Call it "chippy" play or call it "good old playoff intensity," but the Heat beat the Celtics at their own game on Sunday. It is usually the Celtics making aggressive plays that get under the opponents' skin and in their heads, causing them to get out of their game. This time it was the Celtics that got caught up in it, which derailed a late comeback attempt (that probably was a case of too little too late anyway). Will it continue on both sides? You betcha.
Paul Flannery has quotes from the Heat side and comes to the following conclusion:
The Heat are going to be physical. We know the Celtics will try to be more aggressive in Game 2. There will be hard fouls. There will probably be a few technicals. It is, after all, the playoffs and while the Celtics made their names by playing rough and tumble defense, the Heat are making their own reputation on that end of the floor. Paul Pierce will not be suspended for Game 2 after his ejection, which featured a face-shove with Jones, and everyone will all move on.
The key will be for the Celtics to react better. Pierce dodged a bullet and the whole team had to hold its collective breath before learning that he wouldn't be suspended for game two. They won't let that happen again but at the same time they can't back down from the physical play either.
I'm absolutely not advocating thuggery and I especially don't want a fight to happen. But there is a way of imposing your will on another player or team without resorting to outright dirty play. It is sort of like the way it always seems that the "aggressive" team is getting the calls and getting to the lose balls. The team that steps up and embraces the (legal) physical play will have an edge.
Call it "fake-tough" if you want, but the Celtics have to walk that line between being the bully and not throwing punches (or head butts or whatever). The Heat have learned their lessons well from watching the Celtics advance through the years, they are doing a very good job of playing copycat. Now it is time for the Celtics to show them how it is really done. They need to hit back, ...without hitting back.