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Sixers in search of closer, remain positive despite fourth-quarter collapse 05.14.12 at 10:05 am ET
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This was the script Doug Collins dreamed of — his team clinging to a six-point lead, early in the fourth quarter on the road, despite multiple runs by the Celtics. His collar loosened, ever so slightly, as Lou Williams got a hand on a Ray Allen jump shot, and then pulled up in transition to bury a long-range shot of his own. Seconds later, Lavoy Allen sank a textbook baby hook shot, and the 76ers opened up a 10-point lead.

The momentum abruptly came to a halt, however, as the Celtics went on a 12-2 run over the next five minutes. The Sixers offense proved to be non-existent at the worst possible time, and suddenly, with just under five minutes left to play, Philly was trading baskets in a one-possession game with the Celtics. The lead, the security, and hopes of catching Boston off guard and stealing home court vanished.

‘€œI’€™m proud of our guys,” Collins said. “We are off to a really good start. What we needed here, coming in today on the road, we fought on some. When it is all said and done, we had a great chance to get this game today and just had four really bad offensive possessions that really hurt us.’€

What may trouble Collins most is not how his team blew the lead, but who blew the lead. Going into the fourth quarter, everything appeared to be working for the 76ers. Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner had 16 points each, the Sixers forced Rajon Rondo into committing six turnovers, they outscored Boston’€™s bench 20-14, and they were even shooting 4-of-10 on 3-pointers.

A big question mark going into this series, though, was if Philly’€™s playmakers — Iguodala, Turner and Williams — could come through down the stretch.  Saturday night, the answer was no. The three combined to go 2-for-10 from the field in the fourth quarter. And, as their shooting touch failed them, none were able to get to the foul line. Williams had a shot blocked, Iguodala had two of his sent the other way, and both had turnovers in critical moments. Most telling is that not one 76er scored more than four points in the fourth quarter.

‘€œThat’€™s sort of the sign of a team that’€™s trying to grow and figure out what it is to play this kind of championship basketball in the NBA playoffs,’€ Collins said.

As much as the Sixers did struggle, Rondo was great when he needed to be, atoning for an uneven night. In the final frame alone, he had six points, four assists and five boards. The assists came from Rondo pushing the ball upcourt. The Celtics scored seven of their 14 fast-break points in the fourth quarter. Perhaps the scariest aspect of Rondo’s fourth-quarter performance was each of his three field goals coming from 18 feet and out.

‘€œWhen he starts making shots, you have to honor that,’€ Turner said. ‘€œThat allows the other guys to get space. It allows [Kevin Garnett] to get on the block one-on-one with a guy, or Paul [Pierce] to iso, or for Ray [Allen].’€

Said Doc Rivers: ‘€œI thought Rondo’€™s shooting, obviously, down the stretch was fantastic. He wanted those shots. We ran that play, we were going to switch Ray and put him in that spot where the guy curls back up, and Rondo wanted that play. He wanted the shot and he took it. That has to be great for his confidence.’€

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Read More: 2012 NBA playoffs, Evan Turner, Kevin Garnett, Lou Williams
Fast Break: Rondo, Garnett help Celtics survive 76ers 05.12.12 at 10:32 pm ET
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brightcove.createExperiences();

If it’s possible, the Celtics didn’t even play all that well, yet Rajon Rondo recorded his eighth career playoff triple-double (21st overall) and Kevin Garnett submitted his best back-to-back postseason performance since the 2008 NBA title run, as they escaped Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 92-91 win over the 76ers.

Rondo finished with 13 points, 17 assists and 12 rebounds (oh, and 7 turnovers) while Garnett totaled 29 points and 11 rebounds two nights after amassing 28 points and 14 boards to eliminate the Hawks in the first round.

Leading 92-91 with 3.4 seconds remaining, Doc Rivers took a gamble coming out of a timeout, calling Rondo’s number. The C’s point guard ran to the backcourt and escaped a rushing defender to dribble out the clock.

Paul Pierce had a dreadful shooting night (3-11 FG), but managed 14 points thanks to eight free throws. The C’s trailed by double digits in all four quarter, but outscored the Sixers 25-14 over the final 10:52 of the fourth quarter.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Still not old: Last May, two nights after Garnett totaled 28 points and 18 rebounds in the C’s lone win of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Heat, he managed just seven points (1-10 FG) in an overtime loss. The Celtics had to wonder how Garnett would respond two nights after his epic 28-point, 14-rebound Game 6 against the Hawks. This time, he picked up where he left off, scoring 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the first half alone.

