Celtics hope playoff jitters are in the past

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Celtics hope playoff jitters are in the past

ATLANTA Josh Smith and the rest of the Atlanta Hawks recognize and respect the Boston Celtics as a veteran team with loads of experience.

But the C's do have a couple youngsters, Avery Bradley and Greg Stiemsma, in the rotation who are seeing their first postseason action now.

While there were moments in which those first-playoff game jitters were apparent in Sunday's Game 1 loss, both seemed to get more comfortable as the game proceeded.

It was the kind of in-game growth that the Celtics hope will pay off with more consistent performance by both - and a Celtics win - tonight's Game 2 matchup.

"As a coach, you go into the game expecting a couple of your guys - not just the rookies, but the guys who haven't played with you - to struggle," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "Unfortunately, I thought all of them did."

Rivers said he was pleased with Stiemsma, adding that he was the one bright spot among the rookies and newcomers in Sunday's loss.

Stiemsma, who had nine rebounds off the bench, acknowledged that he was a little nervous heading into the game.

"I was tossing and turning a little bit the night before, not really knowing what to expect, knowing this was going to be another level," Stiemsma said. "But at the same time, you just have to bring it down. It's a simple game. It's the same game I've been playing for a long time. Obviously the stakes have never been higher; but just try to do the things that I do well, keep it simple and play my game."

As for Bradley who has been instrumental in the Celtics' turnaround after the all-star break, Rivers thought he was "pressing" too much.

"He was activating his thoughts instead of activating his instincts," Rivers said. "We want him to stay instinctive; we don't want him to be a thought player. We want him to be an instinctive player."

That'll be tough tonight with Rajon Rondo (suspension) out, which means Bradley will move over to the point guard position and be joined by Mickael Pietrus in the backcourt.

"Now he (Bradley) has to actually be in thought again," Rivers said. "It is what it is. But we have to get him back to playing on instincts."

Their struggles aren't all that different than what most NBA players experience during their first playoff run.

Atlanta's Josh Smith recalls how his emotions were all over the map during his first foray with the playoffs.

"I know how inexperienced I was first time around," Smith said. "I was playing like a wild man, not knowing what I was expecting; just going out there and playing, gaining experience as it went along. They're slowly but surely gaining experience. When you have a couple of postseasons under your belt, you really understand and know the importance of it."

Knowing the Celtics have a few new faces playing regular minutes, you can bet the Hawks will once again try to use that to their advantage tonight.

"We want to use our experience, to our advantage," said Atlanta's Joe Johnson. "Hopefully it works to our advantage."

Blakely: Thomas isn't a starter, but new All-Star voting is an improvement

Blakely: Thomas isn't a starter, but new All-Star voting is an improvement

BOSTON – There’s certainly some disappointment among Celtics Nation that Isaiah Thomas just missed out on being an All-Star starter in the East.

But one thing we can certainly see with the new voting system … it works way better than the old way of choosing starters.

This was the first year that the NBA decided to allow current NBA players as well as a select panel of media choose who the starting five in the Eastern and Western Conferences would be.

The fan vote would count for 50 percent while media and players would each represent 25 percent of the final tally.

From there, the players would receive a fan ranking, a media ranking and a player ranking.

Because of the aforementioned breakdown – fans count for 50 percent while media and players represent 25 percent of the vote – the fan ranking would be counted twice while the media and player rankings would be counted once.

Let’s look at Isaiah Thomas’ situation which ultimately came down to him and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan for the final starting spot in the backcourt.

Thomas was fourth in the fan voting, second in the player voting and first among guards in the media voting. So when you add the fan voting (4 *2) + player voting (2 *1) + media voting (1*1), you get a total of 11 which is then divided by 4 to arrive at a score of 2.75.

Now let’s look at DeRozan.

He was third in the fan voting, third in the player ranking and second in the media voting among guards. So his score when you add the fan voting (3*2) + player voting (3*1) + media voting (2*1), you get a total of 11 which when divided by 4 brings you to a score of 2.75 – same as Thomas.

The tiebreaker was the fan vote which meant DeRozan and not Thomas, would get the starting nod in next month’s All-Star game.

As much as it may suck that Thomas lost out because of this system, he would not have had a shot at being a starter under the old system in which the fans were the ones to pick starters.

In fact, it would have been Chicago’s Dwyane Wade in the starting lineup under the old system.

No disrespect to D-Wade, but he has not had an All-Star worthy season. And had the old system been in place, he would be an all-star and thus take up a roster spot of another player who frankly, is more deserving.

And if you take a glance out West, they too would have had a starter who has not had an All-Star caliber season.

Golden State’s Zaza Pachulia finished second in the voting among Western Conference forwards, fueled in large part to his home country, Georgia, voting early and often for him. Because of the media and player voting, Pachulia wound up sixth among Western Conference big men which is still too high when you consider some of the players behind him – Memphis’ Marc Gasol, Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge and Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan – who are all having better seasons.

While no one would say this new system is perfect, considering how this year’s voting would have panned out under the old rules, this change by the league is a good one that should stick around.

NOTE: I was among the media panelists selected by the NBA to vote for this year’s All-Star starters. My selections in the East were Cleveland’s LeBron James, Kevin Love and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo in the frontcourt with Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving and Boston’s Isaiah Thomas in the backcourt. My Western Conference selections were Kevin Durant of Golden State, Anthony Davis of New Orleans and Kawhi Leonard of San Antonio in the frontcourt, with Houston’s James Harden and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook in the backcourt.