With playoffs here, time for Celtics to show up

With playoffs here, time for Celtics to show up
April 18, 2013, 12:00 pm
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Playoff Preview

BOSTON - The Boston Celtics schedule is littered with games that the C's felt they gave away.

Two losses to Charlotte.

Two losses to New Orleans.

Three losses to Milwaukee.

The list is a lengthy one that speaks to how the Celtics (41-40) began the season with lofty goals of being firmly entrenched in discussions about winning a title, and yet find themselves limping into the playoffs just a game above-.500 following a season-ending 114-90 loss on Wednesday to Toronto, yet another sub-.500 team to beat them this season.

And yet even with all the setbacks and struggles - too many of the self-inflicted variety - there is a chance to make amends of the sins that come with having too many games of in which they just showed up, and not enough in which they showed up to play with purpose.

The road to redemption starts on Saturday when the seventh-seeded Celtics take on the No. 2 seed New York Knicks in Game 1 of their best-of-seven playoff series.

New York ended the C's five-year reign as the Atlantic Division champion, and in the process claimed their first division title since 1994.

Head-to-head, New York also came out on top with victories in three of their four regular season games.

That said, you won't find the Celtics shaking in their boots about facing a Knicks team that has beaten them by an average of 12.3 points per win.

"As a team we're very confident," said Boston's Kevin Garnett. "We've never lacked when it comes to confidence. Since I've been here, we've always been a close-knit group and we've never set out to say we were going to do X, Y, Z.

Garnett added, "We've always during playoffs taken it one game at a time and focused on not just each series but each game as they come. That's the formula since I've been here that we've used."

But Garnett's biggest concern about the C's - consistency - is no different than most.

"We're bonded, but how consistent we are with our system and things, that's a different story," Garnett said.

The playoffs are indeed a chance to start anew, which is exactly why the Celtics are so eager to get things going and feel good about their chances at success in the postseason.

"We've shown an ability to beat the teams at the top," said Boston's Paul Pierce. "The only main concern is maintaining that level of play for a consistent amount of games. We've been up; we've been down."

And that more than anything else, explains why the Celtics have been a .500 team most of this season.

And while there are lessons to be learned from this past season, the C's mindset is one in which they refuse to allow their sometimes dizzying, up-and-down season to blur their focus on getting past New York.

"The objective is to still win," said Boston's Jeff Green. "That's all we really care about. We know what we can do and we know we can beat this team. We believe we have a good opportunity to win a championship. We just have to take care of what we can control."

Funny thing is, that has been the problem with the Celtics all season.

When they have been in position to take control of situations, far too often they stumble.

Whether it was a missed rotation defensively, a blown lay-up or just simply not playing with great energy or effort, the Celtics have squandered away several opportunities at success all season.

But just when it seems time to write the obituary on their season, the Celtics have surprisingly come to life and played with the kind of fight and passion and purpose that is required in order to be successful.

And that has many wondering - including the Celtics - as to which team will show up for the playoffs.

Will it be the one that reeled off a season-best seven straight wins after Rajon Rondo went down for the season with a torn right ACL injury?

Or will it be the one folks saw in January that lost six in a row and then followed that up by winning six straight.

"We definitely haven't had the kind of season we wanted to have this year," Celtics guard Jason Terry told CSNNE.com recently. "Some of that was injuries and all the new faces, but at the end of the day, it's on us. We didn't get the job done as well as we should have or could have in the regular season. But the playoffs ... that's what this team is about."

Only three times in this franchise's history have they gone into the playoffs seeded as low as they are now.

And all three of those playoff series ended with Boston heading home for good after the first round.

Despite the odds, the C's confidence is far from shaken or stirred.

A lot of that has to do with the fact that despite their record and status heading into the playoffs, Celtics coach Doc Rivers sees his team as one of the many hopefuls still in the hunt for an NBA title even though their record and overall play this season suggests they have a major uphill fight if they are to knock off the Knicks.

"You (media) guys call us the underdog. We don't feel any different," Rivers said. "We were an underdog seed last year. For us, we just keep rolling."

The Celtics shocked many last season as they advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference finals with the fifth-best record in the conference (they were a fourth seed because they won their division, but Atlanta had home court advantage in their best-of-seven first-round series) and even had a chance to move on to the NBA Finals before losing Games 6 and 7 to eventual NBA champion Miami Heat.

But the playoff picture changed dramatically in the first round when Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose suffered an ACL injury that knocked him out of the playoffs - and soon after, his Bulls teammates joined him after being sent home by Philadelphia which made for a much smoother road to the Conference finals for Boston.

Those are the kind of breaks that you can't plan for, but certainly come into play for a team like Boston that this time of year, is looking to start anew.