|04.15.16 at 4:17 pm ET|
WALTHAM – The way Avery Bradley looks at it, this first round series against Atlanta is as a good time as any for redemption and respect for this new wave of Celtic pride.
Bradley has been in the playoffs before with the Celtics. He was a key member of the team’s run to the Eastern finals in 2012. He was an observer off the bench as the team came within 12 minutes of a world championship in his rookie season of 2010. Last year, he was the elder statesman that many younger guns like Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas looked up to for leadership against Cleveland.
Now, with last year’s four-game sweep a distant memory, it’s time to prove that this year’s 48-34 record was no fluke. As a matter of fact, the only what Bradley believes they can truly earn respect is with a series win over the Hawks, and that starts Saturday at Philips Arena.
“I’m ready. This is what we prepare all year for, the opportunity to be in the playoffs,” Bradley said. “[Saturday] we have a chance to go out there and show all the hard work that we’ve put in this year. I’m excited about the opportunity.”
How is the mindset different from last year at this time?
“It’s different. I feel like we have a little more experience. Last year, we got a little taste and it was kind of embarrassing, even though we were playing the No. 2 seed. This year, I feel like it’s a lot different. We have a chip on our shoulder and we feel like we can go a lot further than last year. I think it’s a lot different. We’re a lot more confident. Obviously, if you have that experience in something, everybody is going to be a lot more confidence. If they’re nervous of the crowd, the media, whatever it is. We’re a lot more comfortable. We’re just going to go out there and play basketball, just worry about basketball.
“We’ve been playing together, a lot of the guys, the core group of the guys have been playing together for three years, two years. I think can carry into the playoffs because when we’re going through adversity, we’re like a family. We can all sit each other down, look each other in the eyes and dig deep and go out there and play as hard as we can for one another. That’s the most important thing for us as a young team and the playoffs, because we need to stay together every single possession, even if somebody turns the ball over. We have to make sure we’re mature enough to stay positive.”
The “chip-on-the-shoulder” and “no respect” cards are two of the oldest in pro sports. It’s one the Celtics clearly are not afraid to play as their playoff season begins.
“We’re the underdog,” Isaiah Thomas said of starting the series on the road. “I watch NBA TV, I watch all the little things, they have Atlanta winning. Everybody has Atlanta winning. They all count us out. The pressure’s on Atlanta. We just have to go in there and execute and do what we’ve been doing all year and I think we give ourselves a good chance to win this series.”
And what about the chip on the shoulder?
“We better. They always, for some reason they look past us. I guess that’s just the way it is and we like it like that,” Thomas added.
“We’ve been able to embrace it and run with it, use it as motivation,” Jae Crowder said. “A lot of guys in our locker room have really embraced that and used that. I think it’s all about accepting it and moving on, and we have. And we feed off it.”
“With us being a underdog and kind of being disrespected by a lot of people, I think a lot of people fear us because of how hard we play,” added Jared Sullinger. “It showed in our last regular season game. That game was if we win, we don’t know where we’ll be at. If we lose, we wind up in the sixth spot, but we’re still in the playoffs. To have the mindset of knowing that was game 82 and it really didn’t matter the outcome of the game, if we were going to be in the playoffs or not. The mindset of us just going out there and letting everyone know this is the type of team we are, by coming back and winning — that’s big time. That’s who we are and what we do.”
Bradley is convinced that if the Celtics can bottle up the defensive effort of the second half against Miami and bring it with them to Atlanta to start the series, they’ll be in great shape.
|04.15.16 at 3:49 pm ET|
WALTHAM — Brad Stevens saw enough from his players over the last three games to know what was different about them from the team that was closing in on a No. 3 seed in the East.
In the final three games, two losses and a miracle comeback against the Heat in the second half, Stevens saw his team play out of sorts and out of rhythm.
He fully realizes that the defense that Atlanta and Charlotte were playing had something to do with that, as did the 65 percent shooting of the Heat in the first half.
But in going over film of the Hawks, he wants his team to be focused not just on making life tough on Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague but controlling what his team can control.
