|Fast Break: Rondo, Garnett help Celtics survive 76ers||05.12.12 at 10:32 pm ET|
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.
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.”
Doc Rivers: “Philly is Atlanta on steroids. If it’s a track meet, that’s bad for us.”
There, in a nutshell, is the series plan for the Celtics. Doc Rivers said it on Friday at the team’s practice. He reiterated it Saturday, an hour before Game 1 with the quote above.
Make sure you don’t let one of the most athletic teams in the NBA get their groove on in transition.
There are two things they do extremely well. They defend and they don’t turn the ball over.
“I think what people keep forgetting is they’re not a good defensive team, they’re a great defensive team,” Rivers said. “They’re going to try to make us struggle scoring and we’re going to try and make them struggle scoring. If the game is 50-50, and close and competitive, I don’t know why that’s ugly. I’ve always argued against that. I guess 121-120 is more exciting. I think being competitive is more exciting.”
Many have speculated this will be one ugly series, with both teams clamping down on defense.
“It depends,” Rivers said. “I don’t know what ugly is. If we win, I don’t think that’s ugly at all. So, whatever you want to call ugly, if winning is part of it, I’m all for it.”
When the Sixers beat the Bulls in Game 6 Thursday night, about hour before the Celtics advanced, the cannons went off inside Wells Fargo Center, firing confetti all over the place.
“I was telling our guys, they were excited,” Rivers said. “They should be. They had to get over that hump. Being a No. 8 seed beating a No. 1 seed is big, it is a big deal. We look at the tape, we look at everything. They were excited. We were relieved. It’s amazing the two different [reactions].
“When the clock went off for us, guys were like, ‘Oh my gosh. Let’s go to bed.’ That’s kind of how we felt. You could almost say they have the emotional advantage in that because they were so high for their win. We have to match that.”
So, for the first time since 2002, when the Celtics eliminated the defending Eastern Conference champs, the Celtics and Sixers meet in the playoffs. Remember the last time? Game 5 of the best-of-5 at the Garden, the Celtics ran Allen Iverson and the Sixers off the court by 30 points. Rivers says he can appreciate the history between the two legendary NBA franchises.
“I can,” Rivers acknowledged. “I remember the ones with Dr. J. [Julius Erving]and [Larry Bird] and all that. Anytime you’re around Tommy [Tommy Heinsohn] and you mention Philadelphia, the hatred comes out. I think with Tommy, of all the teams, this is the team he wants to beat the most all the team. Regular season games, when you talk to Tommy on the plane, this is his target team. I’m sure he’ll be nice and calm covering the series.”
|Ray Allen: ‘Let the good times roll’ for Celtics||05.11.12 at 5:15 pm ET|
- 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?
WALTHAM — Celtics coach Doc Rivers did not sound optimistic that he would have Paul Pierce and Ray Allen anywhere near full strength when Boston opens its best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series Saturday night at TD Garden against the 76ers. The Celtics, who moved on to Round 2 with an 83-80 win over the Hawks Thursday night at home, did not have full practice Friday, instead opting for a light shootaround followed by more intensive film session on Philadelphia.
“It’s a challenge because of bodies,” Rivers said before Saturday’s film session and light shootaround. “The Sixers are pretty healthy, we’re not so that’s the challenge. Ray is struggling today, Paul is struggling today. That’s a challenge. The only advantage we have is we don’t have to get on a plane. Our guy can sleep in their beds tonight and tomorrow night and get some rest.”
Both Pierce and Allen sat out Friday’s walkthrough, following a shootaround. Pressed as to whether Pierce or Allen were closer to being ready for Game 1, Rivers sounded an ominous tone.
“I don’t [know],” he said. “I’m concerned with both, to be honest. I don’t even want to give a percentage.”
Pierce is dealing with a sprained MCL in his left knee, suffered last Sunday before Game 4 against Atlanta. Allen reported feeling no improvement from stiffness and soreness from bone spurs in his left ankle.
“Yeah, I expect to play,” Pierce said. “I feel like I can play [Saturday]. I’m just getting the treatments. I’m dealing with a sprained knee, getting as much ice as possible. It’s probably not going to heal until the season is over so I’m just doing the necessary steps that I can to make sure I don’t overdo it or put myself in a position where I could really hurt my career, moving forward, being at the age at I’m at. But I’m confident with the way it feels that I’m capable of going out there.
“It really doesn’t bother me when I walk around or jump straight up. It’s more if I turn the turn the knee in a certain position, I reaggravate it. I don’t have any problem getting up and down the court. It’s just that certain parts of the game where you get in the lane or physicality of the game, to where you’re turning the knee. That’s why I’m wearing two knee braces just to kind of prevent that.”
Allen did not sound nearly as optimistic and stayed away from promising he’ll be a go for Game 1.
“It’s no better,” Allen said, comparing Friday’s feeling to Thursday. “I got treatment on it so I’ll stay off it for the rest of the day and get rest.”
Asked if he was a gametime decision for Saturday’s Game 1 against Philadelphia, Allen said, “Yep, just see how I feel. I won’t say worse but it’s basically the same from where I felt [Thursday].”
Allen described his ankle as “sore and achy” and acknowledged that he was frustrated with the injury. He shot 1-for-7 in Game 6 against the Hawks.
“It just was unstable. I didn’t have that maneuverability out there on the floor,” Allen said. “Once I’m out there I do what I can to help the team.”
Asked if he would be better served by sitting out a game and getting rest, Allen said he wasn’t sure.
“That’s a hard question to answer,” he said. “This whole week and a half I’ve been so day to day and I’ve had some great days and now I’m back to where I was two weeks ago.”
|Paul Pierce: ‘We’re playing like this is it’||at 10:54 am ET|
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.’
|Irish Coffee: Josh Smith ‘jealous’ of Celtics, Boston fans||at 10:06 am ET|
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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