|Doc Rivers: ‘Rondo willed us back into the game’||05.09.12 at 12:25 am ET|
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.”
|Ray Allen’s return another step forward for Celtics||05.08.12 at 8:24 am ET|
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.”
|Avery Bradley: ‘Now I’m ready; I’ll be ready in Round 2 as well’||05.07.12 at 1:00 pm ET|
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.”
|Irish Coffee: Kevin Garnett, Cake Boss of the Celtics||at 10:27 am ET|
In the preseason, tortillas were Kevin Garnett‘s preferred metaphor for cooking up the main course that was to be the 2011-12 regular-season Celtics. In case you missed it, here was his recipe on Media Day in December.
“Timing is everything, and chemistry isn’t something that you just don’t throw in the frying pan and mix it up with another something, and throw something on top of that, and then fry it up, put it in a tortilla, put it in the microwave, heat it up and give it to you, and expect it to taste good. For those who can cook, y’all know what I’m talking about. If y’all don’t know what I’m talking about and can’t cook, then this doesn’t concern you.”
Now, it’s time for dessert, and Garnett is baking the cake that is to be the 2012 postseason Celtics.
“I always like to use baking a cake as an example,” said Garnett. “Nothing’s going to come out of the first two minutes. You have to sit there and wait on it, for y’all who know how to bake. Some of y’all don’t know how to bake, but don’t worry about it. Ask your mothers and fathers or something — someone who knows how to bake. But it’s very similar to that. You have to give it time for it to turn into what it’s going to be. Time tells everything when the results come, and I’m just glad we’re in a nice rhythm right now.”
Regardless of the recipe, Garnett’s point is clear: This Celtics team, the one that destroyed the Hawks by 22 points in Game 4, isn’t the NBA’s version of a Hot Pocket, quickly made and easily consumed. What you saw Sunday night has been marinating for months, ripe for the pressure cooker that is professional playoff basketball.
|Josh Smith: Celtics ‘running plays way more harder’||at 12:58 am ET|
After the Celtics and Hawks were separated by just four points through the first three games of their series, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce & Co. put a 22-point whooping on Atlanta, and it wasn’t even that close.
The Celtics led by as many as 37 points, taking a 3-1 series lead with a chance to end the series on Tuesday.
“They shot the mess out of it tonight,” said Hawks forward Josh Smith, who returned from the left knee injury that kept him out of Game 3. “I’m watching it and being real observant when I’m on the bench. They’re just running the plays way more harder than we are. Whatever play is called, you know, Ray Allen is running off screens 100 miles per hour, Paul Pierce is finding a way to get open, the bigs are setting screens, getting the guards open.
“We have to try to duplicate what they do,” added Smith. “We have to try to get open. They’re trying so hard for Joe [Johnson] not to catch the ball. They’re being real physical with him, so we have to be able to match their physicality and be able to try to return the favor a little bit, see if they like it and stop being so passive.”
|Paul Pierce shows vintage form, sprained left knee and all||at 12:16 am ET|
To think Doc Rivers thought he might not even have his captain available after a fluke injury in the shootaround hours before Game 4.
Paul Pierce shook off a freakish knee injury in shootaround and a re-aggravation of it during the second quarter to finish with 24 points in just over 16 minutes and give the Celtics the kind of breathing room they needed in a 101-79 rout of the Hawks in Game 4, in contest not even that close.
Pierce established himself early and often. It was what Celtics fans have come to expect and appreciate about the team in the “Big 3″ plus Rondo era. He was 5-of-7 in the the first quarter with 10 points. Rajon Rondo had seven assists, including helpers on Pierce’s first two buckets as the Celtics raced out ahead, 32-19, after one quarter.
‘It was great,” Rivers said. “And you know I thought, Paul thought, in the last game he took it too deep, and so tonight he went to the in-between game over and over again early on. First play we got him a layup and then he got a lot of in-between jump shots, which I think he may be one of the best in-between players in the league. And he did that. He knew that they were trapping; he knew that they were coming at him. And we talked, ‘If you go quick, one, two, dribble, pull-up jump shot, you know, take it.’ And he did that. And then he got the three going. He was just on fire.’
That fire nearly blew up in the Celtics’ face when leading 51-27 on a Pierce three, Pierce ran into Josh Smith on a screen. He twisted his knee, aggravating the injury from hours earlier in the team’s shootaround. Pierce said he’s hoping to be ready for Game 5 on Tuesday in Atlanta.
“I kind of sprained it [Sunday] morning and then I aggravated it in the game,” said Pierce, who led the Celtics with 24 points in just over 16 minutes of game time. “I’m glad we were able to get a win like this to give me some rest, give me a couple of days off and get some treatment, and hope it feels good on Tuesday.”
Realizing fans would be concerned about his status for Game 5 on Tuesday in Atlanta, Pierce tweeted after the game, I think the knee is going to be fine glad I didn’t have to play a lot of minutes tonight to rest it good win tonight fellas.
