Blakely: Celtics-Sixers preview


Blakely: Celtics-Sixers preview

BOSTON From their big-time stars to their bench players, the Boston Celtics enter their second round playoff series against Philadelphia a team with lots of concerns - most related to their health.

Ray Allen has a bum right ankle injury and is questionable for Game 1 tonight. Paul Pierce (left knee) says he's good to go, but there's no telling if his sprained MCL injury will become bothersome enough to limit his effectiveness.

There are others, many others, who have health-related issues that make their impact highly questionable going into this second-round series.

Even with uncertain status of some Celtics players, Boston is still the overwhelming favorite against a Philadelphia team that won two of the three regular season matchups.

With the quick turn-around from their first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, Celtics coach Doc Rivers makes no secret about how tough it will be for his team to move past the Sixers.

"It's a challenge because of our bodies," Rivers said. "The Sixers are pretty healthy right now; we're not. So that's the challenge."

Rivers usually gives his team the day off in between games, but he made somewhat of an exception following Thursday's series-clinching win over Atlanta.

The team returned to the basketball court Friday afternoon, although Rivers said they would not practice. Instead, they gathered at the practice facility to start their video preparation for the Sixers in addition to installing parts of their defensive game plan.

"Ray is struggling today (physically), Paul is struggling today (physically)," Rivers said. "The advantages we have is we don't have to get in a plane. Our guys can sleep in (their own) bed and get some rest."

Rest is exactly what Pierce can't get enough of right now.

As far as his sprained MCL injury being a factor in Game 1, Pierce was succinct when asked about how he's feeling.

"Good enough to play (tonight)," said Pierce, who added that it won't get better until he gives it a chance to rest when the season is over.

While there's little doubt that Pierce will be in the starting lineup, how effective will he be is another matter.

The sprained MCL injury in his left knee impacts a part of Pierce's game that, frankly, is a huge part of what makes him one of the league's better one-on-one scorers.

"It really doesn't bother me when I walk around or when I jump straight up," Pierce said. "It's more if I turn the knee in a certain position, it sort of re-aggravates it. I don't have a problem getting up and down the court. It's just there are certain parts of the game where you get into the lane, the physicality of the game, to where you're turning the knee. That's why I'm wearing two knee braces just to kind of prevent that. As far moving up and down laterally, that's OK."

Health is always a factor in the playoffs, but is getting more attention than usual because of 1) the fact that this season was shorter because of the lockout, and 2) we have already seen one team (Chicago) eliminated from the playoffs due to being without their best player, Derrick Rose.

The Sixers will not make any apologies - nor should they - for beating the Bulls and advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

They came into the postseason as an eighth seed in part because one of their key players, Spencer Hawes, went down early in the season with an Achilles Tendon injury. While Philadelphia eventually figured out how to win in his absence, his return disrupted the team's flow and the end result was an end-of-the-season swoon that had many wondering if the Sixers could win a game, let alone the series, against a Chicago team even without Rose who suffered a torn ACL in his left knee near the end of Game 1 in the series.

In the Bulls series, the Sixers' confidence seemed to only grow with each victory that moved them one step closer to joining one of the most exclusive clubs in the NBA - eighth-seeded teams to knock off a top-seed.

Philadelphia became just the fifth team to knock off a top-seeded Goliath, the kind of feat that's sure to get the attention of any team - especially the team that you're about to face in the next round of the playoffs.

"They play with a lot of energy; they play together," said Kevin Garnett. "They know who they are. They're a young team, and they're playing with a lot of confidence."

It should be even higher when you consider the success they had over Boston, even if the C's were on the back end of a back-to-back in all three matchups this season.

"I'm a little happier that they beat us in the fashion that they did during the regular season," Allen said. "Beating them 3-0, if we did in the regular season, you come in a little too cocky and arrogant. But since they beat us, the two times out of three, we know this team is capable and they've had our number. We have to really zone in and focus on beating them and taking care of all those things that we didn't do well in playing them."