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Paul Pierce on playoff Celtics: ‘This is a grind team’ 05.13.12 at 3:29 am ET
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Paul Pierce thinks the Celtics have the market cornered on grit.

Almost two weeks ago, Kevin Garnett unveiled the team’s new slogan, exchanging the “Ubuntu” of the 2008 title run for some good ol’ fashioned “Grit and Balls” in the 2012 NBA Playoffs. Others may imitate — like old friend Tony Allen and the Grizzlies’ “Grit and Grind” motto — but Pierce knows the truth.

“We definitely didn’t play our best ball,” said Pierce after the C’s 92-91 win over the 76ers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. “It was definitely a slow start, but this is a grind team. I’m hearing rumblings down in Memphis that they’re trying to take our motto. I think they know where they got that from. We figure out ways to win. This team has tons of experience. We’ve got the veteran savvy to find ways, and we just keep doing it.”

On Saturday night, they did it on the backs of Garnett (29 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks) and Rajon Rondo (13 points, 17 assists, 12 rebounds), who scored 15 of the C’s 25 points in the fourth quarter.

“We’re gonna ride Kevin all the way until his wheels fall off,” said Pierce. “And he’s bringing it every night. He understands the sense of urgency with this ballclub, and he’s giving everything he’s got out there for us. He’s looking magnificent. He’s looking like the ’04 MVP, definitely.”

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Fast Break: Rondo, Garnett help Celtics survive 76ers 05.12.12 at 10:32 pm ET
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If it’s possible, the Celtics didn’t even play all that well, yet Rajon Rondo recorded his eighth career playoff triple-double (21st overall) and Kevin Garnett submitted his best back-to-back postseason performance since the 2008 NBA title run, as they escaped Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 92-91 win over the 76ers.

Rondo finished with 13 points, 17 assists and 12 rebounds (oh, and 7 turnovers) while Garnett totaled 29 points and 11 rebounds two nights after amassing 28 points and 14 boards to eliminate the Hawks in the first round.

Leading 92-91 with 3.4 seconds remaining, Doc Rivers took a gamble coming out of a timeout, calling Rondo’s number. The C’s point guard ran to the backcourt and escaped a rushing defender to dribble out the clock.

Paul Pierce had a dreadful shooting night (3-11 FG), but managed 14 points thanks to eight free throws. The C’s trailed by double digits in all four quarter, but outscored the Sixers 25-14 over the final 10:52 of the fourth quarter.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Still not old: Last May, two nights after Garnett totaled 28 points and 18 rebounds in the C’s lone win of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Heat, he managed just seven points (1-10 FG) in an overtime loss. The Celtics had to wonder how Garnett would respond two nights after his epic 28-point, 14-rebound Game 6 against the Hawks. This time, he picked up where he left off, scoring 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the first half alone.

Allen’s ankle: After Thursday’s Game 6 against the Hawks, Allen admitted the bone spurs in his ankle had returned to the pain level that caused him to miss Games 1 and 2 of the first round. A game-time decision prior to Game 1 of the 76ers series, Allen declared himself ready for action despite an abbreviated pregame routine. Not that it mattered, as he got his shooting in during the game. His two 3-pointers early in the second quarter kept the Celtics within striking distance of the surging Sixers. Playing 14:28 of the first half, Allen entered the break with a plus-12 rating despite the C’s trailing by five at the half, 47-42.

Small ball: Outside of starting 7-foot center Spencer Hawes, the next biggest guy in the Sixers playoff rotation is Elton Brand at 6-foot-9. Often, Doug Collins has no other choice but to run small lineups, and that’s generally a good thing for a young, athletic team that likes to get out and run. For the final 3:25 of the first half, Doc Rivers countered by subbing Allen in for Greg Stiemsma, leaving a lineup of Allen, Garnett, Pierce, Rondo and Bradley on the parquet. Together, they finished the second quarter on a 10-2 run to get back into it.

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Tony Battie: Paul Pierce ‘always lived and breathed and ate the game’ 05.12.12 at 9:08 pm ET
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Before Saturday night, the last time the Celtics and 76ers met in the NBA Playoffs, Paul Pierce scored scored 46 points to clinch a decisive Game 5 victory in the first round, and Tony Battie was the C’s starting center.

Now, 10 years later, Pierce and Battie are two of only three guys still playing in the league (Raja Bell played four minutes off the bench for Philadelphia) — only Pierce is still starring in Boston and Battie hasn’t seen a minute of playoff action as a 36-year-old big off of the Sixers bench.

“I think they labeled us the ‘Return to Glory’ team,” said Battie, trying to remember those 2002 Celtics that succumbed to the Nets in the Eastern Conference finals a decade ago. “This league is kind of a revolving door. Now I’m playing for the Sixers, and that New Jersey team that beat us was put together by Rod Thorn, who’s now the Sixers boss over here. So, I guess I’m blessed to still be hanging around.”

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Ray Allen: ‘Let the good times roll’ for Celtics 05.11.12 at 5:15 pm ET
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Celtics shooting guard Ray Allen has seen his share of ups and downs on a basketball court, and we’re not talking about the 500 jump shots that make up his daily routine.

  • Over the course of his career, he’s played for a SuperSonics team that won 31 games and finished last in its division, and he’s won an NBA championship ring on a Celtics team that won a league-best 66 games.
  • Over the course of this season, he’s shot 48.5 percent from 3-point range over a 28-game stretch before the All-Star break, and he’s missed 15 games down the stretch with a lingering ankle injury.
  • And over the course of these playoffs, he’s missed two more games with those bone spurs, and he’s averaged 13.3 points on 51.6 percent shooting over a three-game stretch.

