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No Magic lessons in last year

05.13.10 at 8:43 pm ET
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Last year, the Celtics were in the same round with the same advantage.

They were up, 3-2, having two chances to get one win and advance to the Eastern Conference finals. The Celtics blew a double-digit lead in Game 6 before getting blown out in the second half of Game 7 at home against Orlando.

Fast forward 12 months, and these Celtics entered Game 6 Thursday with a 3-2 series lead and a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference finals with a win over LeBron and the Cavaliers. Any lesson to be learned?

“No, different team,” Rivers answered before Thursday’s contest. “We’re playing a different team. Orlando outplayed us so all we learned there is you have to play better. You have to try to seize the moment when you have the home court but at the end of the day, you have to perform.

“If Cleveland comes out and makes more shots and does their game plan better than ours, we won’t win. If we do ours, we’ll win. Last year won’t help you.”

And Rivers was totally in agreement with Kevin Garnett’s sentiments following the Game 5 blowout win in Cleveland. The Celtics want no part of Game 7 in Cleveland and look at Game 6 as a must win.

“We are, we are,” Rivers said. “We’ve won in Cleveland twice. We don’t want to press our luck. We have to view it the same way they are. It’s a big game for both teams.”

Rivers – an Orlando resident – knows the Magic await the winner and responded with humor when asked what he thought Orlando was thinking watching this series.

“Orlando is a terrific city and so, yes, it’s warm, it’s 80 degrees most likely,” Rivers said tongue-in-cheek. “They’re having a ball. They love it.”

Then he took a more serious approach, pointing out the Magic have earned their rest this round after sweeping through eight playoff games so far.

“They want it to go eight, if it can,” Rivers said of Orlando’s preference in watching the Celtics and Cavs. “There’s no doubt about it. If we were in the position they are in, they would want the same thing. They’ve earned it. They did it quick. They’ve only played eight games when you think about it. That’s pretty remarkable.”

Read More: Cavaliers, Celtics, Doc Rivers, LeBron

Ainge on The Big Show: Both teams ‘desperate’

05.13.10 at 7:48 pm ET
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Celtics president Danny Ainge joined The Big Show Thursday evening to talk about Boston’€™s success against Cleveland and the importance of closing out the series in Game 6 at TD Garden.

‘€œBoth teams are very desperate to win this game tonight, for obvious reasons,’€ Ainge said. ‘€œI think that’€™s why it will be a good game.’€

Ainge also touched on the amount of criticism LeBron James received after the Cavaliers‘ lopsided loss in Game 5.

Below is a transcript. Visit The Big Show audio on demand page to hear the interview.

It’€™s been a bizarre series, do you have any idea what to expect tonight?

I have no idea. I would be shocked if it was going to be any sort of blowout like we’€™ve had in a couple of games in the series. I expect both teams to be ready, they know what they’€™re doing, they kind of know the strengths and weaknesses, and I’€™d be shocked if it wasn’€™t a close game.

Kevin Garnett spoke about the sense of urgency after the last game about treating this is as a Game 7 and not as a Game 6. Do you like that approach?

Yeah, I think so. Both teams are very desperate to win this game tonight, for obvious reasons. I think that’€™s why it will be a good game.

You guys have really played great defense from the initial point of attack.

I think the identity of this team is defense. I think we’€™ve gotten back to that in the playoffs. We’€™ve had a few bad spells, we let our guard down in Game 3 of course, but overall our defense has really stepped up, improved, and I think the effort each possession is better than the regular season. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Cavaliers, Celtics, Danny Ainge, Kevin Garnett

Celts ready for the unexpected

05.13.10 at 7:31 pm ET
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The talk this morning was of the Cleveland Cavaliers possibly making some kind of a lineup switch for Game 6. Cavs coach Mike Brown has been searching for the right combination of players since the series started and it’s fair to say after five games that he still has not settled on a set rotation.

Brown has already strayed from the early-series script by playing Zydrunas Ilgauskus ahead of J.J. Hickson in Game 5 and Daniel Gibson, who hasn’t played at all.

“When Gibson came in, when Ilgauskus came in, everyone’s antenna did go up a little bit because we knew what those guys do,” Ray Allen said before Game 6. “Those guys are good offensive players so everyone was on alert. For us, we know each other. [It’s] not as much of a surprise as it is when you see a guy go in, you adjust.”

The Celtics rolled with the adjustments just fine in Game 5 and part of that is that they are so set in their ways. The other part of that is preparation.

“We have to prepare for everything; big lineup, small lineup,” Doc Rivers said. “Fortunately or unfortunately for them, they have the ability to do a lot of different things because of their personnel. We can’t. We are who we are and we’re not going to change, and in some ways that makes it easier.”

Still, Rivers doesn’t think that the Cavs will change all that drastically in Game 6.

“They’re a solid basketball team,” he said. “They’re not going to change a lot. We wouldn’t be shocked to see Varejao maybe in the starting lineup or them going with size early. But they didn’t get this record by doing a lot of changing.”

