|Paul Pierce: ‘We’re playing like this is it’||05.11.12 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.’
|Fast Break: Kevin Garnett just plain dirty in Celtics win||05.10.12 at 10:45 pm ET|
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.
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.
|Starting with Rajon Rondo, Doc Rivers can sense ‘momentum rolling’ for Celtics||05.07.12 at 11:59 am ET|
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 »
|Irish Coffee: Kevin Garnett, Cake Boss of the Celtics||at 10:27 am ET|
In the preseason, tortillas were Kevin Garnett‘s preferred metaphor for cooking up the main course that was to be the 2011-12 regular-season Celtics. In case you missed it, here was his recipe on Media Day in December.
“Timing is everything, and chemistry isn’t something that you just don’t throw in the frying pan and mix it up with another something, and throw something on top of that, and then fry it up, put it in a tortilla, put it in the microwave, heat it up and give it to you, and expect it to taste good. For those who can cook, y’all know what I’m talking about. If y’all don’t know what I’m talking about and can’t cook, then this doesn’t concern you.”
Now, it’s time for dessert, and Garnett is baking the cake that is to be the 2012 postseason Celtics.
“I always like to use baking a cake as an example,” said Garnett. “Nothing’s going to come out of the first two minutes. You have to sit there and wait on it, for y’all who know how to bake. Some of y’all don’t know how to bake, but don’t worry about it. Ask your mothers and fathers or something — someone who knows how to bake. But it’s very similar to that. You have to give it time for it to turn into what it’s going to be. Time tells everything when the results come, and I’m just glad we’re in a nice rhythm right now.”
Regardless of the recipe, Garnett’s point is clear: This Celtics team, the one that destroyed the Hawks by 22 points in Game 4, isn’t the NBA’s version of a Hot Pocket, quickly made and easily consumed. What you saw Sunday night has been marinating for months, ripe for the pressure cooker that is professional playoff basketball.
|Josh Smith: Celtics ‘running plays way more harder’||at 12:58 am ET|
After the Celtics and Hawks were separated by just four points through the first three games of their series, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce & Co. put a 22-point whooping on Atlanta, and it wasn’t even that close.
The Celtics led by as many as 37 points, taking a 3-1 series lead with a chance to end the series on Tuesday.
“They shot the mess out of it tonight,” said Hawks forward Josh Smith, who returned from the left knee injury that kept him out of Game 3. “I’m watching it and being real observant when I’m on the bench. They’re just running the plays way more harder than we are. Whatever play is called, you know, Ray Allen is running off screens 100 miles per hour, Paul Pierce is finding a way to get open, the bigs are setting screens, getting the guards open.
“We have to try to duplicate what they do,” added Smith. “We have to try to get open. They’re trying so hard for Joe [Johnson] not to catch the ball. They’re being real physical with him, so we have to be able to match their physicality and be able to try to return the favor a little bit, see if they like it and stop being so passive.”
|Paul Pierce shows vintage form, sprained left knee and all||at 12:16 am ET|
To think Doc Rivers thought he might not even have his captain available after a fluke injury in the shootaround hours before Game 4.
Paul Pierce shook off a freakish knee injury in shootaround and a re-aggravation of it during the second quarter to finish with 24 points in just over 16 minutes and give the Celtics the kind of breathing room they needed in a 101-79 rout of the Hawks in Game 4, in contest not even that close.
Pierce established himself early and often. It was what Celtics fans have come to expect and appreciate about the team in the “Big 3” plus Rondo era. He was 5-of-7 in the the first quarter with 10 points. Rajon Rondo had seven assists, including helpers on Pierce’s first two buckets as the Celtics raced out ahead, 32-19, after one quarter.
‘It was great,” Rivers said. “And you know I thought, Paul thought, in the last game he took it too deep, and so tonight he went to the in-between game over and over again early on. First play we got him a layup and then he got a lot of in-between jump shots, which I think he may be one of the best in-between players in the league. And he did that. He knew that they were trapping; he knew that they were coming at him. And we talked, ‘If you go quick, one, two, dribble, pull-up jump shot, you know, take it.’ And he did that. And then he got the three going. He was just on fire.’
That fire nearly blew up in the Celtics’ face when leading 51-27 on a Pierce three, Pierce ran into Josh Smith on a screen. He twisted his knee, aggravating the injury from hours earlier in the team’s shootaround. Pierce said he’s hoping to be ready for Game 5 on Tuesday in Atlanta.
“I kind of sprained it [Sunday] morning and then I aggravated it in the game,” said Pierce, who led the Celtics with 24 points in just over 16 minutes of game time. “I’m glad we were able to get a win like this to give me some rest, give me a couple of days off and get some treatment, and hope it feels good on Tuesday.”
Realizing fans would be concerned about his status for Game 5 on Tuesday in Atlanta, Pierce tweeted after the game, I think the knee is going to be fine glad I didn’t have to play a lot of minutes tonight to rest it good win tonight fellas.
Pierce was red-hot before and after running into Josh Smith on a screen late in the second quarter. He made 10 of his 13 shots in the win.
‘I kind of tripped over someone’s foot,” Pierce said. “I had to sit around the last half of shootaround, and tonight I just kind of reaggravated it when I came up off the screen with Josh Smith right there. It’s a little bit sore right now so Doc [Rivers] just wanted to take precautions tonight especially when we had such a big lead.”
Rivers couldn’t believe it when it happened in the morning.
“When I left shoot-around, I probably thought he was not going to play,” Rivers said, before being reassured by trainer Ed Lacerte. “And Eddie said, ‘Let’s see, let’s give it a try, and see how he feels.’ I talked to him right before the game; I asked him ‘What do you think?’ And he said, ‘Well let me just try to warm it up and see how I feel.’ It’s amazing. I mean, honestly, guys around the league ‘ He was just dribbling the ball and went to the floor in shoot-around. And I was thinking, ‘What more can you –?’ We were walking. You know, that’s how you felt, like, my gosh. And honestly, when he went down, it didn’t look good. So the fact that he could come in and play, and then play the way he played was great.’
Pierce missed the final 5:45 of the first half but came out to warmup for the second half and assured Rivers he was good to start the second half. He hit his first two shots, both threes, and had 24 points in 16 minutes on 10-of-13 shooting. He came out for Mickael Pietrus with 8:24 left in the third quarter and did not return. He didn’t need to. He was free to get more treatment and try and make sure – at all costs – that he’s ready to go for Tuesday night in Atlanta.
“I got some rest for the next game,” Pierce said. “You don’t want to really sit down or let it get stiff. That’s why I went over and got on the bike there when I got out of the game. If it had stiffened up on me I probably wouldn’t have had a chance to come back. It’s sore, tender. I’m just going to ice it.”
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