|The Magic were the team to beat all along||05.15.10 at 8:02 pm ET|
But deep down, the Celtics head coach meant what he said and he wanted to make sure his players understood it before they boarded their plane Saturday afternoon for Orlando and Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
‘Like we told our guys, Cleveland wasn’t our goal and neither is Orlando,” Rivers began. “Having said that, Orlando is the team, coming into the season, that you felt if you wanted to get out of the East, you had to beat Orlando. They’re the team that won the East last year, not Cleveland. I wanted our guys to have focus on that.’
Captain Paul Pierce remembers the feeling of walking off the court on that Sunday night in early May last year when the Magic stunned the defending champion Celtics in Game 7 at the Garden in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
‘You’re talking about pretty much two different teams,” Pierce said Saturday. “Obviously, what Jameer [Nelson] means to that team from not having him a year ago and Vince Carter and us adding KG to the starting lineup in this series and bringing in Rasheed [Wallace]. Definitely, two different teams for the most part. A lot of core guys are still there. It should be an interesting matchup.’
Pierce said this a great chance for the men in green.
‘It feels good,” Pierce said. “You get an opportunity to play against the Orlando Magic at their full strength and us at our full strength, so you have the two best teams in the Eastern Conference at full strength going at it to see who’s going to the championship. They’ve been playing very well, if not the best of everybody in basketball the last month. We’ve got our work cut out for us.
‘When you got into the off-season and don’t win the championship, you use things like that for motivation. That was one of my motivations, just the way we went out, especially on our home court really left a bad taste in my mouth. Hopefully, if we can get this series win, it can erase some of that.’
Ray Allen was another veteran stung by last year’s exit in Boston.
‘This is a great opportunity, coming back and knowing they put us out last year,” Allen said. “I think there are two different scenarios now. It’s two different teams but we know where our history lies and where we want to go and they’re a team in our way.’
Allen will be one of those with the responsibility of trying to match up with Rashard Lewis and Mickael Pietrus and helping to take away weapons from point guard Jameer Nelson.
‘They’ve built their team around having strong point guard play, somebody who can penetrate the ball and Dwight being so powerful inside,” Allen said. “So, we have to each guard a man-and-a-half. We have to guard our man and then help when they do pass because they try to build us out against our defense.
‘Obviously, we take player tendencies into account but I think the first game is going to dictate how the second game is going to go and each game is going to be different from the previous one and so forth.’
Whatever the match-ups, Rivers has prepared his team to be ready for a Magic team that is as versatile as they come in the NBA. If they’re not ready, they have no one to blame but themselves.
‘Hopefully, our antennas are up, if they’re no we’re going to struggle,” Rivers said. “It’s no secret what they do, they use Howard as a great post guy and try to suck in everybody. Jameer Nelson tries to crack you off the dribble and then go draw and kick and look for threes. That’s what they do.’
‘We have a go-to guy in Kevin [Garnett] that we’re going to go to. And they have their team leader back. He’s their team leader in a lot of ways. I think they get a lot of their toughness from him. He makes big shots for them. I think it’s two different teams anyway, especially them. They’ve changed their personnel completely.’
|Better safe than sorry with Perk||05.15.10 at 6:30 pm ET|
WALTHAM — Kendrick Perkins, the player primarily responsible for guarding Orlando’s Dwight Howard, was held out of practice on Saturday with a sore right knee. Perkins wore wraps on both knees and kept ice on his right one until the end of practice.
“He tried to go early and it bothered him a lot.” Rivers said. “He wanted to go I said, ‘I don’t need you tonight. You’re not going to help me today in practice. I need you tomorrow.'”
Following practice in Waltham, the Celtics left Saturday for Orlando and Sunday afternoon’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. Tipoff is set for 3:30 p.m. ET.
|Thanks to T.A., C’s where they want to be||05.14.10 at 1:06 pm ET|
One man’s misfortune often is another’s opportunity. Such was the case for Tony Allen in the recent series against the NBA’s MVP and the team with the best record in the NBA this regular season.
And help he did, as he held James to single figures in the first quarter and applied pressure throughout the second half in key spurts. The superstar wound up with a triple-double but he hardly was able to dictate the pace and tempo of the game with his trademark rocket cross-court passes as the Celtics prevailed, 94-85, to advance to Sunday’s opener of the Eastern Conference finals in Orlando.
‘That’s my role on this team,” Allen said. “I’ve got to be aggressive, just as aggressive as he is. For the most part I took that challenge. He still had a great night offensively all around. My whole thing is just to contain him, and listen to my bigs in transition.’
As the Cavaliers were in the midst of a big run, cutting the lead to four on back-to-back 3’s by James, Allen recalled a key turning point.
‘I remember while being in the game, I just missed getting to [LeBron] and then got encouraged from my bigs ‘ I didn’t hear them and they cut into the lead. For the most part we stuck together, we grinded it out. We were able to get back to the lead up.’
