|Irish Coffee: How this Celtics team fares in Game 7′s||05.24.12 at 1:03 pm ET|
The last and only time Mickael Pietrus played in a Game 7, he played for the Magic and scored 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting (3-3 3P) in a 101-82 blowout of the Celtics in the Garden to win the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals. (Our own Paul Flannery reminds us of the similarities between that series and this one.)
Keyon Dooling hasn’t played in a Game 7 since 2005, when he scored six points on 3-of-6 shooting coming off the bench for the Heat in an 88-82 loss to the Pistons during the Eastern Conference finals. Greg Stiemsma, Ryan Hollins and even Brandon Bass have never played a Game 7, not that it matters much.
How the Celtics fare in Game 7 of this Eastern Conference semifinals against the 76ers depends on how well the Big Four perform. Pietrus should start for Ray Allen, but Doc Rivers probably puts this game in the hands of Allen, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Ganett and Paul Pierce. And who could blame him? After five seasons, 85 playoff games and 50 postseason victories together, they’ve gotten him this far.
Between them, Allen, Rondo, Garnett and Pierce have played 12 playoff games with the series up for grabs, including five as a unit since the 2008 NBA title run (Garnett’s 2009 knee injury cost him two of those). They’re 3-4 as individuals, and 3-2 together — the 2010 NBA finals Game 7 loss to the Lakers freshest in all their minds.
Perhaps how those four have fared in those previous 12 win-or-go-home playoff contests (Garnett, Allen and Pierce each played a Game 5 before the NBA abolished five-game, first-round series in 2003) will offer a glimpse of what to expect in their 13th and perhaps final Game 7 together, on Saturday night against the Sixers in Boston.
|Kevin Garnett on Game 7: ‘We’ve been here before’||at 1:06 am ET|
PHILADELPHIA — Kevin Garnett spoke about Philadelphia’s fans after a Game 5 win in Boston. On Wednesday, following an 82-75 loss to the Sixers in Game 6, Garnett made another proclamation of sorts for Game 7 Saturday in Boston.
“Win or go home,” Garnett said when asked about the team’s mindset heading into a do-or-die Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. “Confidence is very high. We’ve been here before, very experienced. All out, nothing less.”
Indeed, the Celtics have played in five Game 7s in the Big Three era of Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. They are 3-2 in those previous five, beating Atlanta and Cleveland on their way to the title in 2008. They beat the Bulls in seven in the first round in 2009 before losing the next round to the Magic in Game 7 at the Garden. With a chance at an 18th banner in 2010, they lost Game 7 of the NBA finals in Los Angeles to the Lakers.
“Game 7s are what they are,” coach Doc Rivers said. “It’s nice we have it at home, but you have to go get it still. At the end of the day, you have to go play. You can’t just rely on that we’re at home. I do like that we have an extra day. I think that helps us a little bit.”
“It’s only a couple of us that have been in Game 7s, so we’re not going to go on the history,” Rajon Rondo added. “This is a new series, a new group of guys that are going head to head and it’s been back and forth the entire series so it’s going to be a tough one at home.”
Neither team has managed consecutive victories in the series as the Celtics and Sixers have alternated wins in the first six games. If the trend continues, the Celtics will advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in five years.
The Celtics will play the Sixers on Saturday at TD Garden. If the Pacers force a seventh game against the Heat with a Game 6 win Thursday, the Celtics and Sixers tip off at 5 p.m. on Saturday. If Miami advances on Thursday, then the Celtics tip off at 8 p.m. Saturday.
|Celtics could use some close out power against Sixers in Game 6||05.23.12 at 1:12 pm ET|
PHILADELPHIA — If there were ever a team that needed to close out a series, the Celtics are it.
The Celtics lead the Sixers, 3-2, in the best-of-seven series and need just one more win to advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in five years. The previous two times (2008, ’10) have ended with Celtics reaching the NBA finals.
But it won’t be easy if history is any indication. In the “Big 3″ era of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Allen, they are just 2-10 in potential closeout games on the road. They won the Eastern Conference finals in Detroit in Game 6 in 2008. They swept away the Knicks in the first round last year. So, well before Garnett’s comments about the Philly fans, tonight was going to be a monstrous task.
On the injury front, Bradley said at Wednesday morning’s team shootaround that he has felt little improvement in his ailing left shoulder and he will almost surely miss his second straight game of the series as Boston attempts to close out Philadelphia in Game 6 here at Wells Fargo Center.
“Right now, I’m not playing,” Bradley said, as he received treatment from strength trainer Bryan Doo. “I’m definitely frustrated but all I can do is keep getting stronger and keep improving for my team. I’m just trying to get it better. It’s been the same. I just have to keep trying to get is stronger everyday. I just want to make sure I’m 100 percent for my time. I’m just taking it day-by-day right now.”
