OFFSEASON

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."

OFFSEASON

Blakely: Boston becoming a favored destination for free agents

Blakely: Boston becoming a favored destination for free agents

BOSTON -- In some circles the pursuit of Dwight Howard by the Boston Celtics is just as perplexing as Boston being one of the six teams getting an audience with Kevin Durant and, with that, a shot at the Durant sweepstakes this summer. 
 
Both serve as examples of how the Celts are no longer at the back of the line when it comes to being a potential destination for the best free agents. 
 
Of course it’s about sealing the deal, and getting the best free agents on the market under contract, and all that good stuff.
 
But before that can happen, Boston has to be seen as a place to even be seriously considered by free agents. That's exactly what we’re starting to see happen right now.
 
It’s easy to point to the Celtics having a ton of salary cap space, which in itself makes them a possible landing spot for players who we all know will be hauling in max to near-max salaries this offseason.
 
But there’s just one problem with that line of thought. More than half the league enters free agency with enough money to sign one max player.

The fact that Boston is on the short list for the summer’s top free agent (Durant) and have already secured a sit-down with one of the top centers (Howard) says a lot in terms of how far Boston has come in the eyes of players. 
 
And several factors point towards the Celtics getting an audience with other top-shelf free agents this summer if they fail to secure one or two of their top choices.
 
But let’s not kid ourselves. How others view this franchise is the reality of what the Celtics have to deal with when it comes to adding elite, upper-echelon talent like Durant. 
 
The fact that Durant is willing to include Boston in his short-list of teams is a bit of a head-scratcher when you see that the Celtics are the farthest away from the group in terms of competing for an NBA title (although an argument can be made that they are neck-and-neck with the Miami Heat along those lines). Durant has said in the past that would be something he would be looking for in whatever team he signed with.
 
The biggest selling point the Celtics have to offer Durant or any other free agent (besides money) is that they are a franchise on the rise, they have stability on the floor with Brad Stevens as the head coach, and they have stability in the front office with Danny Ainge. Both Stevens and Ainge signed long-term extensions earlier this month. 
 
And one of the perks that players who come to Boston quickly discover is the fan base, which is about as rabid a group as you'll find in the NBA.
 
There’s no mistaking they wear their emotions on their sleeves, whether it’s cheering the team on following a season-ending playoff loss, or booing the owner after the team makes a draft pick they don’t particularly care for. 
 
They bleed green!
 
Add all those things up and it’s clear that Boston has the kind of environment, the kind of culture, where a star can come and thrive. 
 
The Celtics and their fans have known this for a while.
 
Now it seems some of the game’s best players are starting to catch on, as well.

OFFSEASON

Is it curious that Kevin Durant is even giving the Celtics an audience?

Is it curious that Kevin Durant is even giving the Celtics an audience?

Mike Felger, Dan Shaughnessy and Glenn Ordway wonder why the Celtics are even getting a meeting with Kevin Durant when free agency begins. Does it mean they have a legitimate chance of signing him?