Following Thursday night's blowout loss at the hands of the Chicago Bulls, the Celtics to a man talked a blue streak about needing to play with more focus, hustle and effort with the playoffs just around the corner. Then, on Sunday, they got blown out again, this time against their chief competition for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat.
After taking an early, 11-2 lead, the C's took the remainder of the afternoon in Miami off, getting outscored 98-66 the rest of the way en route to a 100-77 loss, putting them a game behind the Heat for the second seed. The C's fell behind by as many as 22 in the fourth quarter, then went on a 12-0 run to close Miami's lead to 10 with just over five minutes left, before folding again. Whatever messages were supposed to be conveyed in talking about playing with more effort, passion and hustle after the loss in Chicago must have been forgotten already as the C's were smoked yet again on the boards by a count of 42-26, including a whopping 15-3 on the offensive glass. They were also betrayed once again by their formerly vaunted defense, as the Heat shot 51 percent from the floor.
Paul PIerce led the Celts (55-25) with 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting, to go with seven rebounds. Kevin Garnett added 21 points but Rajon Rondo, the leader of the "We have to play harder," movement after Chicago, was mostly invisible, finishing with a paltry seven points and five assists. Ray Allen made two early 3-pointers then was barely heard from again, finishing with 13 points. Jeff Green, the centerpiece of the February deal with Oklahoma City, continued to be enigmatic at best and massively disappointing at worst, taking just one shot (which he missed) and ending up four points in 19 minutes. And at the center position, where the Heat feature 36-year old Zydrunas Ilgauskas and D-League castoff Joel Anthony, the C's duo of Jermaine O'Neal and Nenad Krstic barely competed, getting outscored 15-2 and outrebounded 15-1.
LeBron James led all scorers with 27 points and added seven assists, five rebounds and four steals for the Heat. Dwayne Wade scored 14 and Chris Bosh pitched in 13 for the Heat (56-24), who need to finish ahead of the C's to wind up at No. 2 since Boston still holds the tiebreaker despite Sunday's loss. The Celts get back to work on Monday night against the Wizards in D.C.