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Sixers in search of closer, remain positive despite fourth-quarter collapse 05.14.12 at 10:05 am ET
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Andre Iguodala and the 76ers weren't able to close out Paul Pierce and the Celtics in Saturday's Game 1. (AP)

This was the script Doug Collins dreamed of — his team clinging to a six-point lead, early in the fourth quarter on the road, despite multiple runs by the Celtics. His collar loosened, ever so slightly, as Lou Williams got a hand on a Ray Allen jump shot, and then pulled up in transition to bury a long-range shot of his own. Seconds later, Lavoy Allen sank a textbook baby hook shot, and the 76ers opened up a 10-point lead.

The momentum abruptly came to a halt, however, as the Celtics went on a 12-2 run over the next five minutes. The Sixers offense proved to be non-existent at the worst possible time, and suddenly, with just under five minutes left to play, Philly was trading baskets in a one-possession game with the Celtics. The lead, the security, and hopes of catching Boston off guard and stealing home court vanished.

“I’m proud of our guys,” Collins said. “We are off to a really good start. What we needed here, coming in today on the road, we fought on some. When it is all said and done, we had a great chance to get this game today and just had four really bad offensive possessions that really hurt us.”

What may trouble Collins most is not how his team blew the lead, but who blew the lead. Going into the fourth quarter, everything appeared to be working for the 76ers. Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner had 16 points each, the Sixers forced Rajon Rondo into committing six turnovers, they outscored Boston’s bench 20-14, and they were even shooting 4-of-10 on 3-pointers.

A big question mark going into this series, though, was if Philly’s playmakers – Iguodala, Turner and Williams — could come through down the stretch.  Saturday night, the answer was no. The three combined to go 2-for-10 from the field in the fourth quarter. And, as their shooting touch failed them, none were able to get to the foul line. Williams had a shot blocked, Iguodala had two of his sent the other way, and both had turnovers in critical moments. Most telling is that not one 76er scored more than four points in the fourth quarter.

“That’s sort of the sign of a team that’s trying to grow and figure out what it is to play this kind of championship basketball in the NBA playoffs,” Collins said.

As much as the Sixers did struggle, Rondo was great when he needed to be, atoning for an uneven night. In the final frame alone, he had six points, four assists and five boards. The assists came from Rondo pushing the ball upcourt. The Celtics scored seven of their 14 fast-break points in the fourth quarter. Perhaps the scariest aspect of Rondo’s fourth-quarter performance was each of his three field goals coming from 18 feet and out.

“When he starts making shots, you have to honor that,” Turner said. “That allows the other guys to get space. It allows [Kevin Garnett] to get on the block one-on-one with a guy, or Paul [Pierce] to iso, or for Ray [Allen].”

Said Doc Rivers: “I thought Rondo’s shooting, obviously, down the stretch was fantastic. He wanted those shots. We ran that play, we were going to switch Ray and put him in that spot where the guy curls back up, and Rondo wanted that play. He wanted the shot and he took it. That has to be great for his confidence.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2012 NBA playoffs, Evan Turner, Kevin Garnett, Lou Williams
By the numbers: Seven points to watch for during 76ers vs. Celtics 05.12.12 at 9:05 am ET
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Can Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala be the 76ers closer against Kevin Garnett and the Celtics? (AP)

Sometimes results in regular season matchups translate to the playoffs. For instance, it wasn’t as shocking when the top-seeded Mavericks were upset by the eighth-seeded Warriors in the 2006-07 playoffs, because their regular season meetings gave an indication Dallas would have issues with Don Nelson’s small-ball lineups.

The lockout shortened 2011-12 season doesn’t offer the same insights. Celtics coach Doc Rivers feels there isn’t much to take away from the three regular season match-ups between his team and the 76ers.

“The two [games] in Philly we didn’t learn much,” Rivers said at practice Friday. “We got blasted in the first game especially. Regular season games, both of them are coming off back-to-backs and stuff like that. Those are tough games to gauge. We know how they want to play, they know how we want to play. It’s going to be a battle of that, who can establish the pace.”

