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Rajon Rondo: Celtics didn’t need to lose to know Philly is no ‘pushover team’ 05.15.12 at 12:18 am ET
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Given the fact that the Celtics trailed the Sixers in the Atlantic Division for most of the season before catching them at the end and pulling away to a fifth straight division crown, everyone in Boston knew coming into this series that Philly was not going to be cream cheese or cheesesteak.

It was going to be a war, just like in the 60s and 80s, when the two archrivals battled tooth-and-nail for every loose ball and every point.

Well, two games in, two one-point decisions, one for each team.

“That’s the playoffs,” Rajon Rondo said after the 82-81 decision claimed by the Sixers Monday night in Game 2. “It’s up and down. You’re not going to win 16 straight games so. Give them Philly a lot of credit. They are not a pushover team. They’re in the second round for a reason. Like I’ve said this is a tough series.”

Tough is one thing. Ugly is another, and more likely how Celtics fans would describe a game that had Boston score 25 points in the first quarter and just 56 the rest of the way. The Celtics started the game shooting 50 percent (11-for-22) in the first quarter. They made just 22 of their final 57, finishing at 42 percent for the game. They had 19 turnovers. Philly had 18.

“We made some plays but they won,” Rondo said. “We give them credit. Basketball is a game of rhythms… a game of runs. We made our runs, and then they made their runs.”

And Rondo never got on one himself. Which is essentially the reason the Sixers won and the Celtics lost. Rondo finished with eight points and 13 assists on 4-of-12 shooting in over 38 minutes of action. The Sixers were more physical Monday, both with Kevin Garnett (15 points, 12 rebounds) and Rondo.

Except for Game 2 against the Hawks, the 2012 playoffs for the Celtics have been about two players and two players only – Garnett and Rondo. The Sixers seemed to find somewhat of a management plan, if not a control button on Monday. And that plan involved two words: Get physical.

From the onset, the Sixers were determined to get a body on Garnett at every turn and get in Rondo’s face. Though Rondo did have six assists in the first quarter, he had just seven the rest of the way.

Rondo was asked if what could have been done to get Garnett more involved.

“Nothing really, KG is an unselfish player. He could have taken a lot more shots than he did,” Rondo said of Garnett’s 7-of-12 night from the field.

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Fast Break: Philly stakes its claim in Boston 05.14.12 at 9:32 pm ET
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After struggling offensively for the first three quarters, Kevin Garnett willed himself and the Celtics back into a game they trailed by as much as eight in the fourth — but it wasn’t enough to overcome the 76ers in an 82-81 loss.

Garnett scored 11 of his 15 points and grabbed four of his 12 boards in the fourth quarter, and Avery Bradley and Ray Allen made back-to-back 3-pointers to snare leads of 72-71 and 75-74 in the final 2:20, but Philadelphia executed too well, and Garnett committed a costly moving screen with 10 seconds left and the C’s trailing by three.

Allen’s 17 points led the Celtics in scoring, and Rajon Rondo finished with 13 assists. Jrue Holiday led the 76ers with 18 points, and Evan Turner scored six huge points in the fourth quarter, as the Sixers evened the Eastern Conference semifinals on their way home for Wednesday’s Game 3.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Settling down: As quickly as the Celtics built a 9-0 lead in the first quarter, the Sixers erased it. A whopping 14 of their first 17 shots came outside of 10 feet, cutting the lead to 15-13 midway through the first quarter and tying it 25-25 46 seconds into the second. A whopping 13 of the C’s first 17 shot attempts came from 10 feet and beyond, thanks in part to Rondo passing up open layups for the possibility of an assist on a jump shot from his teammates.

Shouldering the load: Bradley reinjured his oft dislocated shoulder when Sixers forward Elton Brand blocked his shot attempt. While Allen replaced Bradley in the lineup, the Celtics missed the 21-year-old’s quickness defending Philadelphia’s young backcourt. At halftime, Bradley owned the C’s best plus/minus (plus-13), while Allen had their worst (minus-12). Meanwhile, Sixers guard Holiday scored 13 first-half points on 5-of-9 shooting.

Center of attention: Just as the C’s backcourt defense suffered without Bradley, their entire defensive effort struggled without Garnett in the lineup. The Celtics built a 15-7 in Garnett’s first five minutes on the floor, and the Sixers outscore them 13-8 over the next five minutes. And so went every five-minute interval. The worst stretch came in the third quarter, when the 76ers turned a 43-40 deficit into a 51-47 lead with Garnett on the bench, taking momentum into the fourth quarter.

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Sixers in search of closer, remain positive despite fourth-quarter collapse 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.”

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Mickael Pietrus: Celtics ‘have 17 banners for a reason’ 05.13.12 at 1:30 pm ET
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Big deal. For another NBA championship ring, Kevin Garnett said, “I’d die if I had to, and that’s real talk.”

So would Mickael Pietrus. Well, maybe he wouldn’t give his life, but he’s at least giving his ailing right knee for a chance at that first NBA title that has eluded him over his previous eight seasons.

“Well, his knee is swelling up again, obviously,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after his team’s 92-91 win over the 76ers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

“My knee bothered me a little bit,” Pietrus said, “but my team needed me on the floor to defend their best player. My job is to get myself ready, do more treatment and try to get ready to fight. I’m a soldier. That’s my nickname.”

Following offseason knee surgery that eventually led to his release by the Suns, Pietrus came to Boston, where he averaged 6.9 points over 21.9 minutes mostly off the bench in 42 regular-season games. Since January, he’s played through the ebbs and flows of the swelling in the knee, missing only two of his first 39 games in green.

