|Should the Heat be worried about the Celtics?||04.10.12 at 2:14 pm ET|
As things sit currently in the jumbled Eastern Conference, the Celtics are holding the fourth seed, which would put them in the Bulls’ bracket. They have a three-game lead on Philadelphia and New York with 10 games to play and while nothing is assured for the Celtics, it’s looking like a safe bet that they will walk away with the Atlantic Division title for the fifth straight season, thus landing the fourth seed, as opposed to the seventh.
(Note: Winning the division does not guarantee homecourt advantage in the first round. The Celtics would still have to finish with a better record than the fifth seed and they enter play on Tuesday a game and a half behind Atlanta and Orlando.)
There’s a chance that Miami, which is just one game back in the loss column, could overtake Chicago for the top spot in the conference and set up a rematch of last season’s semifinal series that the Heat won rather convincingly, 4-1. The Celtics felt then — and feel now — that if not for a couple of bad breaks like Paul Pierce‘s dubious ejection in Game 1 and Rajon Rondo‘s elbow injury in Game 3, they could have made it a much tougher series. Still, four games to one speaks for itself.
And yet, there’s a feeling that the Heat should be afraid of the Celtics in the playoffs for the simple reason of matchups. Miami has no real answer for Rondo, who was brilliant in Boston’s 91-72 victory a week and a half ago when he went for 16 points, 11 rebounds, 14 assists and was a plus-28.
Additionally, Pierce is one of the few small forwards in the league who can hope to guard LeBron James for 40 minutes and match his production, if not come out ahead. Pierce went for 23-7-3 in their last meeting, while LeBron posted a 24-4-0. It was James’ first assist-free game since 2009.
The real revelation in the April 1 meeting was the play of Avery Bradley, who held Dwyane Wade to 6-for-17 shooting, including a memorable block at the rim. Bradley also scored an efficient 13 points on 10 shots and presented a problem with his cuts to the basket.
|Doc Rivers: ‘Guys are locked in’||04.09.12 at 11:59 am ET|
Doc Rivers has preached it over and over.
The shots aren’t always going to fall but the defense will always be there.
Such was the case on Saturday night when they shot just 42 percent in Indianapolis.
But they held the Pacers to 35 percent in an 86-72 win. Sunday night, they followed that up by holding the Sixers to 38 percent in a 103-79 romp that put them on the brink of their fifth straight Atlantic Division title.
How appropriate since defense has been the backbone of everything in the Doc Rivers “Big 3” plus Rajon Rondo era.
Sunday, the Celtics held the Sixers to 6-of-22 shooting the second quarter to take command of the game.
‘The defense is really good; guys are locked in,” Rivers said after Sunday’s game that improved the Celtics to 32-24 on the season. “Your offense will fail you, you know that guys; I don’t care how well you play, your offense is going to fail you sometimes. But if you come with the right mindset your defense never should. And it’ll always give you a chance to win a game.’
Even two weeks ago it would’ve seemed far fetched that Avery Bradley would succeed Ray Allen as the starting off guard next to Rajon Rondo in the backcourt. But combine his newfound ability to cut the basket with his shutdown defense and he’s become too valuable not to start. He has seen success defensively from both sides now.
‘Its very important for the bench to come in and bring the intensity,” Bradley said. “That’s something that Doc always, we take pride in as a team so we want to come in and bring the intensity and play hard on the defensive end and that’s what we did in the second quarter.
‘It was very important for us to win this game. We want to come out and play hard and ya know coming in the second half we wanted to come out in the third quarter and we wanted to bring our intensity up even higher. That’s what Doc told us, he told us to come in the third quarter and play hard and we were making shots and we just continued to make the lead even higher.’
Part of defense is rebounding and with Paul Pierce staying home and crashing the boards, like his six first-quarter rebounds Wednesday against the Spurs, the Celtics are not giving up as many second and third-chance points. Even Sasha Pavlovic has bought in. He had four rebounds in the first half Sunday, including three in seven minutes in the second quarter.
‘Well it’s a combination of things,” Pierce said. “We got to take care of the ball definitely, but we got to rebound the ball and I thought we did a better job competing on the rebounds, especially at the guard level myself, Avery, Sasha, Rondo getting in there rebounding the ball. So its going to be important for us as we wind down the season and in playoffs, that’s what our one true weakness is and if we can address that down the stretch we will be a tough team to beat.’
|Paul Pierce: With LeBron James and Heat on Tuesday, ‘it doesn’t get any easier’||04.08.12 at 10:22 pm ET|
The Celtics have earned a day in the sun on Monday in South Florida after they all but locked up their fifth straight Atlantic Division title on Sunday with a 103-79 shutdown of the fading 76ers at TD Garden.
