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Final chance

Celtics must be better if they hope to close out Heat

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / June 9, 2012
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MIAMI - The Celtics believe they can do something to slow down LeBron James. But coach Doc Rivers is not letting on just how they intend to do so in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday night.

“You’ll see that when the game starts,’’ Rivers said during a conference call Friday. “We’re not going to do much. We do what we do. Defensively, for the most part, we have to do it better.’’

James had 45 points and 15 rebounds as the Heat took a 98-79 victory in Game 6 Thursday at TD Garden.

“I thought, obviously, LeBron had a great game,’’ Rivers said. “I thought there were things we should have done better in the game with the way we were playing him, and we didn’t do that. That’s the first thing we have to correct. Then if we have to do something else, we’ll do it.’’

The Celtics have held James to fewer than 30 points once in this series - in Game 4, when he fouled out during overtime after totaling 29 points.

“We can’t assume he’s not going to score 45 again,’’ Rivers said. “But we have to do what we’re supposed to do better first. And then if we have to make changes, we will.

“But LeBron played great, he made a lot of great shots. But there’s a better defense that we can play, and it’s the defense that we should have played - the one we always play.’’

Asked why the Celtics failed to perform up to standards in Game 6, Rivers replied, “We just didn’t. I don’t think anybody intended not to play well. I just thought they hit first the entire game, I thought they instigated the entire game, and I thought they had us on our heels. When that happens, you get that type of defensive effort.’’

The Celtics will be banking on the odds against James matching his Game 6 shooting percentage. He was 12 for 14 in a 30-point first half and finished 19 for 26 (73.1 percent) from the field. James’s teammates were 18 for 50 from the field as the Heat shot 48.7 percent.

“If LeBron James has 45 and only misses eight or seven shots, it’s going to be tough to win,’’ Rivers said. “If he has 45 and has to take 45 shots, that may give us a better chance to win, clearly. So, obviously, we have to guard him better first.

“But there’s no doubt we have to guard them all better. All of their role guys have to be guarded better.’’

Rivers said after Game 6 that the Celtics would “continue to live with’’ allowing James to attempt turnaround jumpers.

“But I still didn’t think we guarded him with the force that we have to guard LeBron,’’ Rivers said. “I thought he brought it to us and we never gave it back. Maybe that’s a better way of explaining it.

“In the half court, you know, he’s just a powerful guy that can create his own shot. In the playoffs, as good as your stuff is with any team, the guys that can create their own shots make it very difficult on you, because you’re trying to not only stop their execution or their sets, but even when the set breaks down, you can always throw it to LeBron or [Dwyane] Wade, and they can get a shot for you.

“And when they’re going in, like [Thursday] night, it makes it a lot tougher, obviously.’’

Paul Pierce struggled defending James, getting in early foul trouble. He also failed to pressure James with his offense, going 4 for 18 from the field in 31 minutes of playing time.

“We’re always prepared to do different things,’’ Rivers said. “But we don’t feel like we need to match that. If, during the game, someone is going off, Wade or LeBron or [Chris] Bosh, or somebody else, we’re ready to make a change if we have to. We have to do it our way first better, and then we’ll find out what else we need to do.’’

Rivers insisted the Celtics will not be radically changing their game plan. But he hinted there could be tweaks.

“You’ll have to figure it out,’’ Rivers said. “You can ask me after the game, if we do anything.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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