Blakely: Celtics-Sixers preview

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Blakely: Celtics-Sixers preview

BOSTON From their big-time stars to their bench players, the Boston Celtics enter their second round playoff series against Philadelphia a team with lots of concerns - most related to their health.

Ray Allen has a bum right ankle injury and is questionable for Game 1 tonight. Paul Pierce (left knee) says he's good to go, but there's no telling if his sprained MCL injury will become bothersome enough to limit his effectiveness.

There are others, many others, who have health-related issues that make their impact highly questionable going into this second-round series.

Even with uncertain status of some Celtics players, Boston is still the overwhelming favorite against a Philadelphia team that won two of the three regular season matchups.

With the quick turn-around from their first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, Celtics coach Doc Rivers makes no secret about how tough it will be for his team to move past the Sixers.

"It's a challenge because of our bodies," Rivers said. "The Sixers are pretty healthy right now; we're not. So that's the challenge."

Rivers usually gives his team the day off in between games, but he made somewhat of an exception following Thursday's series-clinching win over Atlanta.

The team returned to the basketball court Friday afternoon, although Rivers said they would not practice. Instead, they gathered at the practice facility to start their video preparation for the Sixers in addition to installing parts of their defensive game plan.

"Ray is struggling today (physically), Paul is struggling today (physically)," Rivers said. "The advantages we have is we don't have to get in a plane. Our guys can sleep in (their own) bed and get some rest."

Rest is exactly what Pierce can't get enough of right now.

As far as his sprained MCL injury being a factor in Game 1, Pierce was succinct when asked about how he's feeling.

"Good enough to play (tonight)," said Pierce, who added that it won't get better until he gives it a chance to rest when the season is over.

While there's little doubt that Pierce will be in the starting lineup, how effective will he be is another matter.

The sprained MCL injury in his left knee impacts a part of Pierce's game that, frankly, is a huge part of what makes him one of the league's better one-on-one scorers.

"It really doesn't bother me when I walk around or when I jump straight up," Pierce said. "It's more if I turn the knee in a certain position, it sort of re-aggravates it. I don't have a problem getting up and down the court. It's just there are certain parts of the game where you get into the lane, the physicality of the game, to where you're turning the knee. That's why I'm wearing two knee braces just to kind of prevent that. As far moving up and down laterally, that's OK."

Health is always a factor in the playoffs, but is getting more attention than usual because of 1) the fact that this season was shorter because of the lockout, and 2) we have already seen one team (Chicago) eliminated from the playoffs due to being without their best player, Derrick Rose.

The Sixers will not make any apologies - nor should they - for beating the Bulls and advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

They came into the postseason as an eighth seed in part because one of their key players, Spencer Hawes, went down early in the season with an Achilles Tendon injury. While Philadelphia eventually figured out how to win in his absence, his return disrupted the team's flow and the end result was an end-of-the-season swoon that had many wondering if the Sixers could win a game, let alone the series, against a Chicago team even without Rose who suffered a torn ACL in his left knee near the end of Game 1 in the series.

In the Bulls series, the Sixers' confidence seemed to only grow with each victory that moved them one step closer to joining one of the most exclusive clubs in the NBA - eighth-seeded teams to knock off a top-seed.

Philadelphia became just the fifth team to knock off a top-seeded Goliath, the kind of feat that's sure to get the attention of any team - especially the team that you're about to face in the next round of the playoffs.

"They play with a lot of energy; they play together," said Kevin Garnett. "They know who they are. They're a young team, and they're playing with a lot of confidence."

It should be even higher when you consider the success they had over Boston, even if the C's were on the back end of a back-to-back in all three matchups this season.

"I'm a little happier that they beat us in the fashion that they did during the regular season," Allen said. "Beating them 3-0, if we did in the regular season, you come in a little too cocky and arrogant. But since they beat us, the two times out of three, we know this team is capable and they've had our number. We have to really zone in and focus on beating them and taking care of all those things that we didn't do well in playing them."

Horford believes Celtics give him best chance at 'ultimate goal' of NBA Championship

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Horford believes Celtics give him best chance at 'ultimate goal' of NBA Championship

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Pinpointing the exact moment Al Horford made up his mind to become a Boston Celtics isn’t clear, but the seeds of that decision can be traced back to last year’s playoffs – and no we’re not talking about the playoff series between Boston and Atlanta, either.
 
It was the Hawk’s second-round playoff series back in May against Cleveland, a team that swept them out of the Conference finals in 2015 and did so again last about five months ago.
 
Horford had every intention of returning to Atlanta, but as the free agency period wore on two things became quite clear: Winning an NBA title would have to go through Cleveland and it happening with him in Atlanta was becoming more and more unlikely.
 
In came the Celtics with a pitch that was heavy on present-day and down-the-road potential that wouldn’t require him to do anything other than continue to play the way he has for the past nine seasons.
 
“It (becoming a Celtic) became real for me real late and real quick,” Horford told CSNNE.com on Wednesday.
 
After mulling it over for a couple days, Horford said he was ready to become a Celtic.
 
“This could be a great opportunity even though I’m leaving a lot behind,” Horford said.
 
As you listen to Horford speak, it’s clear that the Celtics mystique played a role in his decision to sign with Boston.

 But as much as the Celtics’ lore and its on-the-rise status helped, there were certain events that Boston had no control over that actually helped their cause.
 
First the Hawks got in on a three-team trade in June with Utah and Indiana which sent Hawks All-Star point guard Jeff Teague to the Pacers while Atlanta received Utah’s first-round pick which was 12th overall and was used by Atlanta to select Baylor’s Taurean Prince. The move allowed Atlanta’s Dennis Schroeder to slide over into the now-vacant starting point guard position.
 
While it may help Atlanta down the road, it did little to move them closer towards knocking off Cleveland anytime soon.
 
And then there was the Hawks coming to terms on a three-year, $70.5 million deal with Dwight Howard early in the free agency period. That deal coupled with Atlanta’s desire to bring Kent Bazemore back, cast serious doubt as to whether Horford would return.
 
Horford, who inked a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston, told CSNNE.com that at the time of Atlanta’s deal with Howard, he was still open to the idea of returning.
 
But if Horford did, he knew figuring out the best way to play him, Howard and Paul Millsap who by the way has a player option that he’s likely to exercise which would make him a free agent next summer, was not going to be easy.

“It was definitely going to be different,” Horford said, then adding, “For me, the Celtics were becoming more and more a realistic option. After talking with my family, we felt this was the best for me.”
 
And while it’s still very early in his tenure as a Celtic, Horford has no regrets or second thoughts about his decision.
 
“As a player you always want to be in the best position you can,” Horford said. “I felt for me being on this team would put me in a position to be able to contend and win an NBA championship. That’s my ultimate goal.”
 
And that alone makes him a good fit with this franchise which from ownership to the front office to the coaching staff and of course the players, are all focused on one thing and that’s bringing home Banner 18.
 
 “Look at the resume. He’s been a winner wherever he’s played,” said Boston’s Amir Johnson. “It’s good to have a guy like that, with his talent and with his winning, playing next to you.”