Wednesday April 28th, 2010

BOSTON -- The Celtics showed a killer instinct that had been lacking for much of this season by beating Miami 96-86 in Game 5 Tuesday, enabling them to begin preparing for a second-round series with Cleveland.

• Is it coming together? The Celtics went 27-27 after Christmas while dealing with an unsettled bench and injuries to Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, which makes this relatively efficient series victory a promising achievement -- something they haven't done so quickly in the brief Garnett era. "With their starting lineup intact they're 38-18," said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. "That seams like a pretty good record to me. So they got healthy at the right time and they're a veteran team that's well-coached and unselfish."

This was an excellent matchup for the Celtics against a team they've now beaten seven of eight games this season, but Boston was most concerned with improving its team defense while working the ball inside. Over these five games, Miami was held to 43.5 percent shooting while Pierce returned to driving the ball to the basket. This wasn't a championship performance, but it was the kind of postseason start this team needed in hope of continuing to grow sharper in the round(s) ahead.

"The first two games I thought it was the old Celtics defensively, it was absolutely wonderful to see," said Boston coach Doc Rivers, who was less happy with the defensive approach in Games 3 and 4 at Miami. "If you rate this game, for three and a half quarters we were absolutely great again defensively. So we're getting there, we're really close, and you could see it defensively. That's who we have to be."

• The third-quarter letdown. The Celtics opened a 21-point lead after outscoring Miami by 11 to start the third quarter. Then Mario Chalmers hit consecutive threes (he had nine points in the quarter) as he and Dwyane Wade combined for 17 points over the final six minutes of the period while Rivers was working in his second unit. Boston entered the fourth with a 71-65 lead after being outscored 27-23 in the quarter, but the emotional letdown was enormous.

"Once we went up 19 we got real casual and then Chalmers hit two threes, Wade hit two threes and now they're back on the ballgame," said Ray Allen, whose benching because of a fourth foul coincided with Miami's comeback. "So we just have to keep that mentality that when we have our opponent down we have to keep them down. We can't let them see any light." This will apply to the next round especially.

• Allen for three. During Boston's championship run two years ago, Allen was cold in the early rounds of the playoffs, in part because he wasn't getting enough shots to work himself into form. No worries now: over this series he shot better from three (19-of-36 for 52.8 percent) than he did inside the arc (14-of-27 for 51.9 percent), and he finished off the Heat with a team-best 24 points while making 5-of-6 threes, including an 11-point fourth quarter to prevent Wade (31 points overall) from forcing a Game 6 in Miami. "It's frustrating guarding Dwyane Wade," said Rivers of Allen. "To have the energy to still make shots was huge for us."

• Rajon Rondo's leadership. He had a near triple-double with 16 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds to go with four steals and a scant two turnovers. Rondo's aggressive start was responsible for establishing an early Celtics lead as he pushed the ball or penetrated when he could. Most inspiring was a backhand bounce pass across the lane in front of two sprinting Heat defenders to find Pierce for a transition layup at the end of the quarter. "When they start to read how you are playing something," said Spoelstra, "they just dissect you and continue to move the ball. They did a terrific job of executing."

The absence of a backup point guard was emphasized by Rivers's decision to play Rondo 44 minutes in spite of the flu. "He's sick. He said before the game he felt awful," said Rivers, who lapsed into a joke. "So whenever he does that I just play him the whole game. I figure, punish him.

"But he was terrific. We needed him on the floor. You know, when they made their run and they tried to go zone [in the third quarter], we put shooters on the floor but then we didn't have a facilitator. So that's when we went back to Rondo and he got guys the ball in the right spot."

• Miami's offseason. This will be a high-stakes summer for the Heat, who must assure Wade -- a free agent -- that he'll be surrounded with better talent next season. Wade had a near triple-double with 10 assists and eight rebounds, but he also committed seven turnovers while trying to force things. Much will be read of Spoelstra's decision to bench Michael Beasley (0-for-3 for two points and three turnovers) for the entire second half while also sitting Jermaine O'Neal (seven points and four rebounds in 26 minutes) and Carlos Arroyo down the stretch in favor of Chalmers, Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony.

The Heat could seek an offseason trade for Beasley -- who admitted to playing "terribly this series" -- in order to clear space for two max contracts in addition to Wade's. "I was going to put him back in in the third," said Spoelstra. "Every time I was about to put him in we started to creep back in. That's not really an indictment on how he was playing or an indication of how I felt about him."

Though Wade is expected to return to Miami, he was in no mood to make promises after averaging 33.2 points over a five-game loss. "I can't predict the future," he said. "I'm a good sportsman, but I don't take losing well. So it's going to take a while to get over this, and then start pondering my future ... This will be my last first-round exit for a while, I can tell you that."

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