They’ll need that rest.
LeBron James and the Heat most certainly feel they have debt to pay after the Celtics handed them their worst loss of the season on April 1 in Boston.
‘Oh yeah, I’ve looked at this since the schedule came out,” Paul Pierce admitted. “It doesn’t get any easier of course. You go to Miami, you come home and play Atlanta, then you got three in a row. Its tough, every team in the league has to deal with it, unfortunately we got to deal with it at the end of the season when teams seem to be winding down, getting tired legs. But maybe its good for us, cause it seems like we are playing our best basketball right now in this crucial stretch.’
Then the Celtics return home to play the suddenly resurgent Hawks, whom they could face in the first round – and would if the playoffs started today. Then they have Thursday off before playing three straight on the road, albeit against the Raptors, Nets and Bobcats.
It appears that the message of Doc Rivers was heeded very well in the last two games as the Celtics have allowed 72 and 79 points in wins over the Pacers and the Sixers. Doc might have been ticked off but Pierce said after Sunday’s game, he wasn’t the only one.
“He was frustrated but we all were frustrated, of course we were frustrated from losing a game that we all feel like was a very winnable game,” Pierce said. “As veterans we know how to respond, we know how to take our game up another level, you felt the frustration from the coach but we felt it ourselves. Even if Doc didn’t express it, I think we would have came out and play the way we played the last couple nights.’
The Celtics are now 32-24 and lead the Knicks and Sixers by three games with 10 left on the schedule. The division ensures no worse than a No. 4 seed and home court in the first round. But obviously, the Celtics have their sights set much higher.
|Paul Pierce: ‘Some days they fall, some days they don’t’||04.04.12 at 11:43 pm ET|
When you have the reputation as one of the best clutch shooters in recent NBA history, you have to live with the occasional failure.
Wednesday night was that occasional moment of frustration for Paul Pierce as his shot from the right side of the free throw line extended hit the rim but never fell through, allowing the Spurs to escape with a heart-pounding 87-86 win Wednesday night at a breathless TD Garden.
Pierce was making no excuses for taking the inbounds pass from Rajon Rondo and using the last 7.9 seconds of regulation before missing the shot that would’ve dramatically extended the Celtics winning streak to six. The play called for Rondo to inbound to Pierce, facing the basket. Pierce then has the option of driving to the basket or recognizing who’s guarding him and drive to a spot to get off an open jump shot.
When he saw Tim Duncan switch to guard him, Pierce chose the second option. Kevin Garnett was open but once Pierce put the ball on the floor with a dribble there was no time to get it to him for a clean shot. Instead, Pierce, as he has before dribbled to one of his favorite spots on the court.
“You just play the game and you see what happens, you don’t know what to expect,” Pierce explained. “There are numerous possibilities of things that could have happened when I come off the pick and roll and obviously they switched, they could have trapped, Stephen Jackson could have stayed on me, but that’s not what I’m thinking about. You play a lot of this game on instinct and the things that happen, they happen on the fly and happen so quick. I like the shot that I took, but at the end of the day it came down to I thought lose balls, they got two huge offensive rebounds late for buckets and to me that killed us.’
‘We got Paul into an iso,” Doc Rivers said of the trademark isolation play that he has drawn up for Pierce many times before. “He got probably the shot he wanted. He just didn’t make it… and they had a foul to give. So most teams switch. We actually said that they probably would and we were trying to get Duncan on a Paul matchup because we thought we had the speed advantage.” Read the rest of this entry »
|Paul Pierce is playing his best basketball of the season||04.02.12 at 3:15 pm ET|
UPDATE: Just after this story was posted, Paul Pierce was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
Now that the Celtics have returned to the public conscious, the first thing everyone wants to know is when did they begin to turn it around? That one’s easy. It was the second half of the Oklahoma City game right before the All-Star break when Doc Rivers made a few decisions and the players made a vow to play better in the second half.
The Celtics have gone 15-5 since the All-Star break and have vaulted into first place in the Atlantic Division and re-emerged as the proverbial team no one wants to face in the playoffs.