Pierce was red-hot before and after running into Josh Smith on a screen late in the second quarter. He made 10 of his 13 shots in the win.
‘I kind of tripped over someone’s foot,” Pierce said. “I had to sit around the last half of shootaround, and tonight I just kind of reaggravated it when I came up off the screen with Josh Smith right there. It’s a little bit sore right now so Doc [Rivers] just wanted to take precautions tonight especially when we had such a big lead.”
Rivers couldn’t believe it when it happened in the morning.
“When I left shoot-around, I probably thought he was not going to play,” Rivers said, before being reassured by trainer Ed Lacerte. “And Eddie said, ‘Let’s see, let’s give it a try, and see how he feels.’ I talked to him right before the game; I asked him ‘What do you think?’ And he said, ‘Well let me just try to warm it up and see how I feel.’ It’s amazing. I mean, honestly, guys around the league ‘ He was just dribbling the ball and went to the floor in shoot-around. And I was thinking, ‘What more can you –?’ We were walking. You know, that’s how you felt, like, my gosh. And honestly, when he went down, it didn’t look good. So the fact that he could come in and play, and then play the way he played was great.’
Pierce missed the final 5:45 of the first half but came out to warmup for the second half and assured Rivers he was good to start the second half. He hit his first two shots, both threes, and had 24 points in 16 minutes on 10-of-13 shooting. He came out for Mickael Pietrus with 8:24 left in the third quarter and did not return. He didn’t need to. He was free to get more treatment and try and make sure – at all costs – that he’s ready to go for Tuesday night in Atlanta.
“I got some rest for the next game,” Pierce said. “You don’t want to really sit down or let it get stiff. That’s why I went over and got on the bike there when I got out of the game. If it had stiffened up on me I probably wouldn’t have had a chance to come back. It’s sore, tender. I’m just going to ice it.”
|Fast Break: Celtics rout Hawks, take 3-1 series lead||05.06.12 at 9:30 pm ET|
The only question for the Celtics after a 101-79 blowout of the Hawks that gave them a 3-1 Eastern Conference quarterfinals lead was whose virtuoso performance was more impressive: The captain’s or the general’s?
Paul Pierce threw the haymakers, scoring 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting (4-6 3P) in only 16-plus minutes, and Rajon Rondo jabbed away, amassing 20 points and 16 assists against just one turnover. Kevin Garnett (13 points), Ray Allen (12 points), Brandon Bass (10 points) and Keyon Dooling (10 points) also reached double figures, as the Celtics shot 51 percent from the field.
The C’s led by as many as 37 points and put themselves one game away from a fifth consecutive berth in the conference semifinals. The 76ers also took a 3-1 lead on the depleted Bulls team, setting up the possibility the Celtics could host the next round.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Early to rise: After slow starts (and finishes) in Games 1-3, the Celtics came prepared to Sunday’s Game 4 in the Garden. They made six of their eight shots in the opening 4:04, and Rondo orchestrated the offense beautifully. He assisted on five of the six field goals — including a Garnett dunk that forced Hawks coach Larry Drew to call a timeout four minutes into the game. By then, Garnett, Pierce and Avery Bradley each had two field goals, and the C’s were rolling.
Painting a masterpiece: Celtics coach Doc Rivers wants more paint production out of Garnett, even after his starting center’s 20-point, 13-board effort in Game 3. Rivers felt if Rondo could get Garnett the ball deeper toward the basket, the Celtics could be a more effective offensive unit. Done and done. KG’s first three buckets came within six feet, and he scored nine first-half points. As a team, the C’s shot 28-of-44 (63.6 FG%) and scored 64 points (22 in the paint) in the opening 24 minutes, and establishing Garnett early set the tone.
Headband of brothers: When Rondo and Pierce both play well at the same time, the Celtics can play with anybody, and, as Garnett might say, the Hawks were a bunch of nobodies on Sunday night. Rondo had 13 assists by halftime, or four more than the Hawks as a team. Heck, even jump shots and 3-pointers were falling for the C’s floor general. Meanwhile, Pierce made 8-of-11 first-half attempts for 18 points by the break. Whether it was the headbands or not, it’s no wonder the Celtics enjoyed their most complete performance of the series (and the season, for that matter).
Bench production: The Celtics built a 13-point lead in the first quarter, and the second-quarter starting lineup of Garnett, Mickael Pietrus, Keyon Dooling, Marquis Daniels and Greg Stiemsma didn’t squander it. When Pierce, Rondo and Bass returned almost four minutes into the second quarter, the C’s still owned that 13-point advantage, and the rested starters closed out the half on a 25-15 run. In all, the Celtics bench scored 28 points, led by Allen’s 12 in 19 minutes. The reserves also closed out the fourth quarter, allowing Rivers to rest the stars he’s relied so heavily upon in the first three games of the series.
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