Read More: Cavaliers, Ray Allen,

Lineup changes coming for Cavs?

05.13.10 at 2:04 pm ET
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Reports out of the Cavaliers shootaround this morning indicate that Mike Brown is considering lineup changes for Game 6 tonight at the Garden. Plain Dealer beat writer Brian Windhorst noted that Brown is unlikely to change his starting five, but he brings up the one radical move that Brown has left: playing LeBron James at point guard.

The Cavs lineup would look like this: James at the point, Anthony Parker at off-guard and Antawn Jamison at small forward. The big men would be some cobination of J.J. Hickson, Anderson Varejao and Shaquille O’Neal, but probably the former to try to speed up play.

That would do a number of things: First, It would take Jamison away from Kevin Garnett where he is getting worked in the post and it would also remove Mo Williams out of the equation where he is getting worked against everyone. It would also set up James to match up directly with Rajon Rondo.

Brown tried a number of personnel adjustments in Game 5 including playing Zydrunas Ilgauskus ahead of Hickson, and calling on Daniel Gibson who hasn’t been in his rotation since March. Ilgauskus actually played well, but the moves had a feel of desperation about them.

This might be a desperate move, but it’s not necessarily a panic move. Taking Williams out of the lineup is addition by subtraction at this point and James has been successful guarding Rondo in small doses.

On the other hand, it could also open up Paul Pierce. The Celtics are going to keep pounding the ball to Garnett on the post regardless of who’s guarding him and there’s no reason to believe they wouldn’t keep attacking Jamison in whatever matchup he finds himself.

The Celtics have been able to come up with effective counters for whatever the Cavs have thrown at them and it would be surprising if they haven’t planned for this scenario as well.

Read More: Antawn Jamison, Cavaliers, LeBron James, Mo Williams

Bill Simmons on D&C: Doc’s ‘best series ever’

05.13.10 at 10:49 am ET
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ESPN columnist Bill Simmons joined the Dennis & Callahan show Thursday morning to talk about the Celtics‘ impressive performance in their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Cavaliers. To hear the interview, check out the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Said Simmons: “The last two games, I feel like they’ve finally looked like the team that they looked like before that Christmas Day 2008 game against the Lakers, when [their record] was 27-2. Then they lose that game, they go on a little skid, [Kevin] Garnett gets hurt, the team’s never really been the same. You look at this whole series, they’ve played better in four of the five games. And they’ve dominated two of them.”

Simmons said Rajon Rondo’s ability to dominate and LeBron James‘ failure to do the same is the obvious key. “It always come down to who has the best guy in a series, I always think. … The bottom line is Rondo’s played better than LeBron in this series. [Rondo’s] stats weren’t good in the first half of Game 5 — I didn’t feel like he was having a bad game, but in the second half I thought he dominated that game. He controlled the flow. He controls every aspect of that game. They can’t match up with him. They’re changing their defense to try to get him. He’s in Mo Williams‘ head. Mo Williams is a basket case. Now LeBron’s probably going to have to defend him.”

Simmons also pointed to an unheralded bench player who has made a big difference for Boston. “The shocker of all shockers is Tony Allen,” Simmons said. “Because this is a guy we’ve watched for six years. It actually started in the Miami series. He had a really good Game 1. I thought he helped them win Game 2. He and Rasheed [Wallace] were the things that kind of swing that game. Everyone was talking about Rondo in Game 4, and rightfully so, but Tony Allen — that was the best game of his career. He’s actually making layups, he’s finishing, he’s not doing stupid things.”

On the other side of the court, Anderson Varejao’s disappearing act is leading to rumors that the forward is hiding an injury. “I think he’s injured. It’s just really weird how he’s been playing,” Simmons said. “He only played 17 minutes in Game 5. And this is a guy who kills the Celtics, He’s just such a bad matchup. And also when Cleveland plays well, he’s playing 35-40 minutes a game. I think he’s the second-most important guy. For what he’s doing in this series and the minutes he’s getting, I think that’s one of the reasons the Celtics have a 3-2 lead.”

Simmons questioned the performance of Cavs coach Mike Brown, saying, “When coaches are grasping for straws, you can see it.” Then he heaped praise on Doc Rivers, a coach Simmons frequently has crititicized. “I think this has been his best series ever,” Simmons said. “I just think he’s had a command of the series. The timeouts — he’s called great timeouts, which he never used to do. You can feel Cleveland coming on, and he’s been stopping the runs, which is nice.”

The winner of the Celtics-Cavaliers series gets the red-hot Magic, but Simmons said that would be an appealing matchup for the C’s. “The way they match up with Orlando, if they can somehow get by this Cleveland team for one more game, they match up fantastic with Orlando,” Simmons said. “They have guys to throw at Dwight Howard. Rondo can beat Jameer Nelson. Vince Carter, who’s been dribbling through the lane with impunity, they’ll just knock his butt down. He’s not going to be able to do that stuff against the Celtics. I think they match up so much better against Orlando than they do against Cleveland.”

