It’s fitting that the Celtics player who tormented the Heat the most this season is the one most openly bullish about his team’s chances in these Eastern Conference Finals.
“We feel we can beat Miami,” point guard Rajon Rondo said, undaunted by the Heat’s 4-1 series win against the Celtics in last year’s second round. “Obviously, we got to this point. There is no doubt in my mind that we can. Last year is in the past. This year, we are a totally different team.”
Rondo averaged 18.7 points, 13.7 assists and 7.7 rebounds in three games against the Heat this season.
“We know we are capable of going into their building and getting the win,” forward Paul Pierce told Boston media. “But they’re a different team. They’re in a playoff mind-set now. They are going to be a lot more difficult.”
Celtics center Kevin Garnett said: “The Heat are playing well. They beat a very tough Indiana team. I think LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are playing at high levels. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves. We definitely don’t like the way we left last year, so we’ll see what happens.”
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Ray Allen, who is dealing with an ankle injury, told coach Doc Rivers that at times during Saturday’s Game 7 against Philadelphia, he didn’t even “think about shooting it because I knew I couldn’t get my lift the way I wanted.”
The Heat beat the visiting Celtics in an early season matchup, 115-107, but lost the next three meetings: 91-72, April 1 in Boston; Erik Spoelstra 115-107 on April 10 in Miami; and 78-66 on April 24 in Boston. Wade, James, Chris Bosh, Rondo, Garnett and Allen sat out that last game.
This and that• Spoelstra was noncommittal about whether he will stick with Shane Battier at power forward in Bosh’s absence but said, “You probably won’t see a lot of changes in our rotation.”
• Wade, asked by a TV reporter if he buys the notion of the Celtics being old, beat up and exhausted: “Get out of here with that. Don’t believe none of that. … They have three Hall of Famers and a rising Hall of Famer in Rondo. When you beat them, it’s like it should be The Finals. They are very physical, challenge your mind.”
James said: “They’ve got a championship team and championship coach. … They’re very competitive, and I love playing against them.”• Rondo dominated Mario Chalmers this season, and teammates challenged Chalmers to deliver. “He has to play well for us,” Wade said. “He’s one of the biggest keys of this series, no way around it. Mario has to give us what he’s been giving us, just consistently.”
• Spoelstra said he will use “multiple players and schemes” against Rondo and noted “about 60 percent of his impact is out of random, miscellaneous situations you can’t necessarily scheme for.”
• Wade explained his awful-to-awesome turnaround in the Pacers series this way: “It was feeling better [an apparent reference to his knee]. I got my rhythm, figured out how to attack in areas I felt they are weaker in. And I finally hit some shots.”