Celtics to face red-hot Knicks in Round One

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Celtics to face red-hot Knicks in Round One

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

WASHINGTON Lately, the Boston Celtics have had this nasty habit of making things much harder on themselves than needed.

Keeping true to form, that goes for their playoff fortunes as well.

Boston's 95-94 overtime loss to the Washington Wizards, coupled with a win by Miami and a loss by Philadelphia -- all on Monday -- have the Celtics locked in as the No. 3 seed against the No. 6 seed New York Knicks, one of the hottest teams in the NBA right now.

While the two teams will face each other in the regular-season finale on Wednesday, there's no point in trying to glean too much information from that game.

"We're going to rest guys on Wednesday and get ready," said coach Doc Rivers, who held Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett out of action on Monday and will likely keep them out on Wednesday, along with Jermaine O'Neal. "I'm sure they'll do the same."

In other words, for those looking for a preview of the Pierce-Carmelo Anthony matchup, chances are very good that you won't see either on the floor on Wednesday.

While there may not be a lot to gain from Wednesday's matchup, there are benefits to knowing who they'll face in the first round right now.

"That's not a bad thing," Rivers said.

What has been bad in spurts lately, is the Celtics' play.

They come into their regular-season finale having lost three of their last four games, the kind of late-season slump no team that's seriously thinking about winning a title, should be riding as they gear up for the postseason.

Despite the struggles, players sound convinced that it won't be an issue once the playoffs arrive.

"The playoffs are a different level," said Celtics forward Jeff Green. "Every possession counts. We just have to continue to move forward. We can't look back to what we did in the past. We have to put that behind us and continue to get better."

Added Glen Davis: "Everyone is ready, so I'm not worried about losing three of the last four games," he said. "We still have one more game and then it's a new season. That's how we see the playoffs. We're ready to play at that level."

In New York, Boston faces one of the more explosive trios in the NBA.

Amar'e Stoudemire has been joined by Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, forming their own Gotham version of the Big Three.

While New York has had its share of ups and downs this season, they seem to be figuring out how to get wins at just the right time.

The Knicks have won seven in a row, which is currently tied with top-seeded Chicago for the longest current winning streak in the NBA.

"They're going to be challenging," Green said.

Which is why many within Celtics Nation were hoping that the Celtics would avoid facing a red-hot New York Knicks team, and instead square off against a Philadelphia 76ers club that's high on athleticism but lacking playoff experience.

While the Celtics have a number of players with a decent postseason resume, the majority of this Celtics team wasn't around last season. So for many, this is their first go-around with a team like Boston where competing for a championship isn't something that's desired - it's an expectation.

"We are taking the same intensity and focus into these playoffs as we always do," said Ray Allen. "We don't have the same team and it is going to be great experience for our new additions to play at the playoff level. You can't expect anything going into the playoffs. You just have to go in full force and make it happen. It's not something to be comfortable about; you have to go in with an attitude and play your best."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Young getting on floor more for Celtics, including key fourth-quarter stints

Young getting on floor more for Celtics, including key fourth-quarter stints

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – For most of his life, basketball has come easy to James Young.
 
So, the idea that in training camp he wasn’t just fighting to get playing time but also to stay in the NBA, was a jarring eye-opener.
 
To Young’s credit, he rose to the challenge and beat out R.J. Hunter for the Celtics' final roster spot.
 
And while Young’s playing time has been sporadic, he has done a much better job of maximizing his opportunities.
 
So, as the Celtics roll into Detroit to face the Pistons, Young finds himself playing his best basketball as a pro, good enough to make coach Brad Stevens not hesitate to put him in the game in the fourth quarter of a close matchup.
 
“It’s exciting to come back home,” Young, who grew up in nearby Rochester Hills, Mich., told CSNNE.com. “A lot of my family will be there. I’m not thinking about me. I’m just trying to do what I can to help the team.”
 
And lately, he’s getting an opportunity to do just that beyond being someone who helps in practice.
 
We saw that in the 107-97 loss at Toronto on Friday. Young came off the bench to play four minutes, 36 seconds in the fourth quarter with only two other Celtics reserves, Marcus Smart (8:39) and Jonas Jerebko (5:10) seeing more action down the stretch.
 
