|Fast Break: Celtics topple Heat on starless night||04.24.12 at 10:42 pm ET|
Of the seven current or former NBA All-Stars on the Celtics and Heat rosters, only Paul Pierce graced the Garden parquet on Tuesday night, and even he only played 18 minutes. That left major minutes for guys like Marquis Daniels and Sasha Pavlovic, the only C’s to reach double figures in an ugly 78-66 victory against the Heat.
Pavlovic (16 points) and Daniels (13 points) helped the Celtics (38-27) outscore Miami 28-16 in the fourth quarter and finish the season 3-1 against the Heat. With only a home game against the Bucks on Thursday remaining, the Celtics trail the Hawks (39-26) — 109-102 winners over the Clippers — by a game. As division winners, the Celtics own the tiebreaker for home court advantage in their first-round playoff series, but they would have to beat Milwaukee and hope Atlanta loses to the Mavericks.
Dexter Pittman (12 points) led the Heat (46-19), who officially conceded the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed to the Bulls.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Quis to the game: From the season opener on Christmas Day to April 19, Daniels never reached double digits in scoring or grabbed more than six rebounds in a single night. He almost exceeded both those benchmarks in the last two games. After totaling 12 points and eight boards against the Hawks on Friday night, he amassed 13 points and five rebounds against the Heat. He’s not likely to see much, if any, playing time in the playoffs, but at least something other than his shoes did the shining.
Block party: With the Celtics clinging to a 54-52 lead in the fourth quarter (yes, the fourth quarter), rookie JaJuan Johnson blocked a Juwan Howard layup attempt. Just 42 seconds later, newly signed Boston College product Sean Williams blocked Howard’s 10-foot baseline jumper, sending it into the stands for a 24-second violation. Williams sandwiched a four points around his rejection to help the C’s establish a six-point lead.
Heroic Herren: Each home game, the Celtics honor a member of the community who goes to extraordinary lengths to help those in need with a “Heroes Among Us” ceremony. Tuesday, the C’s recognized a member of their own community: Chris Herren. The Fall River native and Durfee High graduate battled substance abuse issues throughout a career that led the former McDonald’s All-American to Boston College, Fresno State, the Nuggets (No. 33 overall pick in 1999 NBA Draft) and the Celtics before several destinations abroad. Since recovering from addiction, a journey detailed in the ESPN Films production “Unguarded,” Herren founded Project Purple to fight drug abuse. As a result, he found himself back on the Garden parquet, the recipient of a rousing standing ovation — this time in a suit, clean and sober.
|Irish Coffee: How Celtics re-match up against Hawks||04.23.12 at 4:27 pm ET|
UPDATE: Since Al Horford‘s original claim that playing against the Celtics in their first-round series was unrealistic, the Hawks center has changed his tune. A consultation with his surgeon resulted in a prognosis that he could return to the court on Thursday in a limited role, according to the most recent Yahoo! Sports report.
“It remains to be seen what I can bring,” Horford told reporter Marc J. Spears. “But I hope to bring some scoring. They can’t expect a lot from me defensively because it’s been a while since I’ve even played. That’s one of the things that will hold me back, but scoring I can help. And also with presence with the team in general.”
It’s official. When the NBA’s Eastern Conference playoffs begin at month’s end, the Celtics will face the Hawks — the same team that in 2008 took them to seven games in the first round. That was then, when the championship nucleus of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen was just finding its groove. This is now, five years later.
The first four of this core’s 43 playoff wins came against Atlanta, but will its last also come against the Hawks?
|Irish Coffee: Avery Bradley ‘beautiful’ in Kevin Garnett’s eyes||04.19.12 at 2:10 pm ET|
Twice after their division-clinching victory against the Magic, Kevin Garnett made his case to the Celtics organization for rewarding Avery Bradley financially after his successful sophomore campaign.
“I love seeing young guys who work hard and it pays off,” said Garnett. “I love young guys who listen and actually put in the work. Just from seeing where he’s come from to where he’s at now is just beautiful, man. I hope they’re able to reward him with some longevity and some loyalty — something long-term. I’ve always said to him, ‘Continue to work, because that’s what’s got you here,’ so I’m happy for him.”
The problem is Bradley isn’t slated to become an unrestricted free agent until the 2015-16 NBA season. He’ll make $1.6 million next season, $2.5 million in 2013-14 and at least the qualifying offer of $3.6 million in 2014-15, facts that may have escaped Garnett, who has made at least $14 million in each of his last 14 seasons.
It’s a great problem for the Celtics, because Bradley has established himself as one of the best bargains in basketball. With Rajon Rondo also locked up through 2014-15 at an average of $12 million over the three years, the C’s have one of the youngest, most affordable starting backcourts and two of the best trade chips in the NBA.
“Avery’s emerging,” said Keyon Dooling, “so we might have to give him like a Big Five or something.”
The Celtics have won the Atlantic Division in all five years of the new “Big 3”.
And it’s a well known fact that they don’t commemorate division titles with banners up above.
But when the Celtics clinched the division Wednesday with a 102-98 win over the Magic, there was reason to step back and take a bow.
It was how they got there that was impressive, especially to their coach Doc Rivers. He acknowledged the significance of the turnaround by the team, which played without the injured Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus.
‘Yeah, it does, I mean [something],” Rivers said. “It’s funny we were kidding in the locker room because I really ‘ I usually, honestly, don’t say much about it ‘ I don’t know if I’ve ever congratulated the team for winning one,” But I did tell them, I said, ‘Guys, I know it’s not a big deal to us ‘ and it isn’t because we’re not in this to win divisions ‘ but, we were two games under .500 at All-Star break and the fact that you did it and did it this early I think is very impressive.’ And it was.’