“He’s a little better, not much,” coach Doc Rivers added. “I don’t think he’ll play. He won’t do anything in shootaround for sure, and then do what we did the other night. We’ll let him warm up and see if he can warm up and then go from there.”
Bradley had the shoulder pop out early in the third quarter of Game 4 last Friday night and missed Game 5 with the injury. Allen started in his place in Game 5 and will start again for Bradley in Game 6 should Bradley — as expected — miss Game 6. There is some uncertainty regarding Allen and his ailing right ankle.
“It is what it is,” Rivers said of Allen. “He’s a go right now. Obviously, if he can’t go, we’ll have to go somewhere else.”
Stiemsma also reaggravated his foot injury in the second half of the Game 5 win Monday. He was at shootaround Wednesday and is expected to be available off the bench.
“He’s good,” Rivers said. “The foot was aggravated again [Monday]. He says he feels much better today. He’ll definitely play. He’s the definite of the three guys.”
Appearing on Dennis & Callahan on Wednesday morning, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said the Celtics are in good position to record another finals appearance thanks to an intensity that is helping defensive pressure. He also said health, confidence, intensity, Doc Rivers and Rajon Rondo have been contributing to Boston’s success.
“Right at the start of the game you could see the intensity in the Celtics and I thought they were so aggressive and I think that’s part of their understanding of how important that game was,” said Thibodeau, a former Celtics assistant. “And you know the one thing, the one thing that they’ve done well, they’ve gotten into the Sixers pretty well. The Sixers, during the course of the season, rarely turned the ball over and [the Celtics have] been able to force turnovers against them and they’ve also kept their own turnovers now, which I think is a huge plus for them.
“I think the intensity of the defense dictates a lot. And if you can get some easy baskets off your defense than that can allow you to go on a quick run.”
Thibodeau also said confidence has been a large factor in Boston’s success this postseason.
“You have two teams that are extremely well-balanced, basically slugging it out, and I think the Celtics right now are playing with a lot of confidence,” he said.
Confidence and intensity may be two of the biggest assets the Celtics have at the moment, but Thibodeau added staying healthy is the biggest key.
“Well, the Celtics have everything that you need,” Thibodeau said. “The biggest thing is going to be health, and you guys already hit on that. How healthy can they be? That goes for everybody, and things can change quickly.”
|Paul Pierce, Celtics have reason to be very desperate and bring ‘hard hats’ in Game 6||05.22.12 at 12:47 pm ET|
In his days in Boston, Paul Pierce has always stormed off the court, pumping his fist, waving a towel or firing headbands into the crowd following an emotional and significant win like the one the Celtics pulled out of their hats Monday night against the Sixers.
But in the final moments of Boston’s 101-85 win over Philadelphia that put them one game away from the Eastern Conference finals, there was a different look on Pierce’s face – one of business not yet finished.
There was obviously something else that was likely running through his mind: “If only we didn’t blow Game 4.”
If the Celtics had held on to their 18-point lead in the third quarter last Friday in Philly, they would have at least the next two days completely off to rest their weary bodies. But instead, they have to finish business on Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center at the corner of Broad and Pattison in South Philadelphia.
‘We know how tough the playoffs are, there’s nothing easy about the playoffs,” Pierce said afterward. “We know there’s a long journey to get to where we need to go. We understand how difficult it is, nothing’s easy.”
And it certainly won’t be easy on Wednesday. Yes, the Celtics are the smarter, more disciplined team. They’ve even shown to be the tougher team under pressure, like Monday night. But the Sixers – with all due respect to Kevin Garnett – represent something inherent in all Philadelphians – they’re street fighters. That’s exactly what Pierce is expecting when he steps onto the court Wednesday.
“You’ve got a very resilient Philadelphia group who just won’t go away,” Pierce said. “I take my hat off to them, they are one of the better teams we even played in the last few years because of their fight, and they got great coaches and their players are mentally tough. We know they’re not going to go away so we’ve got to have our hard hats on for the next game, Game 6, to try to put ‘em away.”
|Paul Pierce: Second-half meltdown ‘was really on us’||05.19.12 at 1:35 am ET|
PHILADELPHIA — There will be those who say the Celtics were taken out of their rhythm by the foul trouble that hit the Celtics late in the third quarter of Friday’s 92-83 loss to the Sixers in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Not Paul Pierce. He’s been around long enough to know what really caused the Celtics to blow an 18-point third-quarter lead and fall back into a 2-2 tie in the series.
“Once they picked up their intensity, I didn’t think we really played with a sense of urgency in the third or fourth quarter,” Pierce said. “That’s a chance where you have a team on its back, you’re up 15 and you really take their confidence. We didn’t do that. You give a team some life, they went on a run and it just carried over all the way through the third and fourth quarter. That was really on us.”