Allen’s ankle: After Thursday’s Game 6 against the Hawks, Allen admitted the bone spurs in his ankle had returned to the pain level that caused him to miss Games 1 and 2 of the first round. A game-time decision prior to Game 1 of the 76ers series, Allen declared himself ready for action despite an abbreviated pregame routine. Not that it mattered, as he got his shooting in during the game. His two 3-pointers early in the second quarter kept the Celtics within striking distance of the surging Sixers. Playing 14:28 of the first half, Allen entered the break with a plus-12 rating despite the C’s trailing by five at the half, 47-42.

Small ball: Outside of starting 7-foot center Spencer Hawes, the next biggest guy in the Sixers playoff rotation is Elton Brand at 6-foot-9. Often, Doug Collins has no other choice but to run small lineups, and that’s generally a good thing for a young, athletic team that likes to get out and run. For the final 3:25 of the first half, Doc Rivers countered by subbing Allen in for Greg Stiemsma, leaving a lineup of Allen, Garnett, Pierce, Rondo and Bradley on the parquet. Together, they finished the second quarter on a 10-2 run to get back into it.

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Read More: 2012 Playoffs, Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, Philadelphia 76ers
Irish Coffee: Josh Smith ‘jealous’ of Celtics, Boston fans 05.11.12 at 10:06 am ET
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Don’t be surprised if Josh Smith is a member of the 2013-14 Boston Celtics.

Following the Hawks’ 83-80 loss in Game 6 — suffering their second first-round exit in Boston since 2008 — their should-be All-Star forward said everything short of swearing his allegiance to high school teammate Rajon Rondo.

“That’€™s a great basketball team over there in the Celtics,” said Smith, who finished Game 6 with 18 points (7-18 FG), nine rebounds and four assists. “They’€™ve done some special things since they acquired the Big Three. Since then, they’€™ve been doing some special things in the postseason. We can definitely learn a lot from that ball club.

“It definitely hurts not being able to get out of the first round,” he added. “Being able to get out of the first round in three consecutive years, falling short this year, I felt like we had the best opportunity to make it to the Eastern Conference finals this year moreso than other years. That’€™s obviously disappointing.”

If you can’t beat ‘em, as they say, join ‘em. That notion was palpable in Smith’s postgame (and post-series) press conference. The Rondo connection is an obvious one, although Smith’s admiration for the Celtics and their fans goes far beyond his senior year at Oak Hill Academy with the C’s three-time All-Star point guard.

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Read More: 2012 Playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Josh Smith
Video: Rajon Rondo unhappy with TNT cameraman 05.09.12 at 10:47 am ET
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Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo was talking with his family outside the locker room after Tuesday night’s one-point loss to the Hawks in Atlanta when he saw he was being filmed by a TNT camera. Rondo then walked over and angrily told the cameraman that he was not doing an interview and to turn off the camera. TNT showed the video, with studio analyst Charles Barkley taking a shot at Rondo’s wardrobe.

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Avery Bradley: ‘Now I’m ready; I’ll be ready in Round 2 as well’ 05.07.12 at 1:00 pm ET
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Avery Bradley didn’t play a single minute of the 2011 Celtics playoff run that ended in five games against the Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and even before Round 1 of his sophomore season is over he’s already declared himself prepared for the next hurdle in his budding young career. My, how things change.

“It’s been great,” said Bradley of his first four playoff games and his team’s resulting 3-1 series lead. “I’ve been able to learn a lot and gain a lot of confidence. The main thing for me is learning how to approach the playoffs. That was big for me, and now I’m ready; I’ll be ready in Round 2 as well.”

This from a kid who made 8-of-45 field goal attempts outside of three feet as a rookie last season. Bradley had one career 3-point field goal through March 22 of this season. Here’s how far he’s come: Of the C’s first six shots against the Hawks, Bradley took four of them — all outside of 21 feet, on a bum left shoulder.

“It hurt me, but I tried not to think about it,” said Bradley, who left in the third quarter of Game 3 with a recurring left shoulder dislocation. “I just went out there and played hard. I knew my team needed that energy, and that’s what I wanted to bring. It’s been the same. It gets worse as I continue to knock it out, but it’s something that I’m going to continue to get treatment on, strengthen and it’ll get better eventually.”

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Read More: 2012 Playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Starting with Rajon Rondo, Doc Rivers can sense ‘momentum rolling’ for Celtics at 11:59 am ET
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brightcove.createExperiences();

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.

‘€œThat’€™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.

‘€œI 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 »

Read More: 2012 NBA playoffs, 2012 Playoffs, Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers
Irish Coffee: Kevin Garnett, Cake Boss of the Celtics at 10:27 am ET
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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.

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Read More: 2012 Playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett
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