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Paul Pierce on playoff Celtics: ‘This is a grind team’ 05.13.12 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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Tony Battie: Paul Pierce ‘always lived and breathed and ate the game’ 05.12.12 at 9:08 pm ET
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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.”

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Doc Rivers: Next series will be ‘a challenge because of bodies’ 05.11.12 at 4:38 pm ET
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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.”

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Paul Pierce: ‘We’re playing like this is it’ at 10:54 am ET
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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.”

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Fast Break: Kevin Garnett just plain dirty in Celtics win 05.10.12 at 10:45 pm ET
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Kevin Garnett must not like business trips to Atlanta all that much. The Celtics center submitted a virtuoso performance that seemed fresh out of a 2008 time machine — including the go-ahead turnaround with 30 seconds left — carrying the Celtics to a 83-80 victory against the visiting Hawks and putting a bow on their Eastern Conference quarterfinals series in six games.

Garnett finished with 28 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks, becoming the first player in a Celtics uniform to register that kind of line in the playoffs since Kevin McHale totaled 27 points, 15 boards and six blocks in 1986. Rajon Rondo (14 points, 8 assists) and Paul Pierce (18 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds) were the only other C’s in double figures.

Trailing 79-78 with less than a minute remaining, Garnett dropped a turnaround in the lane that gave the Celtics the lead for good after they squandered a nine-point advantage in the fourth quarter. Following a stop on the other end, Ray Allen made just 1-of-2 free throws with nine seconds on the clock, but Al Horford countered with 1-of-2 of his own with three seconds remaining. A pair of Pierce freebies put the finishing touches on the victory.

Thanks to a pair of missed Omer Asik free throws and two successful Andre Iguadola attempts at the charity stripe in the final seconds, the 76ers eked out a 79-78 victory against the Derrick Rose-less Bulls to win the series in six games. The win means the C’s host the Eastern Conference semifinals, including Game 1 Saturday.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Ticket post: Garnett attempted just 12 field goals in Game 5, and half of them came from at least 18 feet. The Celtics made a concerted effort to get Garnett the ball in the post early, and he owned the paint from the start (on both ends). In Game 6, he took 10 shots — by halftime. All five of Garnett’s first-half field goals came within 12 feet of the basket, and he entered the break with 13 points, seven rebounds and three steals, as the C’s established a 47-41 lead through two quarters.

Backcourt boost: With little life in the building — and little for Celtics fans to cheer — four minutes into the second quarter, Rondo reentered the game for Keyon Dooling. The Hawks led 31-25. Over the next four minutes and change, the Celtics fired off a 16-0 run to establish a 41-31 advantage. Rondo had four points and three assists in that stretch and guarded 6-foot-9 Marvin Williams on the other end (or the vicinity thereof, wreaking havoc as a roaming defender). Meanwhile, Avery Bradley locked down a scoreless Jeff Teague in the first half.

No sprain, no gain: When Pierce’s first 3-point attempt fell flat off the front of the rim, it had to be from the lack of lift as a result of his sprained MCL, right? Not so much. The captain made four of his next five field goals, totaling 12 points in 16 first-half minutes and erasing any concern over how his knee would respond.

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Avery Bradley is ready for the closeout challenge Thursday at 2:40 pm ET
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WALTHAM — Avery Bradley knows as well as anyone on the banged up Celtics what it’s like to play through pain.

He’s dealing with a “sore” rotator cuff in his left shoulder, the team announced after its shootaround Thursday morning.

He is expected to start and play in Game 6 tonight.

“It’s a little sore,” Bradley said after Thursday’s shootaround. “I’ve been fighting through the pain all year. I’ll be ready for tonight.”

How does he cope?

“Just by not thinking about it,” Bradley added. “I’m going to get hit. There’s a chance it could pop out but I try not to think about it. I just go out there and just play.”

The Celtics lead the series, 3-2, and can close out the Hawks in Game 6, which is set for an 8 p.m. tipoff.

“We’re very focused,” Bradley said. “We know what we need to improve on this game. I feel like we’ll be prepared tonight.”

What does Bradley think will change from Game 5, when the Celtics had a 28-18 lead early in the second quarter, only to have it slip away?

“Just our intensity level,” he said. “We didn’t come out and play as hard as we played the previous game. We know we have to come out and have a strong start, play good defense and there’s a chance we could win the game.”

The Celtics also announced Thursday morning, just hours before their Game 6 showdown with the Hawks, that captain Paul Pierce has a sprained MCL in his left knee but he will be available to play and start in the potential closeout game for Boston.

Pierce injured the knee on Sunday morning during a Celtics shootaround prior to Game 4 at the Garden. He then reinjured hours later in the game when he tried to get around a screen set by Josh Smith.

Celtics officials at the team’s shootaround Thursday were adamant in denying reports of any tears or bone spurs in Pierce’s knee.

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Starting with Rajon Rondo, Doc Rivers can sense ‘momentum rolling’ for Celtics 05.07.12 at 11:59 am ET
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When arguably your best player is playing his best, your going to have great results.

Such was the case again Sunday night when Rajon Rondo didn’t need a triple-double but just 20 points and 16 assists to help the Celtics throttle the overmatched Hawks, 101-79, in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinals at the Garden.

What made Rondo’s night so special is what he did in getting others involved early and often.

He found Paul Pierce twice in the first quarter to get the captain rolling on his way to 24 points in 16 injury-shortened minutes. He found Avery Bradley for a corner three. He fed Kevin Garnett with a perfect pass on an alley-oop dunk. He fed Ray Allen for a wide open 16-footer.

“That’s Rondo being Rondo,” Pierce said. “He’s one of the best point guards in the NBA. He has the confidence and controls the game, tonight you saw him doing it offensively with his shooting. We already know he’s the best passer in the game and offensively he just picked up the slack.”

And he even found it in his heart to fedd Greg Stiemsma for a layup. Seven assists in the first quarter as Rondo had the Celtics off and running.

As great as Rondo is, his coach doesn’t always have a feel when a great game like Sunday is coming from his point guard.

“I did not,” Doc Rivers said. “There are days though, that you sense it, and then most of the time you’re wrong. I didn’t sense that; I did sense that we were ready to play. You know, that’s obviously the best we’ve played so far in the playoffs. I sensed that, but other than that, it was just – it started rolling. You could feel it. You can feel the momentum rolling on our side. And we made a lot of shots. When you make shots like that, and you defend like that, it’s tough to be beat.”

And what did Rondo think of his fast start that took the heart out of the Hawks? Read the rest of this entry »

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