|How did the Celtics lose Game 1? We’ll count the ways||04.30.12 at 1:35 am ET|
ATLANTA — Well before Rajon Rondo lost his cool, the damage had been done to the Celtics in their playoff opener against the Hawks. It started in the first quarter when Atlanta raced to a 20-6 lead before six minutes had gone off the clock. It continued in the next 42 minutes, when they couldn’t make shots and every offensive possession carried with it an eerie reminder of the first half of the season.
“I don’t know if we kind of eased into the game,” Paul Pierce said. “It’s hard to tell. We establish ourselves early defensively. We definitely didn’t do that. They got every loose ball. They got every 3-point shot. They got everything they wanted in the first, and then it was like in a boxing match. You sit there and you’ve got your guard up, then you take your guard down, you take a punch and you’re like, Ok, we’re in a fight. We’ve got to realize we’re in a fight from the jump.”
The Celtics realized that too late, and after an 83-74 loss they now find themselves in the unenviable position of having to make up ground without homecourt advantage to sustain them. Over the final three quarters, the Celtics actually outscored Atlanta, 56-52, playing the kind of grimy, sludge-ball everyone expected in this series.
“This is a long series,” Pierce said. “You have to win four games and we just have to learn from our mistakes. Learn from the first quarter, learn from what we did better in the second and third quarters, and we’ve got to learn to keep our composure.”
It will be much harder if Rondo is suspended (click here for more on that story), but the blueprint is there. Assuming they can shoot better than 39 percent, there’s no reason they can’t get back into the series. Still, there’s a lot to work on between now and Tuesday’s Game 2.
Among the areas that need improvement:
|Irish Coffee: Banged-up Celtics ‘hoping everybody is’||04.27.12 at 1:12 pm ET|
He might not be a real doctor, but he must feel like one after all the injuries he’s seen in the past four months.
“We’ve got to be careful with them, even in the playoffs,” said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. “It just doesn’t take much, it seems like, right now, for a guy to not be able to play the next night. So we have to be very careful.’
Take Paul Pierce as Exhibit A. The Celtics captain began this lockout-shortened regular season with a bone bruise in his right heel and ended it with a sprained big left toe. The original plan was to rest Pierce’s ailing feet for the final two games, but his desire to stay in rhythm won out, so Rivers played him 18 minutes on Tuesday and just 2:18 on Thursday before March’s Eastern Conference Player of the Month limped back to the locker room.
“He hurt it,” said Rivers, referencing the toe that led the C’s to list Pierce as likely unable to return. “That’s why he’s been sitting. And then he wanted to play. We’re not sure if it was the tape, or whatever, because when he wanted to come back, he just kept saying, ‘I just needed to get it loose.’ So we had a long discussion, because I had no interest in putting him back in, but he really wanted to play a couple minutes just to get up and down the floor.”
The Celtics dodged a bullet, as Pierce returned for the final 4:24 of the first half to score seven quick points and ease fans’ fears. The same can’t be said for Ray Allen, who missed his ninth straight game with bone spurs in his right ankle. On Thursday, Rivers dubbed him probable for Game 1 against the Hawks, but the Celtics announced via Twitter on Friday, “Allen will not practice today and his status for Game 1 on Sunday is still unknown.”
|Irish Coffee: 10 things we learned from Celtics-Heat||04.25.12 at 2:44 pm ET|
It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was downright ugly. The end of the NBA’s lockout-shortened season is upon us, forcing TNT to broadcast marquee matchups like Ryan Hollins vs. Dexter Pittman and Sasha Pavlovic vs. Mike Miller rather than Kevin Garnett vs. Chris Bosh and Paul Pierce vs. LeBron James. But that doesn’t mean there was nothing to learn from Tuesday night’s game between the Celtics and Heat at the Garden. Here are 10 things.
10. Thanks to Pavlovic’s heroics, the Celtics still have a shot at home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Two things must happen Thursday: 1) Celtics defeat the Bucks, and 2) Hawks lose to the Mavericks.
“Our seeding is important as well,” said Celtics reserve guard Keyon Dooling, who scored seven points in the win over the Heat. “So, if we have to get that win, we’re coming in here trying to tear their head off.”
The hunch within the C’s organization is that if Atlanta hosts Game 1, it’ll be played on Saturday night; however, if it’s in Boston, the series will likely start Sunday. Of course, all that assumes the Bruins beat the Capitals in Game 7 and host Game 1 of the NHL Eastern Conference semifinals on Saturday.
9. After their loss, while casually dressed Heat stars Dwayne Wade and James poked fun at second-year center Dexter Pittman‘s feet and socks, teammate Chris Bosh sat in the corner of the locker room, donning a suit and reading Malcolm Gladwell‘s “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.” A different bird, I guess.
8. Heat swingman Shane Battier‘s take on a game that featured 39 turnovers: “In my 11 years, that’s the worst game I’ve ever witnessed. I’ve already taken a shower. You guys should all take a shower to get the stink of this game off you. It’s not fun for anybody … but, hey, it’s the NBA, you’ve got to take the good with the bad.”
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to lockout basketball. It’s FAN-tastic!
|Home court is still in play, thanks to Sasha Pavlovic||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.”
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