Rivers is right. Philly handled Boston twice at home. The first game saw the Sixers thump the C’s, 103-71. The 32-point defeat was the worst loss suffered in the new Big Three era.

The second game in Philadelphia was played without Ray Allen and, to make matters worse for Boston, both Avery Bradley and Mickael Pietrus sustained injuries in the first half, keeping each out of action in the final 24 minutes. Following a competitive first half, the Celtics didn’t have enough firepower to keep up with the 76ers.

The final game, played in Boston, was the sole meeting the Celtics won and could be the best indication of what may transpire between the two teams since it was most recent. Still, even that game was played after both squads competed the night before.

With all those disclaimers and caveats laid out, there is still some merit to how the 76ers and Celtics played in their first round series. So let’s take a peek at seven playoff trends from each side. Read the rest of this entry »

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Paul Pierce: ‘We’re playing like this is it’ 05.11.12 at 10:54 am ET
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No one needed the rest more than Paul Pierce.

And no one appreciated the titanic effort of Kevin Garnett than Pierce, either.

Pierce played a gutsy 40 minutes on a sprained left knee, recording 18 points, five rebounds and seven assists. He knew more than anyone else the need to finish off the Hawks Thursday and get ready for the 76ers on Saturday night at the Garden in Game 1 of the Eastern semis.

Everyone on the Celtics knew the M*A*S*H report coming in: Pierce’s knee, Avery Bradley (left shoulder), Kevin Garnett (hip flexor) and Ray Allen (left ankle). Everyone knew that going back to Atlanta wasn’t a viable option.

“That’s the beauty of this team,” Pierce said. “When you got four guys, Kevin, myself, Rondo and Ray, it’s never on one person’s back. Kevin tonight obviously carried the low post, offensively and defensively, like he has for years. And we all take pressure off each other. And it was just beautiful to watch and beautiful to be apart of. You know and I’m glad I have the opportunity to play with a guy like that.”

So how did Pierce feel after his 40 minutes, guarding Josh Smith on a knee that would’ve likely sidelined him in the regular season?

“A little tired and sore,” Pierce said. “You know, I played a lot of minutes, had to guard one of the toughest 1-on-1 players in the league all night. You know that’s the nature of this beast. You’ve got to be ready to bounce back Saturday, one day of play, one day of rest. You know this is it, this is it. We might never have this opportunity again.”

The reward for Thursday’s 83-80 closeout win in Game 6? A date with Philly Saturday night with just one day to lick their wounds.

“It feels good,” Pierce said. “You know we have to enjoy it here tonight and get right back at it, thinking about Philadelphia.”

Toughness is a word you’re going to hear a lot in the next week. Philadelphia became the fifth No. 8 seed in NBA playoff history to eliminate a No. 1, though they had the advantage of not dealing with Derrick Rose for five games and Yoakim Noah for the last three. They led by 12 in the third quarter and trailed by three with 30 seconds to go.

They found a way to win when Andre Iguodala hit a pair of free throws with 2.2 seconds remains for a 79-78 win over the Bulls in South Philly. Just moments later, 250 miles northeast, the Celtics had nearly the identical thing happen. They led by nine with eight minutes left. Trailed by three with two minutes left and found a way to win.

“We’ve been through that, we’re not a team who’s going to panic in a close game,” Pierce said. “We were down [three]. We just picked it up. We got a couple stops, executed our offense, set a couple screens and hoped things would go our way. We’re not a team that’s going to panic, just being in that situation a number of times. You know, I didn’t look up and say we’re going to Atlanta again. We play through the clock. Until you see the double zeros up there its never over.

“We’re playing like this is it. This could be our last chance together, so we’re going to give it one last run and then see what happens.”

Read More: 2012 NBA playoffs, 2012 Playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics
Are Ryan Hollins and Celtics up to challenge of Al Horford in Game 6? 05.10.12 at 2:49 pm ET
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WALTHAM — Al Horford looked a bit timid at the beginning of Game 5. He was getting pushed around somewhat in the paint by the likes of Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass, Greg Stiemsma and Ryan Hollins.