Celtics maintain Game 6 is really Game 7

05.12.10 at 5:04 pm ET
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WALTHAM — Following the Celtics‘ Game 5 blowout road win over the Cavaliers on Tuesday, Kevin Garnett was quick to set the tone for the team’s mentality as they prepared to head back to Boston for a potential series-clincher on Thursday.

“We cannot come back here [to Cleveland],” said Garnett in a postgame interview . “We have to think this is out Game 7 coming up and we cannot afford to have the best team in the league have a Game 4 on their floor. Just not possible.”

Forgetting for a moment the irony of Kevin Garnett telling us that something is NOT possible, the Celtics on Wednesday were quick to agree that Game 6 falls in the “must-win” category.

“That’s the way we have to have it,” said Glen Davis following practice on Wednesday. “We got to look at it  — Game 7. This is the last game. We gotta finish it, gotta close it out. He [Garnett] is right. We have to make sure that we go into the game like it’s our last.”

Kendrick Perkins — already no stranger to a Game 7 in his still-young career — wants no part of a winner take all battle in Cleveland, particulary when the Celtics have a chance to take care of business at home.

“Yeah it is,” said Perkins when asked if he agreed with Garnett’s thoughts. “It’s like our Game 7 coming up. We don’t want to back to Cleveland so we just have to come out with the right focus, right mindset.”

Davis is of course aware that the Celtics have already won a pair of games in Cleveland during this series, so winning a Game 7 (the real Game 7, not the Game 6 as Game 7, just to be clear) isn’t an impossible task. Still, the forward isn’t interested in tempting fate.

“It [Game 6] is the biggest game of the series,” said Davis. “Close game. Also, people don’t realize how much we have on our backs. If we lose this game at home, we have to go back to Cleveland. We know we can win there, but at the time, that’s their house, their environment, they play there more than we do. It’s a tough situation. We have to win this game.”

Doc Rivers is on board. The head coach was quick to remind the media on Wednesday that while the Celtics are one win away from moving on to the Eastern Conference Finals, the last victory will be the toughest.

“We have one home game left in this series,” Rivers noted. “We haven’t done anything. And we’ve made that clear. And you know that you are going to get Cleveland’s best shot.”

And you are going to get LeBron James‘ best shot as well. Rivers expects the two-time MVP to bounce back in Game 6.

“LeBron is going to play an amazing game and we’re going to have to be able to absorb that and still win the game.” Rivers said.

In praise of Thibs

05.12.10 at 4:44 pm ET
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WALTHAM — Associate coach Tom Thibodeau has already been mentioned in connection with a number of head coaching jobs this season, and if his resume needed any more polishing he can point to the work his defense has done against the Cavaliers in this series.

If you throw out Game 3 when the Cavs shot almost 60 percent and scored 124 points, they have averaged just 90.5 points and shot less than 43 percent from the floor. Even with Game 3 in the mix, they have shot just 27 percent from 3-point range.

Much of the focus, as always, has been on LeBron James, but the Celtics team defense has been stellar (again, aside from Game 3), and much of that credit goes to Thibodeau and the plan he has in place.

“He’€™s terrific,” Doc Rivers said Wednesday after the team conducted a short practice. “He’€™s the best defensive coach I think in the league. I don’€™t know if there’€™s a better one and our guys buy into it. I think that’€™s very important. If they don’€™t buy into what you’€™re doing, it’€™s not going to work. We have a group of guys who are willing to buy in to what we want them to do, to what Thibs wants them to do, and that’€™s why it works.”

Paul Pierce has been in the crosshairs thanks to his matchup with James, but he has been quick to deflect praise back to his teammates. The Celtics have a solid gameplan for James: Try to make him take jump shots, keep him out of the paint whenever possible and don’t allow layups. The initial onus is on Pierce, of course, but he knows he has help waiting for him in the paint.

The other issue with a player like James is with all that focus and attention, his teammates can get open, but the Celtics have done a superb job of shutting down his complimentary players.

Antawn Jamison has averaged 13.2 points, and has been held under 20 points in every game except for Game 3. Mo Williams has also struggled, shooting just 39 percent from the floor and 3-for-15 from 3-point range. Anthony Parker has shot the ball well, but he’s simply not a threat like Jamison and and Williams.

The Celtics have a solid plan in place and the players are executing. That’s not an accident. Thibodeau is known as a grinder. A coach who puts in long hours of work and preparation. That kind of work should be appreciated without fail, but that’s not always the case in this league.

The Celtics, however, are firmly are on board with what Thibodeau preaches and it starts with Kevin Garnett.

“He needs the support of his head coach, one, and then it’€™s the best player,” Rivers said. “If the best player buys in, everyone follows. Tim Duncan bought in to Pop and [Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer] and they all followed. It’€™s the same here. Kevin bought in on Day One. And what choice do you have? You have to follow.”

If Thibodeau does finally break through and get a head coaching job, the Celtics will have a large hole to fill. But for now they are more than happy that he is on their side.

Read More: Tom Thibodeau,
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