|The Magic were the team to beat all along||05.15.10 at 8:02 pm ET|
But deep down, the Celtics head coach meant what he said and he wanted to make sure his players understood it before they boarded their plane Saturday afternoon for Orlando and Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
‘Like we told our guys, Cleveland wasn’t our goal and neither is Orlando,” Rivers began. “Having said that, Orlando is the team, coming into the season, that you felt if you wanted to get out of the East, you had to beat Orlando. They’re the team that won the East last year, not Cleveland. I wanted our guys to have focus on that.’
Captain Paul Pierce remembers the feeling of walking off the court on that Sunday night in early May last year when the Magic stunned the defending champion Celtics in Game 7 at the Garden in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
‘You’re talking about pretty much two different teams,” Pierce said Saturday. “Obviously, what Jameer [Nelson] means to that team from not having him a year ago and Vince Carter and us adding KG to the starting lineup in this series and bringing in Rasheed [Wallace]. Definitely, two different teams for the most part. A lot of core guys are still there. It should be an interesting matchup.’
Pierce said this a great chance for the men in green.
‘It feels good,” Pierce said. “You get an opportunity to play against the Orlando Magic at their full strength and us at our full strength, so you have the two best teams in the Eastern Conference at full strength going at it to see who’s going to the championship. They’ve been playing very well, if not the best of everybody in basketball the last month. We’ve got our work cut out for us.
‘When you got into the off-season and don’t win the championship, you use things like that for motivation. That was one of my motivations, just the way we went out, especially on our home court really left a bad taste in my mouth. Hopefully, if we can get this series win, it can erase some of that.’
Ray Allen was another veteran stung by last year’s exit in Boston.
‘This is a great opportunity, coming back and knowing they put us out last year,” Allen said. “I think there are two different scenarios now. It’s two different teams but we know where our history lies and where we want to go and they’re a team in our way.’
Allen will be one of those with the responsibility of trying to match up with Rashard Lewis and Mickael Pietrus and helping to take away weapons from point guard Jameer Nelson.
‘They’ve built their team around having strong point guard play, somebody who can penetrate the ball and Dwight being so powerful inside,” Allen said. “So, we have to each guard a man-and-a-half. We have to guard our man and then help when they do pass because they try to build us out against our defense.
‘Obviously, we take player tendencies into account but I think the first game is going to dictate how the second game is going to go and each game is going to be different from the previous one and so forth.’
Whatever the match-ups, Rivers has prepared his team to be ready for a Magic team that is as versatile as they come in the NBA. If they’re not ready, they have no one to blame but themselves.
‘Hopefully, our antennas are up, if they’re no we’re going to struggle,” Rivers said. “It’s no secret what they do, they use Howard as a great post guy and try to suck in everybody. Jameer Nelson tries to crack you off the dribble and then go draw and kick and look for threes. That’s what they do.’
‘We have a go-to guy in Kevin [Garnett] that we’re going to go to. And they have their team leader back. He’s their team leader in a lot of ways. I think they get a lot of their toughness from him. He makes big shots for them. I think it’s two different teams anyway, especially them. They’ve changed their personnel completely.’
|Paul Pierce meet David Ortiz||05.10.10 at 4:32 pm ET|
After scoring just nine points in 31 minutes on Sunday in the 97-87 Celtics win over Cleveland that evened the series, 2-2, everyone wants to know if Paul Pierce is physically fine.
And if he is, as he told reporters following Monday’s practice, why then is he having such trouble getting his offensive game going?
‘I’m not a rookie, you guys. I’m not a rookie,” Pierce said with a painful smile very similar to the one a certain Red Sox slugger sported after getting grilled about his woes just TWO games into the season.
“It is my 12th year. I’ve been in every situation, regardless. Whether it’s foul trouble, not playing, things not going so well for you, I know how to get through those times, mentally. It doesn’t affect me like it used to when I was a younger player where I had two or three fouls and not really playing the kind of basketball I want to. But the key is to keep focused and doing what you can to help the team win.’
And about your physical condition Paul?