Then, a funny thing happened. He started hitting open jump shots.

He got his swagger, shook of the rust from Game 4 and three months of time on the bench rehabbing his torn left pectoral muscle and voila: Horford took over Game 5.

Horford finished the must-win game for the Hawks with 19 points and 11 rebounds in helping the Hawks to a 87-86 win over the Celtics.

“He’s a good player, he’s a good player,” Hollins said Thursday morning in the team’s shootaround. “He hits his open shots, passes well, plays really well with that team. We have to pay attention to him and make things tough for him. He’s a good player. He’s going to get his shots.

“He’s a good player. He thrives on contact, creating space for himself running the floor. He’s an All-Star in the league. That’s what All-Stars come out and do.”

What can Hollins provide?

“Energy, effort, teamwork, stuff that doesn’t show in the stat sheet,” said Hollins, who had five points, four rebounds, four fouls and one block in 19 minutes on Tuesday in Game 5.

Now, in the hours before Game 6, a game the Celtics need to win to avoid a trip back to Peachtree Street and Game 7 Saturday. It’s up to Garnett, Stiemsma and Hollins to step up and not give him the comfort zone he enjoyed in the final three quarters as Horford found his game.

“We all have to be ready, ready to play,” Hollins said. “It could be any of us called on. It could be Greg’s game, my game, Brandon’s game, whoever. We’ll all be ready tonight.

“The coaching staff keeps us always prepared. We’re ready for any situation, could be 20 minutes, five minutes, no minutes. We’re ready to go and ready to play.”

Read More: 2012 NBA playoffs, 2012 Playoffs, Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks
Avery Bradley is ready for the closeout challenge Thursday at 2:40 pm ET
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WALTHAM — Avery Bradley knows as well as anyone on the banged up Celtics what it’s like to play through pain.

He’s dealing with a “sore” rotator cuff in his left shoulder, the team announced after its shootaround Thursday morning.

He is expected to start and play in Game 6 tonight.

“It’s a little sore,” Bradley said after Thursday’s shootaround. “I’ve been fighting through the pain all year. I’ll be ready for tonight.”

How does he cope?

“Just by not thinking about it,” Bradley added. “I’m going to get hit. There’s a chance it could pop out but I try not to think about it. I just go out there and just play.”

The Celtics lead the series, 3-2, and can close out the Hawks in Game 6, which is set for an 8 p.m. tipoff.

“We’re very focused,” Bradley said. “We know what we need to improve on this game. I feel like we’ll be prepared tonight.”

What does Bradley think will change from Game 5, when the Celtics had a 28-18 lead early in the second quarter, only to have it slip away?

“Just our intensity level,” he said. “We didn’t come out and play as hard as we played the previous game. We know we have to come out and have a strong start, play good defense and there’s a chance we could win the game.”

The Celtics also announced Thursday morning, just hours before their Game 6 showdown with the Hawks, that captain Paul Pierce has a sprained MCL in his left knee but he will be available to play and start in the potential closeout game for Boston.

Pierce injured the knee on Sunday morning during a Celtics shootaround prior to Game 4 at the Garden. He then reinjured hours later in the game when he tried to get around a screen set by Josh Smith.

Celtics officials at the team’s shootaround Thursday were adamant in denying reports of any tears or bone spurs in Pierce’s knee.

Read More: 2012 NBA playoffs, 2012 Playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Avery Bradley
Doc Rivers: ‘Rondo willed us back into the game’ 05.09.12 at 12:25 am ET
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Rajon Rondo almost pulled off a miraculous win by himself Tuesday. (AP)

Doc Rivers takes a lot of pride in his veteran team being more prepared than any other when it comes to crucial end-of-game situations. This is especially true in the playoffs.

That’s why Tuesday night was such a kick in the groin to Rivers and the Celtics.