“How hard you cut, how well you pass, how well you execute, all those little things,” Stevens said after Friday’s practice before leaving for Atlanta and Game 1 Saturday night. “Now, when you do those things really well that shot has a tendency to go in. That’s just how it works, right? But I think the bottom line is it requires a great deal of multiple efforts the whole game.
“You watch film, do what you need to go to get ready for a game obviously,” Stevens said. “We watched a little bit of film yesterday, too, but you’re going to have to do what you need to do to play well, and it’s a simple, fast-paced game first and foremost, and so I’m big in make the appropriate adjustments but play with a clear mind and be fresh.”
|04.15.16 at 3:07 pm ET|
WALTHAM – Armed with an attitude and the confidence of a full All-Star season to back it up, Isaiah Thomas feels these Celtics are ready to make some noise against Atlanta in the playoffs starting Saturday night.
“I learned a lot,” Thomas said following Friday’s final practice at the team’s facility in Waltham. “You’ve got to adjust to whatever the team’s doing. And be able to still contribute, even if they’re trying to take away your aggressiveness or your scoring ability or whatever the case may be. The best players figure it out. I know they’ll probably try to, not just contain me, but to try to slow me down. But you just gotta stay at it and continue to keep your foot on the pedal.”
Last year against Cleveland in the four-game sweep in the opening round, Thomas made just 18-of-54 shots from the field, averaging 17.5 points. He scored 20 points in three of the four games but was held to just five points in the Game 2 loss.
But Thomas believes it’s not just him but the entire team that is feeling better about themselves after a 48-34 season and the No. 5 seed in the East.
“I think we got just a lot more confidence. We feel like we can definitely make noise,” Thomas added. “We think that the Eastern Conference is open for any team. We just gotta get a win and gain confidence off that win. I think we’re just a lot more confident and we feel like we’ve been here before, which we have.
“Just more confident. I think we just got a different feel about ourselves. Last year we kinda snuck into the playoffs, this year, I mean, teams knows about us a little bit. I think we’re the best team in the Eastern Conference. We want to make some noise. Like I said, we want to get that first win off our belt, then we want to win a playoff series and go from there. We’re not overlooking Atlanta. We know that they’re a great team. We gotta be locked in and just live in the moment. This is a big moment for us.”
Thomas and the Celtics will have fresh memories of the Hawks when they take the court Saturday night for Game 1. They fell apart in the fourth quarter after leading 87-75 and lost, 118-107.
“We need to slow down a little bit. Slow down and just execute,” Thomas said. “They sped us up a little bit more than we wanted to. And they also pushed our catches where they were denying us. We just gotta get to our spots. We gotta do what we do and do that at a high level. I think that would be the big thing.”
That goes for his own game.
“It’s something that I just tried to learn throughout the offseason as well, by watching a lot of film, and really learning how to impact the game without just scoring; learning how to use double-teams to my advantage to get the ball out quicker; having [help] on the backside any things like that,” Thomas said. “Just stay in attack mode, don’t let whatever they do try to slow me down.”
Thomas was again asked about his left wrist after practice Friday and whether it might be an issue in the series.
“No, I don’t want [any tests],” Thomas said. “I’ll be fine, I’ll be all right.”
|04.14.16 at 12:07 pm ET|
Saturday night is all right for the Celtics.
The NBA announced its full first-round playoff schedule early Thursday morning, and the league has the No. 5 Celtics and the No. 4 Hawks opening their Eastern Conference series in Atlanta on Saturday night at 7 p.m. on ESPN.
Game 2 will be Tuesday at 7 p.m. before the series shifts to Boston for Games 3 and 4 next Friday (April 22) at 8 p.m. and Sunday (April 24) at 6 p.m.
Game 5 would be Tuesday, April 26, in Atlanta. Game 6 is set for Thursday, April 28, in Boston. If the series goes the limit, Game 7 would be Saturday, April 30, in Atlanta.
The Celtics and Hawks have met 11 times in the postseason, with Boston winning 10 of the 11 series. The only time the Hawks came out on top was in the 1958 NBA Finals, when the franchise was in St. Louis.