‘There’s nothing wrong me,” Pierce said. “The key for me is being focused and giving my team what they need to win. So there’s nothing wrong with me.’
‘No, Paul’s fine, Paul’s fine,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers added. “Obviously, we want more out of him but we’re getting a lot out of him. I think unfortunately for Paul, he’s an offensive player and that’s what everyone sees in him and he has a defensive part in this series so they’re going to look at his offensive numbers so that’s the bad part of being Paul Pierce, really.’
Specifically, it was the early foul trouble in Games 3 and 4 at the Garden that Pierce pointed to as the main culprit in robbing him of offensive rhythm.
“If you’re a scorer, you’re a scorer for life,” Rivers said. “It’s like you’re in a gang, a scoring gang. I think scorers still think, ‘OK,’ and then once they get into it they realize, ‘Wow, this is tough.’ We just keep telling him to be aggressive. The one thing I did tell him was I thought I did think we got the right matchups for him he wasn’t looking to score. When we do get those situations, we need him to morph back into Paul.”
‘We don’t want to sacrifice the entire offense or the team just to get Paul involved,” added Rajon Rondo. “Paul is just an unselfish player so he’s not complaining about shots or that he’s only scoring 11 or 12 points. As long as we’re winning, he knows it’s a team sport. He’s very unselfish. It’s about sacrifices. Yesterday, I think Ray [Allen] got 21 shots up and myself. Maybe Paul gets 22 shots and maybe Ray and I only shoots four. It varies each game. If a guy has it going, you keep going to him.’
Pierce said he will not let games of 13, 14, 11 and nine points take him out of his focus of doing what it takes to help the team win the series, namely defend and help on LeBron James.
‘All that other stuff goes out the window, being frustrated,” Pierce said. “You really have to concentrate on the game when you’re not in the game so that when you go back in the game, you can finish it.
‘I’m digging myself a ditch as far as my fouls but I think they’re good fouls I’m getting, some bad ones but that’s the way the game goes. It’s nothing I’m really worried about. I know I can do a better job and control. No matter how I’m doing offensively, as long as we win, that’s all that matters to me.’
And winning Game 5 in Cleveland Tuesday is Job No. 1.
‘We definitely have a sense of urgency going into Game 5,” Pierce said. “We have to treat it like a Game 7, trying to gather some momentum, like we’ve been trying to do. We know it’s going to be a tough place to play back in Cleveland, trying to get two wins. It’s going to be very difficult. I think we’re going to put our hard hats on and clean up some of things we didn’t do right last night and in Game 3, and hopefully, try to steal another win.’
|Pierce: There’s nothing wrong with me||at 3:05 pm ET|
Pierce has dealt with a myriad of injuries this season, but given the caveat that every player is a little banged up at this point in the season, he stated flatly Monday after the Celtics went through a brief practice that he was fine.
“There’s nothing wrong with me,” Pierce said. “For me, it’s just being ready, being focused, giving my team whatever it needs to win. There’s nothing wrong with me.”
There are other mitigating factors that have contributed to his sub-par numbers (16-for-50, 4-for-18 from 3-point range). For one, he has found himself in early foul trouble and for another, he is guarding LeBron James at the other end of the floor.
“I’m digging myself a ditch as far as with my fouls,” Pierce said. “I think they’re good fouls that I’m giving, some bad ones, but that’s the way the game goes.”
“Paul’s fine,” Doc Rivers said when asked about his health. “Obviously we want more out of him, but we’re getting a lot out of him. I think, unfortunately for Paul, he’s an offensive players and that’s what everyone sees in him. He has a defensive role in this series and so they’re going to look at his offensive numbers. That’s the bad part of being Paul Pierce, really. If it was Tony Allen, people would be happy. He’s doing a great job defensively, but it’s Paul, so they want more. And we’re going to get more out of Paul. I believe that.”
Pierce was asked if he felt like he at least one vintage Paul Pierce game in him for the last three games of the series.
“I hope so, but that’s not something I’m pressing,” he said. “I’m trying to help my team win. Whether it’s scoring or defense, it’s about winning.”
