Celtics' experience trumps 76ers' youth in crunch time

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Celtics' experience trumps 76ers' youth in crunch time

BOSTON When it comes to playoff experience, it has a way of popping up when you least expect it.

That certainly was the case in Boston's 92-91 Game 1 win over Philadelphia, a game in which the Celtics' edge in veteran savvy appeared to play out in the pivotal fourth quarter.

A lay-up by Kevin Garnett with 2:52 to play gave the Celtics an 85-84 lead. They would maintain that lead for the rest of the game, the longest stretch of the night in which the C's were ahead.

Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala said afterward that the loss was "a little bit frustrating" when you consider that for most of the night, the Sixers were in control.

Despite trailing most of the night, C's coach Doc Rivers never sensed there was any panic or fear in his team that they couldn't come back and at the very least, give themselves a chance to win.

"It's funny, when we cut the lead the first time and then they pumped it back up to seven, nine, I'm not sure what it was, I didn't feel bad about the game," Rivers said. "I didn't know if we were going to win or lose; I did feel like mentally our guys were still very much in the game. And, to me, that's a good sign. That doesn't mean you're going to win it, but that means you're going to stay in it and you're going to keep playing the right way."

The Sixers' inability to close out the game down the stretch can be attributed to many things, with the experience gap between the two teams near the top of that list.

"We have to grow from these situations," Iguodala said. "We have a lot of young guys who play a lot of minutes for us. So, end of games, end of halves, those situations and scenarios you can only learn in the situations in the playoffs."

For Boston, Saturday's win was like a refresher course in getting it done in the clutch 101.

It just seemed that when the game was anyone's for the taking, Boston made all the right moves whether it was Rondo drilling a go-ahead jumper, to the C's getting the ball deep into the post to Kevin Garnett, or how they were able to run out the clock at the very end as Rajon Rondo out-ran Evan Turner.

"Experience showed a little bit, especially showed a little bit, especially with the plays they made," Iguodala said. "They knew exactly what they were going to get into and execute it. When we had our two minutes where we really didn't get anything good at the basket, that showed we were trying to figure out what we were going to do. By the time we figured it out, there was five or six seconds on the shot clock and we'd get up a bad shot. But they executed, so in that area we can learn from."

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

BOSTON – Prior to Saturday’s game, Terry Rozier talked to CSNNE.com about the importance of staying ready always, because “you never know when your name or number is going to be called.”

Like when trailing by three points in the fourth quarter with less than 10 seconds to play?

Yes, Rozier was on the floor in that scenario and the second-year guard delivered when his team needed it.

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But Rozier’s fourth quarter heroics which forced overtime against Portland, did not provide that much-needed jolt that Boston needed as the Blazers managed to fend off the Celtics in overtime, 127-123.

For Rozier’s part, he had 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

The 15 points scored for Rozier was the most for him since he tallied 16 in a 30-point Celtics win at Orlando on Dec. 7.

But more than the points, the decision by head coach Brad Stevens to draw up a play for him in that moment, a time when most of what Boston does revolves around the shooting of Isaiah Thomas who has been among the top-3 scorers in the fourth quarter most of this season, was surprising to many.

And at that point in the game, Thomas already had 13 fourth-quarter points.

Stevens confirmed after the game that the last shot in the fourth was indeed for Rozier, but Thomas’ presence on the floor was important to its execution.

“He (Thomas) also draws a lot of attention,” Stevens said. “So I think you just weigh kind of … what kind of shot you’re going to get, depending on who it is.”

Rozier had initially screened for Thomas, and Thomas came back and screened for him.

“I was open as soon as I caught … and I let it fly,” Rozier said. “Coach drew up a play for me and it felt good to see the ball go in.”

Being on the floor at that time, win or lose, was a victory of sorts for Rozier.

He has seen first-hand how quickly the tide can change in the NBA for a young player.

After a strong summer league showing and a solid training camp, Rozier had earned himself a firm spot in the team’s regular rotation.

But a series of not-so-great games coupled with Gerald Green’s breakout night on Christmas Day, led to his playing time since then becoming more sporadic.

Rozier, in an interview with CSNNE.com, acknowledged it hasn’t been easy going from playing regular minutes to not being sure how much court time, if any, he would receive.

But he says the veterans on the team have been good about keeping his spirits up, and one in particular – Avery Bradley – has been especially helpful.

Like Rozier, Bradley’s first couple of years saw his playing time go from non-existent to inconsistent. But Bradley stayed the course and listened to the team’s veterans who continued to tell him that his hard work would pay off sooner or later.

Those same words of wisdom Bradley received in his early days, he passes on to Rozier.

“It’s big,” Rozier told CSNNE.com. “He (Bradley) tells me things like that. I felt I was ready for this (inconsistent minutes) after all that he told me. It’s big to have a guy like him that has been through it all with a championship team, been around this organization for a while; have him talk to you is big. It’s always good. That’s why I stay positive, and be ready.”

Which is part of the reason why Stevens didn’t hesitate to call up a play for the second-year guard despite him being a 33.3 percent shooter from 3-point range this season – that ranks eighth on this team, mind you.

“He’s a really good shooter,” Stevens said of Rozier. “I think with more opportunity that will show itself true, but he made some big ones in the fourth quarter. We went to him a few different times out of time-outs, and felt good about him making that one.”

And to know that Stevens will turn to him not just to spell Thomas or one of the team’s other guards, but to actually make a game-altering play in the final seconds … that’s major.

“It helps tremendously,” said Rozier who added that his confidence is through “the roof. It makes me want to do everything. You know defense, all of that. It’s great, especially to have a guy like Brad trust you."