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Doc Rivers on his Celtics: ‘Honestly, they believe they can win’

06.06.12 at 2:08 am ET
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After winning three straight games to dig themselves out of an 0-2 hole to the heavily-favored Miami Heat, the Celtics are on the verge of one of the most improbable trips to the NBA finals, even by their most-lofty franchise standards. Doc Rivers said after Tuesday’s 94-90 win in Game 5 in Miami that the reason the Celtics never give up on a game in hostile territory is because of the makeup of his veteran locker room.

“It’s just a good team, a close-knit team,” Rivers answered when questioned about his players’ supreme confidence. “They talk that way. We have a lot of positive talk in our locker room, a lot. And it fuels from them. And honestly, they believe they can win. And we just have to keep hanging in there.”

One reason the Celtics believe they can win is history. In the Big Three era — beginning in 2008 — the Celtics are now 9-0 in Game 5 contests in which the series was tied, 2-2. On Tuesday, they didn’t crumble when they fell behind by 13 in the first half and were shooting just 33 percent at halftime.

After watching his team hold on, Rivers said he reminded his team after the emotional win not to lose focus on the task at hand, namely closing out the supremely talented LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Miami Heat in Boston Thursday and not give them the chance to return the Eastern Conference finals to Miami on Saturday.

“I told them, ‘We’ve done nothing.’ We’re playing a heck of a basketball team. And so, just because we’re going to Boston, I told them, ‘We have to play. They’re not going to give it to us. We have to go get it,’ ” Rivers said.

Rivers is also known as one of the most inspirational coaches in the NBA. He had to go deep into that well Tuesday night as his team fell behind 31-18 in Game 5 to the Heat. Miami was hitting most of its open shots while the Celtics started off 4-of-17.

“We’re just hanging in there,” Rivers said after the 94-90 win that put the Celtics one win from the NBA finals. “They jumped up on us at the beginning of the game. We just told our guys, ‘Hang in there, just hang in there. Don’t overreact. Hang in there. The longer we’re in the game, the better we’ll play.’ It was really nice.”

The Celtics closed out the fourth quarter by hitting their final nine free throws and taking the lead for good with just over 90 seconds remaining.

“I thought our execution down the stretch, defensively and offensively, the different lineups we threw out on the floor, going back between man and zone with guys that hadn’t been in those positions,” Rivers said were the keys. “I have to say I asked a lot of our guys, maybe too much, honestly, at times, and they came through, and that was terrific.”

The Celtics were battling to find their rhythm in the first half, though they trailed by just two, 42-40, at the half. The Celtics came out and looked out of sorts at times, including a Rajon Rondo pass from the frontcourt to Ray Allen in the backcourt that occurred during a Miami 9-0 run. But Boston outscored the Heat, 25-18, in the third, featuring an 11-0 run to end the quarter.

“We wanted to win in the first three quarters,” Rivers said. “We didn’t play very well. We were sloppy at times. We just hung around enough to get to the fourth quarter. Honestly, in the first quarter, that’s the way we felt as a staff. We just have to try and hang around somehow because things are not going well. You could clearly see that. We were even tentative, all of us. I don’t know how many balls we bobbled on steals we got.

“But in the third quarter, when Ray went in to get treatment on his foot, didn’t know if he was coming back and [Mickael Pietrus] hits a couple of shots and that gave us belief and life again.”

Read More: 2012 Playoffs, Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Miami Heat
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