Photo by Surya Fernandez, Hot Hot Hoops
The Miami Heat took to the practice court at the American Airlines Arena in between Games 1 and 2 of their Eastern Conference Finals series against the Boston Celtics with the clear focus on preserving home court advantage. That included basically ignoring recent comments made by Rajon Rondo that the Celtics needed to be more physical with the Heat.
Asked about these comments after practice, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra simply just shook his head.
"That's all part of the playoffs," he said before pausing for a moment. "Nope, we're not even going to get into it. It's about the game and we understand that. There will be a lot of different distractions and noise out there. We have to focus on winning the game of basketball tomorrow night.
"We think we're a physical team, they're a physical team. It will still be about the game and who plays the game better, who plays to their identity better. Our strengths and the things that we emphasis won't change from Game 1 to Game 2."
responded similarly over Rondo's comments and was asked why the Celtics guard would say something like that after Game 1.
"I don't know and I'm not trying to figure it out," he said. "The only thing I'm trying to figure out is how we're going to win the series and how we win these games. Whatever they feel that they can do to us, we have one goal and that's to win ball games and we continue to have that mentality. But obviously we have to protect ourselves and we're men just like they're men so we're not going to let nobody just come along and punk us. But that's not our mentality to go out there and make people hit the deck. We're trying to play basketball and try to win games."
Even still, Wade sounded more than ready to respond if provoked.
"That's what we became accustomed to so it's something that we're used to. One thing about us is that we feel we can play any way, any style. So it's physical games, it's the playoffs, and that's fine either way."
For his part, LeBron wasn't concerned in the slightest over the physicality of the series since it's the playoffs anyway.
"I don't need to prepare for something I already think is going to happen every game," he explained. "It doesn't tell me anything. I expect a physical game every single game I play in. Me personally. So it doesn't surprise me. It's not like, 'Oh, I got to gear up for it.' I'm already geared up for it."
Even with the comfortable victory in the opening game of the series, there was still plenty of work to be done and mistakes to be corrected, especially after reviewing the film of the second quarter that allowed the Celtics to briefly get back into the game.
"We saw a lot of areas where we can improve," Heat forward Shane Battier explained. "In the second quarter, it got away from us and they scored 35 points and shot almost 60% from the floor. We had a lot of mental breakdowns on basic plays and so the focus for us is getting better every game. We want to build and improve, every quarter, every half, every game that we play and that's the most important mindset we can have in a playoff series."
Spoelstra echoed those comments.
"We have to focus on our game and there are things we could have done better," he said. "I'm sure that they feel the same way. We didn't feel that we played our best game and I think they feel the same way. Both teams will make adjustments but it will still come down to a lot of those effort areas.
"We weren't as sharp as we have been, particularly in the three games before that. But that's the playoffs, you have to find a way to survive and win, even if you have to do it when you're not playing your best like last night. That's one of the things we're trying to build. We went 5-for-25 in threes and a lot of those were good looks - clean looks - particularly for the playoffs, but we still found a way to win and doing it in other ways, defensively and getting enough of our attacks even without making those shots. We feel like when we do make (3-point) shots, it makes it a lot easier but we're not dependent on that."
The Heat know very well that winning one game in a seven-game series means nothing and they were careful to show respect for an opponent that has plenty of battle-tested veterans that won't go away quietly.
"Every game gets tougher," Battier said. "They're a veteran team, they're going to make adjustments. We're going to get their best shot. We know this is a game that they really want to win, Game 2. We'll get their best effort. We've got to play hard, grab loose balls, rebound the basketball and get out and run."
Wade himself spoke of how glad he was to have a warrior like Udonis Haslem
back in the fold in what is expected to be a tough series in which every Heat player must contribute, especially during the extended absence of Chris Bosh
"it's very important, especially at this time of the year when you're going deep into the playoffs," he said. "When you're physically drained, sometimes you're mentally drained, it becomes about what you have deep down inside and what you can pull out. That's why a team like the Boston Celtics are so good, because they have a lot deep down inside them and that's what makes them tough."
LeBron also took the time to acknowledge his respect for the opponent and how he doesn't take for granted that he's back in the Eastern Conference Finals and playing for a chance to make it to the Finals for the second straight year since putting on the Heat uniform.
"Just to be playing at this time of the year is exciting. There's a lot of teams that aren't playing now so we're blessed, happy and excited that we're able to be a part of this. Especially when you know the history with Boston and their franchise is great so it's always fun to go against them as well. It's a great time for all of us."