C's and Hawks teams not the same as '08

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C's and Hawks teams not the same as '08

ATLANTA Many of the faces look familiar on both sidelines.

But make no mistake about it, the Boston Celtics and the Atlanta Hawks of this year are quite different than the two teams that squared off in the playoffs four years ago.

At that time, the Celtics were the prohibitive favorite while the Hawks, truth be told, were a young team that for the most part was happy to be in the postseason.

Fast forward to tonight's game, one that will begin on the Hawks home floor - not the Celtics - and features a Celtics team nearing the end of its Big Three era facing a much-improved and more seasoned Atlanta team.

"We got playoff experience now," said Atlanta's Josh Smith, one of five Hawks from the '08 team that took the C's to the brink of elimination before being disposed of in seven games. "Back then we were a raw team as far as experience in the playoffs go. We were just playing with talent."

The C's had talent, experience and the drive to win a championship which is exactly what the Celtics did that season in bringing home Banner 17.

While this Boston team has those same aspirations, the odds are more stacked against them now than ever.

Part of that can be attributed to their record (39-27) which for significant stretches of the season, was at or below .500.

Atlanta's Joe Johnson was among those who thought at some point, the Celtics would get on track and make a run towards the playoffs this season.

He was right.

"They basically got three Hall of famers on their team," Johnson said. "You got a veteran group that knows how to get it done."

Smith added, "we know how big this moment is for us. The margin of error is thin as ice. We have to be able to go out and protect our home court; understand the importance of that."

While much has been made of the Celtics and their ability to win on the road, the numbers suggest success away from the Garden won't be as easy as some might believe.

Since the 2008 title team, the Celtics are a not-so-stellar 13-22 on the road.

But here's the thing.

They only need to win one game outside of the Garden in order to have home court advantage tilt in their favor.

And while their 13-22 playoff road record during the Big Three era isn't overly impressive, the Celtics have won at least one road game in nine of their last 10 playoff series.

"We just try to take it one game at a time," said Boston's Rajon Rondo. "This is a big series for us. We don't want to overlook anyone; respect every opponent and try to get a (Game 1) win."

After a number of Celtics players spent games during the final week not playing in order to be more rested for the playoffs, there was a perception across the league that the Celtics didn't care for home court advantage against the Hawks, the kind of thing that could easily be twisted into being seen as a lack of respect.

C's coach Doc Rivers has maintained for weeks that he'll take rest over a run towards home court advantage if he had to choose one over the other.

Still, the Celtics have gone out of their way this week to make sure that the Hawks don't feel slighted by Rivers' strategic rest plan.

"This is a team that's more than capable (of winning the series)," said Boston's Paul Pierce. "They've been together a long time. This is not going to be a cake walk. We'll definitely have our work cut out for us."

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."