From that point on, the Celtics re-established their double-digit lead.
Paul Pierce had a couple of huge baskets including a 3-pointer and felt like he had more energy toward the end of the game, thanks in part to T.A.
‘It wasn’t really that grueling for me because I was in foul trouble, Pierce said. “I think it was more grueling for Ray and Tony because he’s a special talent, obviously he’s the best player in the NBA, tough to guard one-on-one, but you have to give a lot of credit to the other guys. He did his job, got me in foul trouble, but I’m a lot fresher in this series because of the foul trouble than I was when I played against him two years ago when he just completely wore me down.
“But those other guys, they played their hearts out on defense, it wasn’t just me, it was Ray [Allen], Tony, Kevin, Rasheed, Baby [Glen Davis], it was a number of guys. There is no person that can guard the guy so lets just leave it at that, it was nothing that one person did, it was a collective group, it was a team defense that was surrounded around stopping him.’
Ultimately, the Cavs learned that a team of reserves like Tony Allen can help shut down a team led by the two-time reigning MVP.
‘Most definitely, at the end of the day everybody has their role,” Allen said. “Like Doc said before the game, ‘Do your role, do your role 100 percent.’ Everybody took that challenge, and we were fortunate enough to get that win.
‘It was big, but I think guys came in focused. They meant what they said, they didn’t want to go back to Cleveland. At the end of the day we prepared for this, and we were where we wanted to be.’
|No Magic lessons in last year||05.13.10 at 8:43 pm ET|
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.”
|Rondo has seen it all before||05.10.10 at 9:17 pm ET|
Even more, Rondo took the chance to show he can play history teacher, too.
‘It’s happened before,” Rondo said in recalling the 2008 NBA Finals. “LeBron is going to be LeBron. He’s a great help-defender so he’s definitely going to be helping. He’s a good defender. They did that a couple of years ago when Kobe was checking me in the Finals. So, I’m used to bigger guys giving me the shot and challenging me late because of their wingspan. But [Anthony] Parker, is 6-7, 6-6, he’s not LeBron but he’s similar. He’s not a first-team All Defense but he’s a good defender.
‘It really doesn’t matter about the matchups. Obviously, a big thing in the playoffs is the matchups, but for me, I don’t really care who’s guarding me. I’m still going to run our offense and our system. We run our sets on offense through Paul, Ray and Kevin.’
But Rondo isn’t as worried about who guards him Tuesday as he is the final result. A win and Rondo and the Celtics could clinch on home court Thursday night.
‘Each game you say is the most important game of the series, which is true,” he said. “Game 5 is the biggest game for us right now. There can be a momentum swing. The series has been up and down. I think each game is won, loss, won, loss so hopefully we can change it up and get two wins in a row.
‘The pressure is on them now and also on us. So there’s no one-way street now as far as to where the pressure is. I’m fairly confident we can go into Cleveland and get a win. We definitely have to be focused.’
As for getting Paul Pierce started, Rondo said he’ll do what he can but he knows his captain won’t force things.
‘We don’t want to sacrifice the entire offense or the team just to get Paul involved,” he said. “Paul is just an unselfish player so he’s not complaining about shots or that he’s only scoring 11 or 12 points. As long as we’re winning, he knows it’s a team sport. He’s very unselfish. It’s about sacrifices. Yesterday, I think Ray [Allen] got 21 shots up and myself. Maybe Paul gets 22 shots and maybe Ray and I only shoots four. It varies each game. If a guy has it going, you keep going to him.’
|Paul Pierce meet David Ortiz||05.10.10 at 4:32 pm ET|
After scoring just nine points in 31 minutes on Sunday in the 97-87 Celtics win over Cleveland that evened the series, 2-2, everyone wants to know if Paul Pierce is physically fine.
And if he is, as he told reporters following Monday’s practice, why then is he having such trouble getting his offensive game going?
‘I’m not a rookie, you guys. I’m not a rookie,” Pierce said with a painful smile very similar to the one a certain Red Sox slugger sported after getting grilled about his woes just TWO games into the season.
“It is my 12th year. I’ve been in every situation, regardless. Whether it’s foul trouble, not playing, things not going so well for you, I know how to get through those times, mentally. It doesn’t affect me like it used to when I was a younger player where I had two or three fouls and not really playing the kind of basketball I want to. But the key is to keep focused and doing what you can to help the team win.’
And about your physical condition Paul?
‘There’s nothing wrong me,” Pierce said. “The key for me is being focused and giving my team what they need to win. So there’s nothing wrong with me.’
‘No, Paul’s fine, Paul’s fine,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers added. “Obviously, we want more out of him but we’re getting a lot out of him. I think unfortunately for Paul, he’s an offensive player and that’s what everyone sees in him and he has a defensive part in this series so they’re going to look at his offensive numbers so that’s the bad part of being Paul Pierce, really.’
Specifically, it was the early foul trouble in Games 3 and 4 at the Garden that Pierce pointed to as the main culprit in robbing him of offensive rhythm.
