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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.”

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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.

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Irish Coffee: 5 questions Celtics must solve in Game 6 05.09.12 at 2:04 pm ET
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In many ways, the Game 5 loss was simply a string of statistical Celtics anomalies that favored the Hawks.

  • After making 21-of-82 treys in Games 1-4 (25.6%), The Hawks shot 7-of-16 from 3-point range (43.8%).
  • The Hawks committed four more turnovers (18-14), but the Celtics scored four fewer points off them (21-25).
  • After the Celtics kept pace on the glass in Games 1-4 (174-178), the Hawks won the Game 5 battle, 41-33.
  • Paul Pierce air-balled a would-be go-ahead 20-footer with 18 seconds remaining.
  • Rajon Rondo lost his sure handle and failed to deliver a pass while time expired.

Of course, there are reasons for those anomalies, so how must the Celtics adjust to avoid a Game 7 on the road?

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Doc Rivers: ‘Rondo willed us back into the game’ 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.”

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Ray Allen’s return another step forward for Celtics 05.08.12 at 8:24 am ET
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Paul Pierce was in the Zone — with a capital ‘Z’ as Kevin Garnett put it — and the Celtics were pulling away in the second quarter of their 101-79 victory Sunday night in Game 4 of their first-round series with the Hawks. The atmosphere plummeted from jovial to somber, though, when Pierce went down clutching his sprained knee. The Garden was hushed.

The stress of Pierce’s uncertain health was temporarily alleviated and the Garden was instantaneously in a frenzy once again when moments later, as he has done so many times, Ray Allen came off a screen and buried a 3-pointer. It didn’t matter that this was only Allen’s second game back from an ankle injury that kept him out of the lineup nearly all of April. Both the Celtics and their fans understand what Allen provides: Relief and security due to his unmatched preparation.

“You see what he puts into his craft,” Garnett said. “You see why he is who he is, and the reputation he has earned. I use the word earned, not given. You expect great things out of him, and that’s what he gives you.”

The reputation Allen earned had to be altered. The 36 year-old is renowned for his arduous training regimen, but coming off an injury he has stressed body maintenance over basketball form. Allen said he has cut his routine down to 40 percent of its usual length, which indicates his understanding of how imperative it is to get rest. His willingness to adjust his militant habits is paying dividends.

“I’m really managing my off days really well,” Allen said. “You have a tendency when you get back off of an injury to kind of let it slide a bit, and I haven’t been. And it’s important to me to rest up, just staying off it.”

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Avery Bradley: ‘Now I’m ready; I’ll be ready in Round 2 as well’ 05.07.12 at 1:00 pm ET
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Avery Bradley didn’t play a single minute of the 2011 Celtics playoff run that ended in five games against the Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and even before Round 1 of his sophomore season is over he’s already declared himself prepared for the next hurdle in his budding young career. My, how things change.

“It’s been great,” said Bradley of his first four playoff games and his team’s resulting 3-1 series lead. “I’ve been able to learn a lot and gain a lot of confidence. The main thing for me is learning how to approach the playoffs. That was big for me, and now I’m ready; I’ll be ready in Round 2 as well.”

This from a kid who made 8-of-45 field goal attempts outside of three feet as a rookie last season. Bradley had one career 3-point field goal through March 22 of this season. Here’s how far he’s come: Of the C’s first six shots against the Hawks, Bradley took four of them — all outside of 21 feet, on a bum left shoulder.

“It hurt me, but I tried not to think about it,” said Bradley, who left in the third quarter of Game 3 with a recurring left shoulder dislocation. “I just went out there and played hard. I knew my team needed that energy, and that’s what I wanted to bring. It’s been the same. It gets worse as I continue to knock it out, but it’s something that I’m going to continue to get treatment on, strengthen and it’ll get better eventually.”

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Starting with Rajon Rondo, Doc Rivers can sense ‘momentum rolling’ for Celtics 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 »

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