Pierce is also a veteran, and he’s drawing on past experiences to get him through this stretch.
“I’m not a rookie,” Pierce said. “It is my 12th year. I’ve been in every situation. I know I can get through those times mentally. It doesn’t affect me like it used to when I was a younger player, where I had two or three fouls and not really playing the type of basketball I wanted to play. The key is to just stay focused and doing what you can do to help the team. All that other stuff goes out the window.”
|Perkins: ‘Without [Rondo], we’d be dead’||05.08.10 at 5:04 pm ET|
WALTHAM — Between Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett alone, it has never been easy to pinpoint the best player on the Celtics. Throw the development of Rajon Rondo into the mix this season, and the task is even tougher.
It’s easy, though, for Kendrick Perkins. Not only does he consider Rondo to be the C’s top player, he also considers him their lifeline.
‘I think right now, he’s the best player on our team,’ Perkins told WEEI.com following practice on Saturday. ‘Without Rondo, nothing goes. Pretty much we’ve got to play him the whole game because he just runs the whole team. Without him, we’d be dead.’
Rondo is playing a team-high 41 minutes per game in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Cavaliers. His numbers have consistently improved from the regular season throughout the playoffs. In the first three games against the Cavs, he leads with team with 19.3 points and 13.0 assists, more than five points and three assists better than the regular season. He is also shooting 56.8 percent from the field and averaging 5.0 rebounds, more boards than Allen and Pierce.
‘I think he stepped up,’ said Perkins. ‘He’s been more focused than ever, in my opinion, and he’s been doing a great job of leading us.’
|Paul Pierce/Kendrick Perkins press conference||05.07.10 at 11:16 pm ET|
|Doc Rivers press conference||at 11:10 pm ET|
|Celtics mantra for Game 2: Attack||05.02.10 at 4:32 pm ET|
CLEVELAND — Many times in the NBA, the post-game reactions to what just occurred need to be tempered by what you see on the film later. Emotions are high, everyone is looking for that one key moment that changed everything (hello, Mo Williams), but after careful consideration the real truths start to emerge.
“I thought we settled,” Doc Rivers said. “I said it after the game. Usually after the game you say stuff and then you watch the film and half of it is true, half of it is what you thought you saw. But it’s pretty much what we saw. We bailed out on a lot of shots, quick shots. We didn’t make a lot of next passes, we didn’t attack. We had guys flying at us in the air and we’re still trying to shoot jump shots instead of putting the ball back on the floor. That’s not even an adjustment. That’s what we should do anyway.”
The obvious follow-up question to all that was whether the Celtics were tired at the end of the game after Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo all logged between 38 and 45 minutes of time.
“It had nothing to do with fatigue,” Rivers said. “We settled. It happens.”
It wasn’t that the shots the Celtics took were necessarily bad ones either. Pierce had an open 3 that could have tied the game, but it didn’t fall. Garnett missed a number of shots in the lane, including a follow off an offensive rebound that he can make 99 times out of 100. But, the shots could have been better.
“I think the jumpers that we did get we’re good looks and that I’ll take,” Pierce said. “Doc talks about when the jumpers aren’t falling, you got to take the ball to the bucket. That’s part of the game. I was a little disappointed only going to the free throw line twice. I think I’ve got to be a little more aggressive in the paint. I’ll still take the shots that I took but I have to mix it up a little bit more.”
Pierce started off hot, making four of his five shots in the first quarter, but he was 1-for-12 after that.
What was particularly troubling to Rivers was that the Celtics didn’t handle the Cavs counter-attack very well. Yes, Williams lit up the crowd with a dunk, his first in a game with the Cavs, and yes he then went on a scoring binge, but the Celtics never had an answer for the run.
“We didn’t handle it well,” Rivers said. “We were walking, we didn’t get into our sets so it was easy to get us out of stuff. It was more because frustration was high. It happened, but it can’t happen, especially in a playoff game.”
As they prepared for Game 2, there was little talk of adjustments. Simply more effort and that was as evident Sunday afternoon as it was late Saturday evening.
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