A terrifying concussion cost Pietrus the last week in March and first weekend of April, but he returned for the C’s brutal back-to-back-to-back, only to have the swelling cost him four of the final five games of the regular season. This playoff run pushed the number of minutes on his knee over 1,000, and that’s taking its toll.

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Kevin Garnett: ‘Happy Mother’s Day to you mothers and future mothers; I ain’t talking to you deadbeat-ass dads’ at 10:43 am ET
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After totaling 29 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in a 92-91 victory over the 76ers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on the eve of the holiday, Kevin Garnett began his postgame press conference with a Happy Mother’s Day greeting that only Kevin Garnett could deliver.

“Happy Mother’s Day to you mothers and future mothers,” he started his postgame press conference; “I ain’t talking to you deadbeat-ass dads. That’s a joke. Ease up.”

If only we could hire KG to go door-to-door like the nurse who delivers the singing telegram in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” then and only then we could all repay our mothers for all they’ve done. Happy Mother’s Day.

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Paul Pierce on playoff Celtics: ‘This is a grind team’ at 3:29 am ET
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Paul Pierce thinks the Celtics have the market cornered on grit.

Almost two weeks ago, Kevin Garnett unveiled the team’s new slogan, exchanging the “Ubuntu” of the 2008 title run for some good ol’ fashioned “Grit and Balls” in the 2012 NBA Playoffs. Others may imitate — like old friend Tony Allen and the Grizzlies’ “Grit and Grind” motto — but Pierce knows the truth.

“We definitely didn’t play our best ball,” said Pierce after the C’s 92-91 win over the 76ers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. “It was definitely a slow start, but this is a grind team. I’m hearing rumblings down in Memphis that they’re trying to take our motto. I think they know where they got that from. We figure out ways to win. This team has tons of experience. We’ve got the veteran savvy to find ways, and we just keep doing it.”

On Saturday night, they did it on the backs of Garnett (29 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks) and Rajon Rondo (13 points, 17 assists, 12 rebounds), who scored 15 of the C’s 25 points in the fourth quarter.

“We’re gonna ride Kevin all the way until his wheels fall off,” said Pierce. “And he’s bringing it every night. He understands the sense of urgency with this ballclub, and he’s giving everything he’s got out there for us. He’s looking magnificent. He’s looking like the ’04 MVP, definitely.”

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Kevin Garnett may have ‘no life at all’ but he sure has plenty of game at 1:06 am ET
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Kevin Garnett isn’t doing much partying these days.

When you’re 35 (36 on May 19) and supposedly on your final legs and teammates like Paul Pierce say their going to ride you till “the wheels fall off,” there’s nothing much to do but get your body rested and ready to wreak havoc on the opposition in the playoffs.

“I have no life at this point,” Garnett said after Saturday’s 92-91 win over Philadelphia in Game 1 Saturday night. “I go home, get treatment, come back in here, study tape, film. No life at all. This is what it is.”

That treatment is the typical stuff plus keeping that achy hip flexor loose so it doesn’t tighten up in close games like Game 1 against Philadelphia.

KG did it again in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, going for 29 points and 11 rebounds in 38 minutes, including all 12 in the fourth quarter as the Celtics came back from the dead three times in the win Saturday night at TD Garden.

“You guys gotta understand that were playing a very good team, very young,” Garnett said of the Sixers, whom he beat up just like he did the Hawks in Round 1. “I thought for the most part those guys hit us in the mouth in the first quarter, I’m not gunna lie. But as the game went on it went good, second half was more of a defensive mind. At the same time, still punching back if you will. We put some stops together and closed the game.”

Did Garnett feel fortunate that the Celtics were down just five in the first half, when he scored 14 of Boston’s 42 points?

“To be honest I didn’t even know what we were down I don’t even look at the score,” Garnett said. “No disrespect for the game or anything like that, I go off the crowd, I go off the adrenaline, the emotion. For the most part I like the feel of the game. I really feel like we have better basketball in us. I’m sure as the series goes on we will have no other choice but to get better. Whatever is asked of me is what I am going to do. I don’t really pay attention to the minutes.“

Garnett was the monster and feeding him was Rajon Rondo, especially late when Garnett hit a key three-point play to help the Celtics to an 86-84 lead with 2:52 left, a lead they would not relinquish.

“Swag was aggressive, man,” Garnett said. “I thought second half he did a lot better job looking for his shot. He has a lot of confidence. Hes been really really working on his game. He did a good job of balancing out trying to get Paul one, trying to get myself one.”

Sixers coach Doug Collins said his team did what they could against Garnett.

“I don’t know what else we could have done,” Collins said. “He made a lot of tough shots. He hits those long jump shots. We are not going to run out at him or get a hand in his face but ya know all of a sudden you start running around and doing al that you free up Paul Pierce and all these other guys. I mean you have to pick your poison.

“Kevin is playing great. I mean he is playing great. He’s hitting all these shots. He’s fading shots off the glass. I mean he’s playing as well as I’ve ever seen him play. My hat’s off to him. But I don’t think there was anything we did poorly with him. I just think that some times you get trumped.”

Just 35 seconds after his three-point play, his jumper put the Celtics up, 88-84. Garnett showed he still has plenty of game even if he has no life.

“When we win I’m having a lot of fun,” Garnett said. “When we lose it’s a tough day.”

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