of their abilities and going back to play well once again.

Tonight's game against the Miami Heat came following two weeks or of mediocre play by Boston, punctuated by the Christmas Day dismantling of the Celtics by the New Jersey Nets.  It was absolutely imperative in my mind that Boston come out and make a statement.  Miami had gone from being an easy team to beat in the last several weeks, to being a much tougher team mentally.

A decisive win over Miami would go a long way toward not only establishing the chemistry in the confidence of the Celtics players, but would go a very long way to  re-establishing a relative peace and quiet in the minds of Celtics fans everywhere.

The Celtics simply could not afford another game like their last one against Atlanta or worse yet, another one like the game on Christmas day.  Injuries were not a major factor for either team.  Both teams had had a least a day off between games, even though the Celtics were not able to leave New Jersey until a day after their game due to the Christmas storm.

In their last game together, the Celtics scored a season low 28 points in the first half against the Heat.

First-quarter:

The Celtics won the tip off, and immediately went inside to the hoop, as Walker scored the first two points of the game.  Their first defensive possession yielded an offensive three second call against Miami.  The Celtics once again went to the hoop, this time Paul Pierce went for the easy basket.

Defense again worked well, and a quick inside pass to Eric Williams led to the Celtics assuming a 6-2 lead.  So far, the Celtics defense was working very well.  Miami was also accommodating them with three turnovers inside of the first two minutes.  Tony Battie was once again making his living under the hoop.  A timeout was called with 10:02 to go, and the Celtics holding and 8-0 lead.

Following the 20-second timeout, Miami made their first basket.  The Celtics tried the alley-oop once again, but as often happens, they don't quite have the hang of it.

Tony Battie went to the free throw line on yet another trip into the hoop, making 1-2.  Rats!

Eric Williams got a nice blocked shot.  The Celtics offense early on consisted of good passing.  The Celtics held the lead at 11-4.  Celtic defense was much better than it had been in recent games.  Tony Delk decided it was time to make his first three, courtesy of Paul Pierce.

Antoine Walker made both of his free throws, thank goodness.  Eric Williams made a nice fake toward Tony Delk, and then went up for the easy two, drawing the foul as he went up.  He made the free throw.  The timeout was called with 6:10 to go in the first, and Boston leading 19-11.

So far in the opening quarter, the Celtics had played extremely well at both ends of the court.  Their defense was good, and their offense was spread out amongst each player on the floor, resulting in several easy baskets.

The Celtics had a good defensive possession, which culminated when Tony Battie took down the rebound.  Unfortunately, the Celtics missed on one or two shots going up the floor; leading Miami to close the gap a little bit.  But the Celtics kept their composure, and worked for the good shot.

With four minutes to go, Shammond Williams and Vin Baker came in.  The timeout was called with 3:09 to go, and the Celtics leading 21-19.  In the past couple of minutes, even before substitutions were made, the Celtics offense had cooled off a bit.  That was potentially a major problem, as that usually signaled a subsequent let down on the defense end.

Baker once again took a call for a quick foul, announcing his presence once more.  At the very least, the Celtics-this time in the form of Walter McCarty-were not letting Miami get any easy baskets.  Unfortunately, being forced into taking difficult shots does not automatically mean you won't make the difficult shots.  Miami was making them.  On the offense end, the Good Guys weren’t able to capitalize on their scoring chances.  Miami had mounted a 10-0 scoring run.  Miami had begun to do now what the Celtics have started the game doing, was just as much success.  Miami was clogging up the lanes, and making it more difficult for the Celtics to score.

In addition, Miami was getting good bounces, while the Celtics were not.  Miami had gained the lead, and was hoping to expand upon it.  At last Miami sent Walter McCarty to the free throw line.  He made both, cutting the Miami lead as the quarter wound down.  But Miami continued to make difficult shots.  The Celtics to the ball up court looking for the final shot, which Eric Williams made.  The first quarter ended with Miami leading 27-25.

Basically in the first quarter, the Celtics started out doing exactly what they wanted to do.  They played tough defense, got the ball up court quickly, and went into the basket.  In the last part of the quarter, things turned around as Miami began doing what the Celtics had stopped doing by this point.  Miami had made an impressive run, and turned up their defense.  Miami scoring was not directly attributable to bad defense on the part of the Celtics, the Celtics were playing decent defense -- Miami was just making the shots anyway.

Second quarter:

Miami picked up right were they left off, making another tough shot.  They also picked up where they left off defensively, stripping Boston of the ball.  Miami was clearly playing more smoothly than Boston of this point.  Shammond Williams managed a shot to get Boston on the scoreboard.

Nothing seemed to be going well for the Celtics this point.  The timeout was called with 9:52 to go, and Miami leading 35-27.

Following the timeout Miami was playing with greater and greater confidence.  They were spreading their offense out, and getting easier shots as a result.  Conversely, they were making the Celtics work ever harder for any kind of shots.  Miami was also out rebounding Boston at both ends of the court.