“It means a lot,” Young said. “He’s starting to trust me a little bit more. That’s a good thing. I’m just trying to do little things; rebound, get defensive stops and score when I get a chance.”
 
The fact that his scoring is just starting to take shape helps shed some light on why he has been buried so deep on the Celtics bench.
 
For his first couple seasons, Young seemed a hesitant shooter physically overwhelmed by opponents too strong for him to defend as well as too physical for him to limit their effectiveness.
 
But this season, he has done a better job at holding his own as a defender while making himself an available scoring option who can play off his teammates.
 
Young is averaging just 2.9 points per game this season, but he’s shooting a career-high 48.9 percent from the field and 41.7 percent on 3’s, which is also a career-high.
 
Getting on the floor more often has in many ways provided yet another boost of confidence to Young.
 
“I’m getting used to the flow of the game playing more consistently,” Young said. “I know what to do. It’s slowing up a little more and it’s getting easier.”
 

Blakely: Raptors newcomers show Celtics what they're missing

Blakely: Raptors newcomers show Celtics what they're missing

TORONTO – It’s far too soon to say if the Celtics’ decision to stand pat at the trade deadline was a mistake.
 
But the early returns aren’t encouraging.
 
Their 107-97 loss Friday night to the Toronto Raptors wasn’t because of Kyle Lowry (right wrist), who didn’t even play, or DeMar DeRozan, who played out his mind while scoring a career-high 43 points.
 
The game will be remembered by the new guys Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, both acquired at the trade deadline by the Raptors.
 
Ibaka, who was a bad fit, and on most nights a bad player, in Orlando, looked like the O-K-C Ibaka while scoring 15 points to go with seven rebounds against the Celtics – numbers that were better than his two games combined against the Celtics this season with the Magic when he scored a total of just 12 points while grabbing eight rebounds.
 
And then there was Tucker, who got a crash video course on Raptors playbook just hours before the game, and proceeded to show the kind of toughness at both ends of the floor that has made him one of the league’s more underrated defenders as he finished with a near double-double of nine points and 10 rebounds.
 
It was their first game with their new team, but you would have thought they had been with Toronto all season long with how seamless they seemed to fit in.
 
Ibaka draining jumpers, Tucker causing chaos defensively, while absolutely crushing the Celtics on the boards...their play was a painful reminder of what could have been for the Green team.
 
Both were rumored to have been in the Celtics’ crosshairs prior to the Thursday 3 p.m. trade deadline. The Celtics were lukewarm at best on Ibaka (they didn’t want what would have been a 25-game rental) and just couldn’t quite strike a deal and cross the finish line for Tucker.
 
It’s too soon to hit the panic button and rip Danny Ainge for not getting a minor deal done like adding Tucker or Ibaka.
 
Still, his players have to embrace the truth behind what transpired this trade season.
 
Ainge went big-game hunting, focusing most of the team's efforts on landing a major difference-maker, a la Jimmy Butler or Paul George.
 
When that didn’t work out, he settled for the next best thing, which was to keep this group together.
 
The onus is now on them to prove that trust Ainge has in them, was well-placed.
 
Putting too much stock in the first game after the break is a risky proposition that no one should subscribe to.
 
But in the loss, it revealed many of the concerns and weaknesses of this roster that tend to get magnified in defeat while glossed over when they manage to win despite those flaws.
 
Isaiah Thomas may be the best scorer in the fourth quarter, but he’s human.
 
There will be games when Mr. Fourth Quarter can’t get it done.
 
Friday night was that kind of game for him. He scored just four of his team-high 20 points in the fourth.
 
And as the Raptors blitzed him repeatedly with two and three defenders, his teammates failed to step up when the opportunity was there to make impactful, game-altering plays down the stretch.
 
Watching the Celtics’ defense in the second half was painful.
 
DeRozan got whatever he wanted, when he wanted it.
 
And when he missed, the Raptors controlled the boards, got all the 50/50 balls and repeatedly out-worked Boston.
 
It exposed Boston in a way that’s painful to see, especially when those inflicting the greatest amount of damage could have been in the Celtics huddle and not the one on the other sideline.