“If you’re a scorer, you’re a scorer for life,” Rivers said. “It’s like you’re in a gang, a scoring gang. I think scorers still think, ‘OK,’ and then once they get into it they realize, ‘Wow, this is tough.’ We just keep telling him to be aggressive. The one thing I did tell him was I thought I did think we got the right matchups for him he wasn’t looking to score. When we do get those situations, we need him to morph back into Paul.”
‘We don’t want to sacrifice the entire offense or the team just to get Paul involved,” added Rajon Rondo. “Paul is just an unselfish player so he’s not complaining about shots or that he’s only scoring 11 or 12 points. As long as we’re winning, he knows it’s a team sport. He’s very unselfish. It’s about sacrifices. Yesterday, I think Ray [Allen] got 21 shots up and myself. Maybe Paul gets 22 shots and maybe Ray and I only shoots four. It varies each game. If a guy has it going, you keep going to him.’
Pierce said he will not let games of 13, 14, 11 and nine points take him out of his focus of doing what it takes to help the team win the series, namely defend and help on LeBron James.
‘All that other stuff goes out the window, being frustrated,” Pierce said. “You really have to concentrate on the game when you’re not in the game so that when you go back in the game, you can finish it.
‘I’m digging myself a ditch as far as my fouls but I think they’re good fouls I’m getting, some bad ones but that’s the way the game goes. It’s nothing I’m really worried about. I know I can do a better job and control. No matter how I’m doing offensively, as long as we win, that’s all that matters to me.’
And winning Game 5 in Cleveland Tuesday is Job No. 1.
‘We definitely have a sense of urgency going into Game 5,” Pierce said. “We have to treat it like a Game 7, trying to gather some momentum, like we’ve been trying to do. We know it’s going to be a tough place to play back in Cleveland, trying to get two wins. It’s going to be very difficult. I think we’re going to put our hard hats on and clean up some of things we didn’t do right last night and in Game 3, and hopefully, try to steal another win.’
|Turnaround Tony||05.09.10 at 9:29 pm ET|
While everyone will rightfully point to Rajon Rondo’s historic triple-double performance in Game 4 on Sunday against Cleveland as the spark the Celtics needed, it was Tony Allen’s all-around court presence that might have made the biggest difference at the biggest moments of the game.
Allen ‘ as is his style ‘ came in full speed off the bench, running interference on LeBron James and flying down the court with the greatest of ease, taking passes from Rondo and dunking the ball to energize the Celtics and the TD Garden crowd in a crucial 97-87 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
With the game tied at 70 late in the third quarter, Allen was smart enough to follow Rondo in transition. As Rondo drew James to the basket, that left Allen wide open. With a half-circle behind-his-back pass, Rondo fed Allen for a dunk and the Garden exploded.
‘Ya, that’s what you call an energy play from Rondo,” Allen said. “I mean he had energy all night. I don’t know what his stat-line was like but I know it was big and we fed off of his energy all night.”
Early in the fourth quarter, Allen had the chance to return the favor when he drew James to the basket, only to find a trailing Rondo behind him for another easy basket.
“It’s just one of those things where I got out in transition and we figured if we could get out quick, we could get some easy baskets,” Allen said.
Then there was just the simple matter of winning a game the Celtics absolutely needed, especially after the worst home-court playoff loss in Celtics history on Friday.
‘Nobody wants to apart of history from a losing effort, losing by 30 in your home court,” Allen said. “Everybody was looking at film yesterday and was down on themselves. I think today they came out and just wanted to turn that negative energy that we had last game into something big today. I think that we did a good job of that.
‘We all do a great job of listening to [defensive coach] Tom Thibodeau, Doc [Rivers] do a good job of drawing up plays, but most importantly we hang our hats on defense. I think that’s why we were big today.’
From the moment the season began, Doc Rivers told the Allen off the bench that his playing time will be dictated by two things – his defense and his energy.
Both have been in high gear at the best time of year for the Celtics so far.
‘Most definitely, I think once I get a few chip in baskets, they give me a little energy but for the most part I am a defender first on that court,” Allen said. “I need to do that in order for me to stay out there.’
With Paul Pierce saddled with five fouls and Ray Allen using all six of his, it was up to Allen off the bench to assume responsibility for helping to hold LeBron in check. And with just 22 points in 43 minutes, Allen and the Celtics accomplished their goal.
‘My plan for that was to listen to [defensive coach] Tom Thibodeau and call out those sets before hand and him looking at that formation, and I was just ready to roll. He did a good job just telling me the formation.
‘Basically all I have to say is that our whole concept is feeding off of our defense. Our team concept is slow to the ball and get it out to the shooters. I was just trying to be active on our team defense and I took advantage of that today and I was fortunate enough to convert that in the fourth quarter,’ Allen said.
If the Celtics can get more of that in the next week from Tony Allen, they might just need him later in May, too.
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