The most recent meeting was in 2012, when Boston prevailed in six games.
The two teams have had their epic moments, most notably in 1988, when Larry Bird outdueled Dominique Wilkins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals and in Game 7 in 2008, when the Celtics avoided a monumental upset as the No. 1 seed, on their way to a 17th NBA title.
As for the defending NBA champion and record 73-game winners, the Warriors, they open the playoffs on Saturday afternoon in Oakland against the Rockets. The first of four games Saturday features the No. 7 seed Pacers traveling to Toronto to take on the No. 2 Raptors.
|04.14.16 at 12:37 am ET|
WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Sam Packard discuss how the Celtics were able to execute the greatest comeback in the NBA this season on the season’s final night. The Celtics trailed by 26 points to the Heat at one point in the first half before turning on the defensive jets in the second half, limiting the Heat to five points in the third quarter on 2-of-20 shooting. The defense continued in the fourth quarter, as the Heat managed just 21 points. The Celtics outscored Miami 60-26 in the second half to post a 98-88 win and finish with a 48-34 record. They finished in a four-way tie with the Heat, Hawks and Hornets and by virtue of that tie, they finish as the No. 5 seed and will open the playoffs in Atlanta this weekend. Games 3 and 4 will be back in Boston.
|04.14.16 at 12:27 am ET|
The guesswork is over.
The No. 5 seed Celtics will be playing the No. 4 Hawks in the first round of the playoffs.
“I think it’s good for us, for our sake we get to play them again especially how, our performance the last time,” Avery Bradley said. “We played them there in Atlanta, gives us a chance to go back and play the way we did [Wednesday].”
Well, at least in the second half Wednesday.
The Celtics were a no-show for 24 minutes on Wednesday night before outscoring the Heat 25-5 in the third quarter and getting themselves back in the game with intense defense.
The Hawks team they will be facing beat them three of four times in the regular season, including this past Saturday, when the Celtics couldn’t hold a late 87-75 lead. In that game, they were outscored 43-20 down the stretch and lost by 11, 118-107.
“Well, obviously Atlanta’s really good,” Brad Stevens said. “Atlanta’s beaten us three out of four times and they’ve got some tough matchups. They’re a good basketball team. A really good basketball team. And so we’ll have our hands full. We’re looking forward to competing against them, we’re looking forward to preparing for them.
“And so, as far as [Wednesday], we just had to decide that we were going to play differently, and we were going to get back to being ourselves a little bit. That didn’t mean that we were going to make every shot, turn them over, or they were going to miss open shots, but it meant that we were going to, you know, compete at a different level than we were.”
|04.13.16 at 10:50 pm ET|
A comeback for the ages had it all — the ugly, the good and the bad.
For a third straight game, the Celtics fell behind by double digits with home-court advantage potentially on the line. This time it was a 26-point first-half deficit against the Heat, at home in front of members of Boston’s title teams from 1966, 1976 and 1986.
That all changed at halftime, as the Celtics used a 20-0 run to complete a historic comeback with a 98-88 win over Miami.
And now for the bad: A Hawks loss to the Wizards ensured the victorious C’s would still travel to Atlanta as the fifth seed in the first round of the playoffs. Had the Celtics lost to Miami, they would have visited the Heat as the No. 6 seed in the opening round, with a potential second-round series against the Raptors looming. Instead, a first-round win likely means another date with the Cavaliers.
Anyhow, back to the game at hand: Isaiah Thomas (21 points) led five Celtics in double figures, and Avery Bradley added 17 points. Joe Johnson and Hassan Whiteside each scored 19 points to lead the Heat.
After the Heat took a 62-38 lead into the half, the Celtics roared back in the third quarter, slicing the deficit to 67-65 entering the final frame. The C’s set a franchise record for fewest points allowed (5) in the third quarter. With 9:39 left in the fourth quarter, Kelly Olynyk’s three-point play gave the Celtics their first lead of the night — 72-69, and Jonas Jerebko’s ensuing 3-pointer completed a 39-7 Celtics run.
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