Celtics sneak by Heat, 78-66, can still get home-court

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Celtics sneak by Heat, 78-66, can still get home-court

BOSTON For weeks, Doc Rivers and the Boston Celtics talked about home court advantage the same way they talked about winning the Atlantic Division - it'd be nice, but not a necessity.

For most of this season, the Celtics' main guys carried them to the division title. But on Tuesday, it was the reserves positioning them for a shot at beginning the playoffs at home with a 78-66 win over the Miami Heat.

The Celtics have maintained that rest will come before a strong run towards trying to secure home court advantage.

And rest was indeed in order on Tuesday for both Boston and Miami.

The Heat gave their Big Three - LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh - the night off. Boston countered with giving Kevin Garnett the night off, although his rest was in part because of a sore hip flexor injury. Boston was already planning to play without Ray Allen, whose right ankle injury is still sore. In addition, the C's also played without Rajon Rondo (back), Greg Stiemsma (feet) and Mickael Pietrus (right knee).

Boston was led by Sasha Pavlovic's 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting. The C's also got a strong game from Marquis Daniels off the bench with 13 points and five rebounds. Miami got 11 points from James Jones off the bench.

As for home court, it's pretty simple.

A win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday coupled with an Atlanta loss to the Dallas Mavericks would result in the C's and Hawks having an identical 39-27 record with the tie-breaker - and home court advantage - going to the Celtics.

The Celtics didn't look like a team headed for a blowout victory, with the first points not coming until Paul Pierce hit a 10-footer with 5:45 to play in the first quarter which ended with the Celtics trailing,17-10.

Boston opened the second with an 8-0 run to take their first lead of the game, a spurt that was sparked by Marquis Daniels who had eight points and five rebounds at the half.

However, the Heat backups, led by James Jones, regained the lead and went into the half ahead, 34-28.

It remained a low-scoring affair in the third quarter, but the C's were able to make the game even closer and went into the fourth tied at 50.

And with the win, Boston has positioned itself for the playoffs to start here at the Garden.

"Home court is great," said C's Paul Pierce. "You want to have home court, you want to play for home court. At the end of the day, we want to be healthy first. We're definitely a better home team than road team, but at this point we feel like if we're healthy we have a chance in anybody's building. We've shown we can beat anybody in the Eastern Conference in their building."
HOT SHOT: Sasha Pavlovic had the hot hand when it mattered most for Boston, leading all scorers with 16 points - 12 of which came in the fourth quarter. "If I'm wide open I shouldn't be hesitant," Pavlovic said. "And that's what I'm trying to do. The most important thing with me, just don't think and shoot the ball when I'm wide open."
IN-N-OUT: It has been awhile since Avery Bradley had a dud of a game shooting, so he was more than due for a night like this. He finished with eight points, but missed eight of his 10 shots from the field. Like Paul Pierce and Brandon Bass, Bradley never looked comfortable playing without the usual cast in the starting lineup.

"I just kept saying, 'the quicker we get the starters off the floor, the better the chance we have to win the game,'" Rivers said. "And the reason is, I thought mentally it was very challenging for them. Brandon, Avery and Paul. I really did. I just thought they looked around and they didn't see anyone out there and they were just trying to do more stuff."

SUPER SUB: Marquis Daniels came up with another strong night off the bench for the Celtics, delivering the kind of all-around game that the C's haven't seen nearly enough of this season. He had 13 points, five rebounds, four assists, two steals and a blocked shot. "It's good timing," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "We need it."
TURNING POINT: Leading 60-56, the Celtics got a driving dunk followed by a 3-pointer from Sasha Pavlovic that put the C's ahead by nine points. Boston's control of the game was never in doubt afterward.
QUOTE OF NOTE: "Well, someone had to win the game. And we did, which was really nice." - Celtics head coach Doc Rivers.