Pierce wasn’t blaming the offense, which managed just 37 points in the second half.
“I really don’t blame it on offense,” Pierce said. “You look up defensively, you give up 28 and 30 points in the third and fourth quarters. Regardless if we score 15 or 20 points [in a quarter], our defense should be able to win the game. Our defense just didn’t come through. We didn’t rebound the ball, didn’t defend at a high level in the second half and allowed them to get in the game. We gave away too many free throws, easy opportunities, gave up the three, and then turned the ball over.”
“Of course, we have to expect that. Your back’s against the wall, you have to expect that. You’re down on your home court. You have to really expect them to come out and play their best. I said coming into the game, ‘expect their best.’ Obviously, it wasn’t their best first half. They came out in the second half and used the energy of the crowd and we just didn’t respond. Even though it was a tight game down the stretch, we had our opportunities but we gave up two late threes to [Andre Iguodala] to seal it.”
“That’s part of the game,” Pierce said. “You have other guys to come in and step it up. You have to really put the knockout punch to a team and we just didn’t do that.”
|Fast Break: Celtics collapse in second half, 76ers even series||05.18.12 at 10:53 pm ET|
The Celtics scored the first 14 points of Game 4 and had a 15-point lead at halftime, but they failed to keep that momentum in the second half, as the 76ers came back to win, 92-83, evening up the series at two games apiece. For the 76ers, Andre Iguodala scored 16 points. Paul Pierce had 24 points (8-of-13 shooting) and Rajon Rondo had 15 points to go along with 15 assists. The Celtics look to regain control of the series Game 5 on Monday night back at the Garden.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Benched: Doc Rivers looked to his bench to hold the fort after the Celtics built a 22-8 lead midway through the first quarter. Things quickly went awry — Philly went on a 10-2 run to pull within six, 24-18. Rondo stopped the bleeding with an old-fashioned three-point play, and the Celtics closed the half on a 22-13 run, taking a 15-point lead into halftime. While the lead was re-established, Rivers would have preferred not to have had the starters expend more energy.
Foul play: The 76ers should have been in contention all night with the lopsided free throw advantage they had. In the first half, Boston took five free throws to Philly’s 21, but the Sixers only hit 13 of those attempts. In the second, half Rivers was forced to go back to his bench after three starters — Brandon Bass, Avery Bradley and Rondo – had four fouls midway through the third quarter. Philly finished with a season-high 34 free throw attempts.
Board to death: The refs certainly didn’t help Boston’s cause, and the validity of the free throw differential is up for debate, but the C’s should have been more focused on the glass. Neither team had been dominant rebounding the ball until Friday night, when the Sixers had 12 offensive boards through the third quarter. This was critical because the Celtics held Philly to just 32.8 percent shooting but the 76ers were able to have multiple chances at the basket because of their rebounding advantage. Philly finished with 17 offensive rebounds. Meanwhile, the Celtics only had five.
Half the battle: As great as the Celtics were in the first half, they failed to score a field goal in the first seven minutes of the second half. To their credit, the Sixers battled and clawed their way back from an 18-point deficit to tie the game in the opening stages of the fourth quarter. From that point on, the game would be a back-and-forth battle. These scoring droughts from the C’s are nothing new but are still staggering to watch, especially after they displayed incredible efficiency in the first quarter.
Of course, it wasn’t just the offense. The aforementioned rebounding and free throw disparities hurt Boston. Additionally, the Sixers finally flexed their youth, outscoring the Celtics 27-13 in fast break points. Finally, the C’s committed 17 turnovers (including seven from Kevin Garnett alone).
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Going for the kill: What was more impressive: The C’s scoring the game’s first 14 points, or the fact they only allowed Philly eight shot attempts (the Sixers only hit one) to their 16 shot attempts through five minutes of action? It has been difficult to differentiate between good defense versus bad offense during the lockout-shortened season, but this was a case of the former. The Celtics were relentless in their defensive approach, specifically Rondo and Bradley. Offensively, Boston started the game shooting 7-of-8 from the field. It was clear, the Celtics wanted no part of coming back to Philly for a Game 6.
The maestro: The C’s early dominance was largely because of Rondo’s performance. For the second straight game, Rondo played in complete control, dominating all facets of the contest. He had four assists in the first four minutes, took wise risks defensively, and controlled the pacing. He finished the first half scoring nine points (4-of-6 shooting) to go along with nine assists.
Gone fishin’: Bass had a great regular season for the C’s — first as a reserve off the bench, then as a starter — but he has had an uneven playoffs. In Game 3, Bass showed signs of coming to life, scoring 10 points on 5-of-10 shooting. That confidence carried over into Game 4. In the first half, the 27 year-old scored 13 points, only one point shy of his previous playoff high, knocking down five of the seven shots he took. Bass only had one basket in the second half, however, and finished with 15 points.