Can the Celtics close it out?

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Can the Celtics close it out?

Tonight in Atlanta, the Celtics have a chance to advance to the second round of the playoffs.

At times this season, that accomplishment alone felt nearly impossible, and was seen by some, if not all of us, as a best case scenario for a suddenly deteriorated team.

These days, we look at the second round as the tip of the iceberg. Even if the C's still aren't a super serious threat to bring home Banner 18, they're sure going to put up a fight. And there's not a team in this conference, or the entire league, who would feel comfortable drawing Boston in a seven-game series.

But, before we can talk about the second round, the Celtics have to get there. Which brings us back to tonight, to Boston's close out game against a Hawks team that's just asking for a beating.

Win or lose, the C's will still be in a great position to eventually advance, but as I said earlier today, the time is now to deliver the death blow.

However, looking back on this team's history, finding the killer instinct might not be so easy.

Believe it or not, since this core got together in the summer of 2007, the Celtics are a surprising 8-11 in close out situations.

They've gone into 19 games with a chance to close things out, and 58 percent of the time, they've come up short.

More often than not, the C's had built a big enough cushion to absorb the loss and bounce back to take care of business, and like I said, it's fair to assume that that's what will happen if KG and Co. blow this chance tonight.

But from here on out, they'll be hard-pressed to find a better opportunity to end things early and earn some well-deserved (and much-needed) rest.

The ball goes up 8.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Blakely: This could be the start of something big for Celtics

Blakely: This could be the start of something big for Celtics

BOSTON -- Prior to this year, the Celtics hadn't been to the Eastern Conference finals since 2012. That trip served as a curtain call of sorts for the last great C's dynasty.
 
But this one, which ended with Cleveland's emphatic 135-102 Game 5 victory Thursday at TD Garden, is very different.
 
Rather than closing another chapter in the Celtics' longstanding legacy of greatness, it could serve as the beginning of a new narrative in the franchise's steady growth.
 
"For us to be in the Eastern Conference finals after the first year of this team really being together, adding additions like Al Horford and Gerald Green . . . I can go down the list of guys that we needed to learn to play with, and for us to talk about where we wanted to be and actually make it, it's a big-time accomplishment," said Avery Bradley.
 
Boston has been among the younger teams in the NBA, with the 31-year-old Green being the oldest player on the roster.
 
But what the Celtics lacked in experience, they made up for with great effort.
 
"The great thing about this is the experience," Bradley said. "We were able to go to the Eastern Conference finals, learned a lot about being in this position, and I feel like it's going to help us for next year."
 
But as we all know, the Celtics will look to strengthen themsevles this offseason, which means there's a very good chance they'll have a different look when they gather again in the fall.
 
How different is anyone's guess.
 
"It's difficult every year whenever you don't have guys back," said coach Brad Stevens. "I think you share a bond (over the course of a season)."
 
Stevens and this group have been together for eight months. Eight months of struggles, successes, frustrating defeats and euphoric victories that brought them to the conference finals, which is where their season came to an end.
 
But as disappointed as the players and coaches are inow, there's definite excitement about this franchise in the very near future.
 
Boston has the No. 1 overall pick in next month's draft, with all indications -- for now -- pointing to Washington's Markelle Fultz as their choice.
 
And their top first-round pick from a year ago, Jaylen Brown, seemed to steadily improve as the season progressed. It was one of the few times in his life where minutes weren't just handed to him, which he admits was a learning experience unlike anything he had ever had, yet he adjusted and played better as the year went along.

"I've had ups, I've had downs, I've had opportunities, I've had mistakes," said Brown. "So I've been learning and growing and improving all year and I'm going to continue growing and improving and prove people wrong, prove doubters wrong."
 
Having the season end the way it did has indeed left a bad taste in the mouths of many Celtics.
 
"I can use it as fuel," Brown said, adding: "I want to get back to the same place I'm at now."
 
Bradley, who was on the 2012 team that lost to the Miami Heat in the conference finals, knows the Celtics are going to do whatever they feel is necessary to give them the best chance at competing for a title.
 
"It's out of our control as players," Bradley said. "We had a great year together. If guys are here, if guys aren't, we all wish the best for each other.

"But I do feel this is a special group. We all gave our heart every single night, played as hard as we could. I respect all my teammates, and I really appreciated playing with all the guys I had a chance to play with this year; a special group."