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Battered Celtics head home facing unchartered territory

by | Senior Fantasy Writer

MIAMI -- The Celtics came into the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Heat with the expectation of being the tougher team with more experience. After two games, the Big Three-led Celtics are headed back to Boston battered and beaten and facing the challenge of overcoming a 2-0 hole for the first time.

The Heat beat the Celtics 102-91 on Tuesday to take a commanding lead in the series. Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo all suffered injuries, and the Heat took advantage by racing past the Celtics on the young legs of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

The Celtics now have three days to regroup before Game 3 and find a way to make this a competitive series before they go home for the summer. And it won't be easy down two games with Pierce, Allen and Rondo limping around.

"We have to accept the challenge," Pierce said. "We have to look at ourselves in the mirror and take on the task of stopping these guys."

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Pierce wasn't ejected this time like he was in Game 1 for getting two technical fouls, but a strained Achilles knocked him out for part of the first half. Allen took an elbow from James in the chest and was forced to the locker room for a brief period after he experienced shortness of breath. And Rondo's back started bothering him Tuesday morning, and early in the fourth quarter he asked to come out of the game.

Despite that, Boston still had a chance to even the series with the score tied at 80 with 7:10 remaining in the fourth. But the Heat went on a 14-0 run to go up 94-80 in the next four minutes to put the game away. The Celtics missed six consecutive shots over that span, with the Heat getting what coach Erik Spoelstra said were "emotional baskets" during that stretch from Wade and James.

Pierce was asked how you stop emotional baskets.

"We have to play emotional defense, I guess," he said.

The Celtics have to find some sort of answer or else this series will end faster than Wade's jab-step move for a layup in the first half that left Kevin Garnett grasping at air. Boston, like most NBA teams, has a bad history coming from down 0-2 to win a playoff series.

This is now the ninth time Boston has dropped the first two games in a best-of-7 series. In the previous eight, the Celtics prevailed only against the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1969 NBA Finals. And for the group of Allen, Garnett and Pierce, this is unchartered territory.

These Celtics have lost a Game 1 four other times before this series and then bounced back to win Game 2 each time. It happened against Chicago and Orlando in 2009 and then against Cleveland and the Lakers in 2010. Allen said the Celtics remain confident heading back to their home floor.

"Being down two games to zero does not scare any of us or make us nervous," Allen said. "We have an opportunity to go home and play in front of our crowd and play good basketball."

For the Celtics to prevail, they have to be better offensively -- where they have struggled to find a rhythm -- and find a way to slow down Wade and James.

After a poor Game 1 showing, Rondo bounced back with 20 points, 12 assists and six rebounds. Garnett also came on in the second half to finish with 16 points and six rebounds despite 8 of 20 shooting from the field. But Pierce was limited to 13 points and five rebounds, and Allen had just seven points. Injuries could have played a role, but neither made excuses after the game.

"I always say that if we can't score down the stretch that it's always on me," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "I have to do something different. It was tough for me out there because I didn't know who was helping or who felt good out there."

Against the defense, James was dominant with 35 points and seven rebounds, Wade had 28 points and eight rebounds and Chris Bosh added 17 points and 11 rebounds.

"They're going to get points," Rivers said of Wade and James. "I believed that going into this series. They can't be so efficient getting them, and that's on us."

Rivers wants the Celtics to relax Wednesday. He said the team should golf and "stay away from each other." He wants them to forget about the first two games and get healthy heading into Game 3.

But if the Celtics want to make this a competitive series they have to learn from their mistakes and improve. It won't be easy, especially with the Heat playing well and the Celtics looking battered and bruised.


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