The Celtics were stumbling, trying to find some kind of rhythm, as Doc Rivers gathered his players around him during a third quarter timeout. To Rivers, it seemed like a good time to remind them of something he had spent the last week trying to drill into them.
When you play a team loaded with stars, you better play with a plan.
“If you think you’re going to beat them in an athletic contest, you’re kidding yourself,” Rivers told his players.
Point well taken, if delivered just a tad late in a game Sunday that seemed to go Miami’s way almost from the opening tip. Because, as good as the Celtics are, they’re not going to win a lot of 1-on-1 matchups against the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or even Chris Bosh.
But who would have thought the Celtics would lose the wrestling match, too? They did, and that may be the most difficult thing to turn around as Boston tries to steal one on the road Tuesday night in Miami in an Eastern Conference semifinal that only figures to get better as it goes on.
“You knew it was coming,” Rivers said after the Celtics fell 99-90 in Game 1. “All they (the Heat) did the last few days was talk about being physical.”
Nothing wrong with that. The playoffs are often a contest of attrition, with only the strongest teams surviving to play another day.
What was more interesting, though, was what Boston’s head coach said next.
“To me it wasn’t physical,” Rivers said. “It was chippy.”
What Pierce didn’t deserve was to be tossed from the game a few minutes later when he mouthed off after Wade slammed into him on the baseline. The NBA may agree with that upon further review, though that is of little consolation to a Boston team that still had a chance when the player fueling its hopes was ejected with 7 minutes left in the game.
But if Miami had a statement to make, consider it delivered. If the Celtics needed it explained further, consider that done, too.
Backing down isn’t an option, no matter how many stars you have on your team.
“I don’t really know what chippy is,” Bosh said. “A game is a game. The intensity level will go up, guys will start playing more physical.”
Lost in the uproar over Pierce’s ejection was the fact this probably wasn’t going to be Boston’s day no matter who was on the court for the Celtics. James said a day earlier that beating Boston was personal for him because he was on the losing end of two playoff series with the Celtics when he played in Cleveland, the last coming last year when he flung his No. 23 jersey into the crowd in what would be his last game as a Cav.