The '86 Celtics Interviews podcast (Ep.8): Dan Shaughnessy

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The '86 Celtics Interviews podcast (Ep.8): Dan Shaughnessy

Boston Globe columnist, and former Celtics beat writer, Dan Shaughnessy sits down with CSN for an extended discussion on "The '86 Celtics Interviews" podcast. Shaughnessy talks about the greatness of that team and the players' surprising reaction when they found out he was moving from the Celtics to the Red Sox beat.

Starter, bench or DNP: Zeller ready for any role with Celtics

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Starter, bench or DNP: Zeller ready for any role with Celtics

Every weekday until Sept. 7, we'll take a look at each player at the Celtics roster: Their strengths and their weaknesses, their ceiling and their floor. We continue today with Tyler Zeller. For a look at the other profiles, click here.

BOSTON – The NBA is a league full of highs and lows for players.

There are few who understand this as well as Tyler Zeller, a player who has gone from starting to being a backup to not playing at all – at times in the same week.

And through it all, you never heard him gripe about it publicly or privately to teammates.

It’s among the many reasons you constantly hear his teammates talk about how much they respect the way he has handled some extremely difficult situations.

This past season was especially tough for him considering he was heading into free agency and looking to do all he could to not just win, but showcase what he could do as player.

There were many nights when Zeller didn’t have that opportunity, but he understood.

The Celtics have been and will continue to be a team that’s about finding ways to win and on many nights coach Brad Stevens decided to go in a direction that didn’t include Zeller playing.

As the summer dragged on and the Celtics’ joined the handful of teams that came up short in landing Kevin Durant, Zeller’s return became more likely.

And Zeller’s patience was rewarded with a two-year, $16 million contract with the second year of the deal being a team option.

Now that he’s back in the fold, what’s next?

The ceiling for Zeller: Part-time starter

It may not happen on opening night and it may not happen in the first week, or even first month, of the season.

But at some point, Tyler Zeller will be in the Celtics’ starting lineup.

And when he’s there, he’ll do a lot of good things that he has proven he’s capable of doing.

When it comes to running the floor in transition, Zeller has distinguished himself as one of the Celtics best big men.

The Celtics are big on playing with space and pace and there are few 7-footers who can run the floor as well as Zeller.

In fact, his PACE (number of possessions per 48 minutes) last season was 101.93 which was tops among all Celtics frontcourt players and second overall to guard Marcus Smart (102.46).

It’ll get the Celtics a few easy buckets here and there, but it won’t score enough points with the coaching staff to keep a starting job, which would then relegate him back to being one of the team’s frontcourt reserves.

Still, Zeller is a luxury that few teams have: a player who won’t get (overly) bent out of shape even if his minutes resemble this.

The floor for Zeller: On the roster

Zeller has spent the bulk of his NBA career as a back-to-the-basket center, but showed more desire to score more from the perimeter last season, which is one of the reasons why he shot a career-low 47.6 percent from the field.

He’s trying to expand his game because of the direction that the NBA is going with big men who need to be able to score further away from the basket in addition to providing a presence around the rim.

While Zeller has decent mechanics on his perimeter shot, it’s clear that he’s not yet totally comfortable being a “stretch big.”

According to NBA.com/stats, Zeller shot 30.9 percent from the field last season on wide open shot attempts from at least 10 feet away.

With the addition of Al Horford and the return of Amir Johnson as well as Kelly Olynyk, Boston has a nice group of stretch centers they can put on the floor. And let’s not forget about Jonas Jerebko, who closed out the playoffs as a starter for Boston.

Minutes will once again be hard to come by for Zeller with any kind of consistency.

In fact, there’s a very good chance that he will have some games in which he doesn’t play (coaches decision) at all.

And depending on injuries, he may have to be inactive at times just to ensure Boston has depth on the perimeter.

Whether he’s starting, coming off the bench or not suited up at all, Zeller is an important part of this Celtics squad. Above all else, he provides depth, which continues to be one of the hallmarks for this franchise under Stevens.