Captain Paul Pierce led the Celtics Wednesday with 29 points and a career-high 14 assists. Pierce reminded everyone afterward of what the final goal is for the team, a team that was two games under .500 at the All-Star break.
“I’m not about to go pop champagne bottles or anything like that,” Pierce said. “I know they do in baseball. I mean, it is a good accomplishment. The guys should recognize where we came from to what we are today. It’s a good accomplishment I guess. But all we care about around here is a championship banner. I guess it’s just a step towards the journey we are trying to go towards.”
But Kevin Garnett took the chance to take a swipe at the naysayers who wrote the team off, giving them no chance of winning another division, let alone championship.
‘You guys called us old, over,” Garnett said. “I heard some of your pathetic articles and some of your lousy announcers [predictions]. It’s a pity. Obviously you don’t know what drives us. We thank y’all for those articles, appreciate it because it lit a fire under. One of the hardest things I’ve always said in this league is to create chemistry.”
|Greg Stiemsma has ‘big plans’ for Celtics playoffs||at 2:56 am ET|
When the Celtics reflect on their 2011-12 season — which saw them capture a fifth Atlantic Division crown Wednesday night despite a variety of injuries throughout the campaign — they might ask themselves, “How did we pull that off?”
Sure, they benefited from a renaissance season from Kevin Garnett, enjoyed Rajon Rondo‘s streak of 23 straight games with 10 or more assists and saw a rather unexpected growth from Avery Bradley. Then there’s the ascension of Greg Stiemsma.
Stiemsma didn’t begin seeing extended playing time until the second half of the season. In January, he was buried on Doc Rivers‘ bench and only averaged just over seven minutes. That number sky-rocketed to 18 minutes in March, and then 20 in April, due to season-ending injuries to Chris Wilcox and Jermaine O’Neal.
Still, despite the uneven playing time, Stiemsma is averaging 1.56 blocks per game this season, which ranks him 15th in the entire league, and second among all rookies (The seventh overall pick in last year’s draft, Bismack Biyombo, ranks first). Not bad for a training camp invitee.
Since being traded from the Celtics to the Magic prior to the season, Glen Davis is now 0-3 against his former team. Yet, Big Baby believes his new squad is fully prepared to defeat the C’s should they meet in the playoffs — even without the injured Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu.
“I think we’re capable of beating them,” said Davis, who totaled 27 points in the Magic’s 102-98 loss in Boston.
If the playoffs started today, the Celtics (37-26) — who clinched a fifth straight Atlantic Division title and the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed — would face the Hawks (37-25) in the first round, but the Magic (36-26) still have a shot at the fifth seed and a date with the C’s. However, Orlando may have to do it without Howard (herniated disc) or Turkoglu (fractured face), both of whom remain doubtful until the playoffs and questionable beyond.
Which is why those in the Magic locker room viewed their four-point loss in Boston as a positive, even if the Celtics were also without two stars in Rajon Rondo (back) and Ray Allen (Allen) as well as a key role player in Mickael Pietrus (knee) — all of whom are expected back for the playoffs.
“Today, we didn’t even have two of our guys,” said Davis. “They didn’t have two of their guys, but at the same time we had a big missing piece today, and we still came out there and played the right way and was in the game. So, whatever happens, happens. Whoever we play, Indiana or Boston, we are going to bring energy, and we are going to play hard, and that’s all that matters.”
|Fast Break: Celtics clinch fifth straight division title||04.18.12 at 10:42 pm ET|
Captain Paul Pierce followed up his 43-point effort on Tuesday night in New York with 29 points and a career-high 14 assists on Wednesday night in Boston — including the dagger with 7.6 seconds left — to guide the Celtics to a 102-98 win over the visiting Magic and clinching a fifth consecutive Atlantic Division title in the process.
Avery Bradley (23 points) tied a career high, Brandon Bass contributed 21 points against his old team, and Kevin Garnett amassed 15 points and nine rebounds, as the Celtics (37-26) clinched the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference — even without Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus in the lineup against Orlando.
Old friend Glen Davis totaled 27 points and seven rebounds in Dwight Howard‘s absence, but the Magic (36-26) dropped a game behind the Hawks (37-25) — 116-84 winners over the Pistons — for the fifth seed and the right to face the Celtics in the first round. With three games left on their schedule, the C’s travel to Atlanta on Friday night trailing the Hawks by a game in the loss column for home court advantage in their potential playoff matchup.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Shoot first: The Celtics shot a blistering 73.7 percent in the first quarter (14-19 FG), staking themselves to a 33-22 lead that even survived a second-quarter starting lineup of E’Twaun Moore, Keyon Dooling, Marquis Daniels, Greg Stiemsma and Garnett. In the first 12 minutes, Bradley, Garnett, Bass and Pierce shot a combined 13-of-16 and scored 31 points. That allowed the undermanned C’s to play with a lead for the majority of the night.
Brad-ical: As discussed in Wednesday’s Irish Coffee, Bradley entered the game averaging 14.2 points on 53 percent shooting in 15 games since joining the starting lineup on March 25. Those averages will only increase, as he scored 17 points by halftime on 8-of-10 shooting, eclipsing 15 points for the fifth consecutive game.
Captain steering: With Rondo resting a sore back and wrist, Pierce assumed the role of distributor, and played it well. He made Rondo’s streak of 23 straight games with at least 10 assists seem easy, as the Celtics captain amassed 11 dimes by halftime. He also added 13 points in the opening 24 minutes to earn a double-double and take the Celtics into the break with a 55-51. Considering it’s been a roller coaster season that started with a heel injury and recently featured a toe injury, Doc Rivers & Co. must be pleased to see Pierce — who dropped 43 points on the Knicks on Tuesday — peaking at the right time.
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