Celtics prove they still have it in them

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Celtics prove they still have it in them

In Game 3, we learned that the Celtics wont need their best basketball to beat the Hawks. In Game 4, we learned that either way the Celtics still have that best basketball in them.

Now, theyre heading back to Atlanta, with a very real chance to send the Hawks fishin'.

Here are a few thoughts on last night and what lies ahead:

It was just a nice way of playing. Doc Rivers, on the Game 4 victory

Hard to disagree with the Dr. on that one.

The Celtics we saw last night, were the Celtics from early April. They were the team that peaked against the Heat before shutting it down for the rest of the season (and the first three games of the playoffs). They were the team that can compete with anyone in the Eastern Conference.

Now obviously the Hawks weren't the most worthy opponent, but at the very least, they were better than the team that took Boston into OT on Friday. And really, it doesn't matter, because if the C's are clicking like they were last night, they can play with and beat anyone.

But maintaining the magic won't be easy.

The biggest issue is Paul Pierce's knee.

Of course, with Pierce, you're never entirely sure what's going on, and the details surrounding this particular injury only make the whole thing more confusing. He tripped over someone in shoot around? Either there's something else to the story, or this is karma's way of burning everyone who laughed at the Mariano Rivera video.

That being said, it's very fair to assume that Pierce will be in the lineup on Tuesday, but until he's out there and not limping around like was during the last few minutes on Sunday the questions will linger, and add just a little more pressure on the Celtics to keep their foot on the pedal and send the Hawks home early. Everyone needs the rest.

(Random stat: Pierce thankfully only played 17 minutes in last night's game, but that wasn't his career playoff low. Back in 2009, the Captain found a ton of foul trouble in Game 2 of Boston's second round series against the Magic, and played only 15:42. The Celtics won that one, too. Thanks to a Rajon Rondo triple-double and 31 POINTS from Eddie House. Mikki Moore chipped in with two points and a rebound).

The fact that Ray Allen played in both games this weekend is incredibly uplifting, but the news that he's reconsidering surgery is almost unbelievable.

At shoot around, Allen said that his ankle hurt so badly on Saturday that he had to walk sideways, and then all of a sudden, it's better than ever and ready for the long haul?

I don't know. Regardless of how great Allen felt last night, I still expect this to be a day-to-day issue, and wouldn't be surprised to see him miss a few more games down the stretch. Still, the fact that Allen has given the Celtics anything in this series is more than anyone could have expected, and it's thankfully quieted any speculation that his absence was an issue of spite as much as it was injury.

Allen's availability may remain up in the air, but there's no question on Avery Bradley. Here's what he had to last night, when asked about his status:

"I'm ready, and I'll be ready for Round 2."

First of all, it's somewhat fitting for Bradley to make a premature comment about Round 2 with Tracy McGrady sitting in the other locker room, but we'll cut him some slack, and focus on this: Avery Bradley is turning into a monster.

The level of confidence he's developed over the course of this series after a very shaky first game is off the charts, and like his game, seems to grow every time he takes the court.

Last night was the kind of game we expected to see from Rondo on Friday. The kind of performance that takes the Celtics from the middle of the pack basically, what you saw in the first three games to being a legitimate Eastern Conference contender.

Speaking with the media last week, Rondo made a subtle reference to being "the best point guard in the NBA," and while that's very debatable, there's no doubt that when he plays like he did last night, there's no point guard in the world who's a better fit for this team. There's no one who Doc Rivers, Danny Ainge, Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce would rather have running the show.

If Rondo can maintain that energy and focus tomorrow night in Game 5, it will be the last game of the series.

(Random stat: Going back to the regular season, Rondo's now picked up 10 assists in 27 straight games. If he can do it again on Tuesday, he'll tie his personal playoff best of 10 assists in four straight games, which he accomplished in Games 4-7 against the Bulls in 2009.)

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

WATCH: Celtics vs. Knicks

WATCH: Celtics vs. Knicks

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Celtics-Knicks preview: Thomas scoring at record pace in fourth quarter

Celtics-Knicks preview: Thomas scoring at record pace in fourth quarter

WALTHAM, Mass. –  As the fourth quarter rolls around, you will occasionally catch Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas looking down at his wrist, a gesture to remind anyone watching what time it is – Thomas time.

There are those who elevate their play in the fourth quarter of games, and then there’s Thomas who continues to smoothly navigate his way in unchartered fourth quarter scoring territory.

The Celtics begin the second half of the season Wednesday night against the New York Knicks, and there sits Thomas atop all players in the NBA when it comes to fourth-quarter scoring.

But that’s not all.

He’s not only dropping more points than any other NBA player in the most important quarter of them all, but he’s doing so at an unprecedented level of 10.1 fourth-quarter points per game.

Since NBA.com/stats began tracking fourth quarter scoring with the 1997-1998 season, no player has averaged more than 9.5 fourth-quarter points (LeBron James, 2006) in a season.

What makes Thomas’ fourth quarter heroics so impressive is that everyone in the building – fans, coaches, opponents – knows that’s when he’s looking to be most impactful for the Celtics and yet he still can’t be stopped.

Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford acknowledged how tough it is to limit Thomas despite knowing he’s looking to take over games in the fourth.

“It’s hard because the blitz game is impossible because they don’t roll,” said Clifford whose Hornets were beaten 108-98 by Boston on Monday. “If you watch the teams that try to blitz them, you’re going to give up basically lay-ups. We had things in to get the ball out of his hands but the way they played and the stuff that they usually go to late, they didn’t get to. He (Thomas) made some terrific plays; he’s a terrific offensive player.”

Despite what he does in the fourth and his overall scoring average of 28.2 points which is ranked among the league’s leaders, there are still lots of doubters as to how good Thomas.

Regardless of how you view his play, he has consistently played at a level this season that places him among the game’s best players.

And at the rate he’s scoring in the fourth quarter, he’s establishing himself as one of the great closers in the game.

Consider the list of players in the past decade who led the league in points scored in the fourth quarter.

  • 2016: James Harden (7.7)
  • 2015: Russell Westbrook (7.1)
  • 2014: Kevin Durant (7.9)
  • 2013: Kevin Durant (8.4)
  • 2012: Kevin Durant (7.3)
  • 2011: Amare Stoudemire (7.1)
  • 2010: LeBron James (8.0)
  • 2009: LeBron James (7.7)
  • 2008: LeBron James (9.1)
  • 2007: Dwyane Wade (8.2)

You have All-stars, All-NBA First Teamers, league MVPs as well as a few future Hall of Famers.

As good as those players were in their respective seasons, when the game mattered most – the fourth quarter – Thomas numbers (for now at least) stand head and shoulders above them all.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens gives Thomas a lot of credit for being such a consistent scorer, particularly in the fourth quarter.

But as good as Thomas is, he’s not out there getting all these baskets on his own, either.

“It says a lot about the fact that he’s got a lot of skilled guys around him that are hard to leave,” Stevens said. “When you’re playing Kelly (Olynyk) and Jonas (Jerebko) together with him, there’s a lot of space on the floor to operate. When those guys are at the four (power forward) and five (center), when you’re playing guys like Al Horford who can space the floor or Avery (Bradley) or Jae (Crowder), you know, those types of guys … at the end of the day I think that it’s a combination of a lot of things.”

And for opponents, a lot of problems.

“He’s been playing well,” Hornets guard Kemba Walker said of Thomas. “He’s been playing better than anyone in our league. He’s playing with great confidence and making the plays for his team to win games. He’s been great.”