|Home court is still in play, thanks to Sasha Pavlovic||04.25.12 at 12:46 am ET|
If the Celtics do wind up hosting Game 1 of their playoff series with the Hawks, they’ll have enigmatic swingman Sasha Pavlovic to thank. With Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Mickael Pietrus, Kevin Garnett and Greg Stiemsma all sitting out of Tuesday’s game against the Heat, Pavlovic got the start in the backcourt and promptly went scoreless in six minutes of play. In the second half, he made 7-of-8 shots and scored a game-high 16 points in a 78-66 Celtics win that is best left to the dustbin of history.
“Well, someone had to win the game and we did, which was really nice,” was how Doc Rivers summed it up.
It was a game that had some meaning with home court still on the line and was also totally meaningless in that Paul Pierce was the only player of consequence on the floor and he played only 18 minutes. In that it was an appropriate conclusion to a season that has been rushed, hurried and physically taxing.
“It’s not good on your body as an athlete,” guard Keyon Dooling said. “It’s your vehicle to make your money. As a basketball player, recovery is very important. We haven’t had that luxury this year. It’s not just us, it’s everybody. It’s not a normal season.”
As Pierce put it on Monday, “All you can say is you got through it.”
Like many teams, the Celtics decided a week ago that gaining an extra home game simply wasn’t worth it. They may still get it, even after giving forgotten souls like E’Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson and Ryan Hollins extended looks. If they beat the Bucks on Thursday and the Mavericks beat the Hawks, then Game 1 will be in Boston. If not, they’ll be getting on a plane just like they’ve done basically every other day since December.
“We’re going to play our guys Thursday anyway, especially since they didn’t play today,” Rivers said. “I said that the other day and I thought they were going to play today, so, we’ll see.”
The playoffs promise to be just as unpredictable with health playing a dominant factor. The Hawks are waiting on Al Horford. The Celtics presumably will have Rondo, Pietrus and maybe Allen back in time for the opener.
“I think Ray will be ready,” Rivers said. “I don’t know that. I do think he will be ready, but if he’s not someone else has to be.”
If Allen can play then their rotation is basically set. It’s the five starters plus Allen, Pietrus and Stiemsma. If Pietrus or Allen is limited, Pavlovic has put himself in position to be the ninth man depending on matchups. Dooling, the consummate pro, will be ready when called upon. In other words, Tuesday’s game didn’t change anything in the Celtics world, even with home court still in the balance.
|Doc Rivers: ‘Someone had to win the game’||at 12:45 am ET|
How do you explain a game in which you fall behind 11-0 to the No. 2 team in the East, don’t score for the first six minutes, 15 seconds, score 10 points in the first quarter on your home court (28 for the half) only to win going away by 12 points?
“Well, someone had to win the game,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of the 78-66 slopfest that Boston managed not to lose against Miami Tuesday at the Garden. “And we did, which was really nice. You know these games are still important, probably for both teams. I’m sure (Erik Spoelstra) is still looking at guys. We pretty much know our rotation, but someone else is always going to help you in playoffs, and games like this can give you confidence.”
With Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Mickael Pietrus, Ray Allen and Greg Stiemsma all getting the night off, Paul Pierce played just 18 minutes and scored eight points. Instead, it was Sasha Pavlovic leading the way with 16 points and Marquis Daniels adding 13 to help the Celtics to their 38th win of the season.
“That was huge for Sasha,” Rivers said. “I thought it was – especially in the fact that Sasha really struggled in the first half and then he came in the second half and played terrific. I thought for (E’Twaun Moore), just playing that amount of minutes at the point-guard position was good for him. And, so, there were a lot of good things in our way for that. You know it every year: someone who plays a little bit comes in in the playoffs and has a big game for you. Marquis, again. So all those guys I thought the game was very important for.”
It certainly wasn’t easy for Pierce.
“Yeah, Paul was just – you could see he was struggling,” Rivers said. “Also struggling with spacing, too. I mean, he’s used to Ray and Paul and Kevin and those guys spacing the floor; he spun one time, he should’ve been by himself, and three of our guys were in his way. It’s all that.”
|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?
|Why this was no ordinary division championship for the Celtics||04.19.12 at 10:19 am ET|
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.