There are many reasons for their turnaround, but two have been given the most attention. First, Rivers moved Kevin Garnett to center and inserted Brandon Bass into the starting lineup. Second, he decided to shorten the rotation, which essentially meant not playing rookies.
The first move worked flawlessly, the second move has required some adjusting on the fly. It’s important to remember that Greg Stiemsma wasn’t a part of the first nine-man system that Rivers employed. The role of first big off the bench belonged to Chris Wilcox and Stiemsma’s role only became more prominent after a physical turned up cardiac issues for Wilcox that required surgery. Additionally, Keyon Dooling has risen from the ashes to become an incredibly solid third guard at a time when they are without Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus.
There’s also been the play of Rajon Rondo, who has performed much better this March than last season. Like last year, Rondo has been shooting less in the second half of the season, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been as active. He has recorded double-digit assists in each of their last 13 games and cut his turnovers down dramatically. He also showed on Sunday that when the situation calls for it, he can elevate his game. That wasn’t always the case last season.
For all that, one of the biggest reasons for the Celtics’ turnaround remains largely ignored. Paul Pierce is playing his best basketball of the season.
|Irish Coffee: LeBron, Heat ‘never count Celtics out’||at 2:57 pm ET|
Was Sunday’s Celtics blowout, as Chris Bosh suggested, “just a bad, sh#tty game” by his Heat, or was it a warning signal to potential playoff opponents flashed from Boston — one if by C’s, so to speak?
On their way to producing the NBA’s second-best record since the All-Star break, the Celtics have won five straight and seven of their last eight games, the most recent of which handed Miami its third loss in five contests. Over the past week, Doc Rivers & Co. have surged from the Eastern Conference’s seventh seed to within 1.5 games of Dwight Howard‘s Magic and the No. 3 slot. Count the Heat among those in the league taking notice.
“I’m going to say the same thing I said last year: We are one team and I am one guy that never counts the C’s out,” said NBA MVP favorite LeBron James. “I would never count them out. They’ve just got too many winners. They’ve got guys who have been in the moment before. Like I told you guys last year, when everyone was down on the C’s, I always said I’m not going to turn my back on those guys.”
Of course, those guys James referred to are Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen, the latter of whom missed his sixth straight game on Sunday. Didn’t matter, thanks to Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass.
“It’s because we’re a great team,” said Garnett following their 91-72 win over the Heat on national television. “Our positions and personnel, it’s all about a system. You know your role in the system. You do what you’re told in the role. You carry out your role 100 percent wholeheartedly, and that’s your contribution to the team.”
|Watch the throne: C’s heat up as Sunday showdown nears||03.31.12 at 5:46 pm ET|
The elation was reminiscent of a championship ceremony. The collective relief from the crowd, the exhaustive expressions of the victors and the sour disappointment of the losers were all palpable. The Heat had beaten the Celtics in five games … to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Re-watching the celebration unfold, it becomes extremely difficult to keep the moderate accomplishment in perspective. LeBron James began “Tebowing” (before “Tebowing” was a thing), Dwayne Wade fell to the floor like Michael Jordan after he won his third NBA title in 1993, and Doc Rivers (who was rumored to be stepping away from coaching after the conclusion of the Celtics’ playoff run) wandered around the floor like a lost puppy.
Needless to say, it felt like something was happening. A coronation of some sort. Presumably, the hoary Celtics would no longer be a threat following the 2010-11 playoffs, and the manner in which James spoke about his adversary in the immediate aftermath was extremely deferential — almost like a eulogy.
“First of all, I want to give a lot of thanks to the Boston Celtics,” James said. “Doc Rivers, that coaching staff, them players — they make [you] fight for everything, you can never take your foot off the gas, you can never take a second off against that team, so a lot of respect for that team.”
However, as James was giving praise and soaking in the moment, Rivers was preparing for his post-game press conference, where he unexpectedly declared he was coming back to coach the next season and beyond.
The Heat would advance to the NBA finals, eventually losing to the Mavericks in six games. Rivers’ decision made ripples, putting a moratorium on the passing of the crown, but most likely flew under the radar in the Heat locker room since they had advanced and the Celtics were going home.
That playoff series featured emotions that seemed elevated beyond the stakes of the individual contest. Regardless of where the two teams stand in the conference rankings, there’s enough star power — one Big Three facing another — to make matchups between the teams an event. And that is part of the allure of the next meeting of the teams on Sunday, when the Heat come to TD Garden to face a Celtics team playing at its highest level this season.
The Here and Now Read the rest of this entry »
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