A dejected Rivers analyzed what happened in the furious final moments of Boston’s 87-86 loss to Atlanta in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series Tuesday night at Philips Arena. Rivers watched as Rajon Rondo nearly single-handedly won the game with a steal of an inbounds pass and a lenght-of-the-court dribble only to be denied even getting a shot off as the Hawks held on.

Rondo scored six of the final eight points of the third quarter as the Celtics rallied furiously back from a 12-point deficit and a nine-point hole late in the fourth only to have time run out.

“I thought Rondo willed us back into the game in the third,” Rivers said. “That stretch was huge for him. We played in spurts, and that’s why we lost.”

Rondo finished with 13 points, 12 assists and five rebounds in 44 minutes of rugged playoff action. He also had five steals, including the one off the inbounds play with 10 seconds remaining that nearly won the series.

The Celtics now must deal with the confident tandem of Al Horford and Josh Smith in Game 6 in Boston Thursday night. Both of them registered double-doubles, with Horford hitting the final two baskets for Atlanta and denying Rondo any chance of getting off the final shot.

“Al Horford was terrific tonight,” Rivers said. “I thought him and Williams made the difference in the game. I thought they all played well and hard, which we anticipated in an elmination game. I didn’t like our execution down the stretch of the game, did a couple of things we shouldn’t have done. But overall, I just thought they played harder, they played better.”

Before the Rondo steal, the Celtics tried for a steal with 15 seconds remaining, only to burn valuable seconds off the clock as the Celtics had a foul to give.

“We signaled to foul but our guys decided to go for the steal, first. What they didn’t understand was we had a foul to give. I told them after the game and we talk about it every day in practice,” Rivers said. “End of the game execution is going to win and lose playoff games for you.

“I thought when you look at the last couple of games, we had great motion and movement, offensively. I didn’t think we had any of that tonight. I thought we were an stagnant basketball team. I thought in the first quarter, it was terrific. The movement was great. We missed a lot of open shots. We had the lead but I told our coaches, they had a lot of open shots they missed, and then they started making them and got their confidence up. Listen, this is the team they thought they were going to start the season with, now they have it and we’re going to have to deal with it.”

Read More: 2012 NBA playoffs, 2012 Playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics
Starting with Rajon Rondo, Doc Rivers can sense ‘momentum rolling’ for Celtics 05.07.12 at 11:59 am ET
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When arguably your best player is playing his best, your going to have great results.

Such was the case again Sunday night when Rajon Rondo didn’t need a triple-double but just 20 points and 16 assists to help the Celtics throttle the overmatched Hawks, 101-79, in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinals at the Garden.

What made Rondo’s night so special is what he did in getting others involved early and often.

He found Paul Pierce twice in the first quarter to get the captain rolling on his way to 24 points in 16 injury-shortened minutes. He found Avery Bradley for a corner three. He fed Kevin Garnett with a perfect pass on an alley-oop dunk. He fed Ray Allen for a wide open 16-footer.

“That’s Rondo being Rondo,” Pierce said. “He’s one of the best point guards in the NBA. He has the confidence and controls the game, tonight you saw him doing it offensively with his shooting. We already know he’s the best passer in the game and offensively he just picked up the slack.”

And he even found it in his heart to fedd Greg Stiemsma for a layup. Seven assists in the first quarter as Rondo had the Celtics off and running.

As great as Rondo is, his coach doesn’t always have a feel when a great game like Sunday is coming from his point guard.

“I did not,” Doc Rivers said. “There are days though, that you sense it, and then most of the time you’re wrong. I didn’t sense that; I did sense that we were ready to play. You know, that’s obviously the best we’ve played so far in the playoffs. I sensed that, but other than that, it was just – it started rolling. You could feel it. You can feel the momentum rolling on our side. And we made a lot of shots. When you make shots like that, and you defend like that, it’s tough to be beat.”

And what did Rondo think of his fast start that took the heart out of the Hawks? Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2012 NBA playoffs, 2012 Playoffs, Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers
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