At this point of the game, the Celtics offense fell apart completely, just as they have in their recent losses.  It was a progression all too familiar.  Miami turned up their defense, spread out their offense, and the Celtics seemed to have no answer.  Miami led 42-29 with just over 6 minutes to go in the half.

With 4:04 to go, Miami led 47-31.  Miami simply refused to be contained by this point of the game.  The Celtics’ offense just wasn't going anywhere.

The Celtics made an effort to close the gap, and by the time Walker went to the free throw line with just over a minute to go they had actually managed to cut the lead slightly.   But Miami made the most of their opportunities, and the quarter ended with Miami leading 55-41.
 

HALFTIME:

Cookie Break!

Let’s face it—things did NOT look good.  The Celtics needed to get its collective act together before the fans started laughing out loud.  No fancy stats could hide a basic fact:  the Miami Heat were outplaying Boston in just about every way possible.
 

Third Quarter:

The Celtics started out the third quarter by cutting into the Miami lead.  When a timeout was called, with just over seven minutes to go, the score was 61-52.

There was another hard foul to Paul Pierce's mouth, which at least this time, was actually called as a hard foul.

Tony Delk made an amazing save of a ball that was going out of bounds, leading to a Boston break.  Despite being out rebounded by Miami nearly 2-1, Boston had managed to hold the line, and work offensively to get back into the game.  Their defense had also picked up considerably.

With just over two minutes left, the Celtics had cut the lead to seven points.  They played with composure, and hard work.  It was slowly starting to produce results.  But Miami was not about to lay down and die for Boston; especially not after the way Boston had played in the last week.

Pierce with hard to the hoop and got tripped, going to the free throw line for two, hitting both.  This made it a seven-point game.  Shammond Williams got into a jump ball with 22.7 seconds to go, Pierce got into the tip somehow.  The Celtics went for the last shot of the quarter.  It did not go, and the quarter ended with Miami leading 68-61.
 

Fourth Quarter:

Miami opened the fourth quarter trying to rebuild its lead against Boston.  Over the first several minutes they were largely successful.  Stepania of the Heat was guiding his with 8:42 to go, and Miami leading 75-61.

Boston was still having a problem playing consistently but at least there was some effort there to begin with, which was itself a major improvement over the last few games.  Unfortunately, the effort was not yet reaping results in the way that the Good Guys wanted it to.

Conversely, Miami was hitting everything they threw up when timeout was called 7:41 to go, after a 10-0 run.   Miami led 78-61.

As the next couple of minutes unfolded, Miami built the lead up to 20 points, prompting Pierce and Walker to sit on the bench for the rest of the game.  The statement that I hoped the Celtics would make had become more of a hesitant whisper, quickly stifled by an overwhelming Miami Heat team.

This game was an improvement, in the sense that the Celtics played with energy, and with constructive effort.  But there was still no true consistency, and the efforts often failed to result in the desired effect.  While it was still far short of where the Celtics should be, it was still a vast improvement over where they had been.  Though it is understandable that one cannot take an excessive amount of pride in a game played and lost against a team which is Celtics should have beaten.

The Celtics had not gotten enough help across the board following the first part of the first quarter.  Had the team contributions continued from that point in time, this game would have had a much different outcome.  The Celtics were simply not able to accomplish what they set out to do.  Miami, on the other paw, had achieved every goal they set for themselves this evening.  It could not be called and easy win, but certainly there was not a great degree of difficulty for the Heat in beating the Celtics tonight.

As the quarter round down, the only matter yet to be decided was the final score.  Would Miami break 100 points?  Would the Celtics break 70 points?  So far the first extended road trip of the Boston season had been a disaster.  They're going to have to gather themselves up, and prepare for the following nights game in Orlando.

Both benches had come in, and were taking the kind of shots one expects them to take in garbage time.  This resulted in a lot of missed shots.  Miami's defense had done its job throughout the game.  Both teams now were simply playing out the remaining minutes, as the number of empty seats in the stands continued to increase.

Finally J. R. Bremer came in and hit two free throws, to give Boston 70 points for the night.  The Celtics continued to play defense, and against the Miami bench it was actually effective.  Miami had yet to break 90 points, with just over a 1:32 go in the game.  But Miami quickly remedied that with a nineteen-foot jump shot.  Even the Celtics bench wasn't doing so well offensively, with Walter McCarty going 0 for everything.  At this point, people just wanted the game to end so they could go home.  Including me.

Miami won the game 90-70.

When the Celtics play well, there are always players who stand out.  When they play badly, though, it seems they’re determined to do so together.  If the Celtics of the first six minutes had played the remainder of the game, the Good Guys would have had a double-digit blowout.  They tried, but there was no cohesiveness, no sense of playing as a team.   They need to work the kinks out, fast.  Philly is about to embark on a Western Conference road trip and this is an ideal time for Boston to break out to a division lead.

Tomorrow, they play the Orlando Magic, and perhaps they can find their voices—and their game.

And that’s the view from the doghouse.