Now what, especially after shooting just 1-of-7 from the field and (gasp!) 4-of-6 from the free throw line in Game 6, all while his ankle flared up to the same discomfort levels that kept him out of Games 1 and 2?

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Irish Coffee: Josh Smith ‘jealous’ of Celtics, Boston fans 05.11.12 at 10:06 am ET
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Don’t be surprised if Josh Smith is a member of the 2013-14 Boston Celtics.

Following the Hawks’ 83-80 loss in Game 6 — suffering their second first-round exit in Boston since 2008 — their should-be All-Star forward said everything short of swearing his allegiance to high school teammate Rajon Rondo.

“That’s a great basketball team over there in the Celtics,” said Smith, who finished Game 6 with 18 points (7-18 FG), nine rebounds and four assists. “They’ve done some special things since they acquired the Big Three. Since then, they’ve been doing some special things in the postseason. We can definitely learn a lot from that ball club.

“It definitely hurts not being able to get out of the first round,” he added. “Being able to get out of the first round in three consecutive years, falling short this year, I felt like we had the best opportunity to make it to the Eastern Conference finals this year moreso than other years. That’s obviously disappointing.”

If you can’t beat ‘em, as they say, join ‘em. That notion was palpable in Smith’s postgame (and post-series) press conference. The Rondo connection is an obvious one, although Smith’s admiration for the Celtics and their fans goes far beyond his senior year at Oak Hill Academy with the C’s three-time All-Star point guard.

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Kevin Garnett on Hawks owner: ‘Just because you have a bunch of money doesn’t mean you can open your mouth’ 05.11.12 at 1:16 am ET
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On Wednesday, Hawks owner Michael Gearon Jr. called Celtics center Kevin Garnett the “dirtiest guy in the league” during a charity luncheon in Atlanta, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“We are playing this old physical team,” said Gearon Jr. “They are old. I know what happens when you play basketball, old guys foul. Garnett is the dirtiest guy in the league.”

How did Garnett respond? Only by producing 28 points (10-of-19 FG, 8-10 FT), 14 rebounds, five blocks and three steals in Game 6, including a turnaround teardrop in the lane that gave the Celtics the lead for good with 30 seconds left and effectively put the first-round series to bed.

“First off, I want to say thank you to the owner for giving me some extra gas tonight,” Garnett said in a postgame press conference for the ages. “My only advice to him is next time he opens his mouth, actually know what he’s talking about — X’s and O’s versus checkbooks and bottom lines.”

Zing. Oh, but Garnett wasn’t done.

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Fast Break: Kevin Garnett just plain dirty in Celtics win 05.10.12 at 10:45 pm ET
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Kevin Garnett must not like business trips to Atlanta all that much. The Celtics center submitted a virtuoso performance that seemed fresh out of a 2008 time machine — including the go-ahead turnaround with 30 seconds left — carrying the Celtics to a 83-80 victory against the visiting Hawks and putting a bow on their Eastern Conference quarterfinals series in six games.

Garnett finished with 28 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks, becoming the first player in a Celtics uniform to register that kind of line in the playoffs since Kevin McHale totaled 27 points, 15 boards and six blocks in 1986. Rajon Rondo (14 points, 8 assists) and Paul Pierce (18 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds) were the only other C’s in double figures.

Trailing 79-78 with less than a minute remaining, Garnett dropped a turnaround in the lane that gave the Celtics the lead for good after they squandered a nine-point advantage in the fourth quarter. Following a stop on the other end, Ray Allen made just 1-of-2 free throws with nine seconds on the clock, but Al Horford countered with 1-of-2 of his own with three seconds remaining. A pair of Pierce freebies put the finishing touches on the victory.

Thanks to a pair of missed Omer Asik free throws and two successful Andre Iguadola attempts at the charity stripe in the final seconds, the 76ers eked out a 79-78 victory against the Derrick Rose-less Bulls to win the series in six games. The win means the C’s host the Eastern Conference semifinals, including Game 1 Saturday.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Ticket post: Garnett attempted just 12 field goals in Game 5, and half of them came from at least 18 feet. The Celtics made a concerted effort to get Garnett the ball in the post early, and he owned the paint from the start (on both ends). In Game 6, he took 10 shots — by halftime. All five of Garnett’s first-half field goals came within 12 feet of the basket, and he entered the break with 13 points, seven rebounds and three steals, as the C’s established a 47-41 lead through two quarters.

Backcourt boost: With little life in the building — and little for Celtics fans to cheer — four minutes into the second quarter, Rondo reentered the game for Keyon Dooling. The Hawks led 31-25. Over the next four minutes and change, the Celtics fired off a 16-0 run to establish a 41-31 advantage. Rondo had four points and three assists in that stretch and guarded 6-foot-9 Marvin Williams on the other end (or the vicinity thereof, wreaking havoc as a roaming defender). Meanwhile, Avery Bradley locked down a scoreless Jeff Teague in the first half.

No sprain, no gain: When Pierce’s first 3-point attempt fell flat off the front of the rim, it had to be from the lack of lift as a result of his sprained MCL, right? Not so much. The captain made four of his next five field goals, totaling 12 points in 16 first-half minutes and erasing any concern over how his knee would respond.

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