Celtics-Hawks Game 6 Review: C's help hobbled Pierce

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Celtics-Hawks Game 6 Review: C's help hobbled Pierce

BOSTON Paul Pierce was not even close to being the Paul Pierce that the Boston Celtics know and love.

But the Captain - all the C's for that matter - did what they had to do to get the win, 83-80.

And with it, the Celtics move on to the second round of the playoffs where they will face seventh-seed Philadelphia. Games 1 and 2 will be in Boston on Saturday and Monday, respectively.

Pierce still finished with a respectable 18 points, seven assists and five rebounds, but it was clear that the sprained MCL injury in his left knee was bothering him enough to at the very least, throw off his timing.

"That's the beauty of this team," Pierce said. "When you got four guys, Kevin (Garnett), myself, (Rajon) Rondo and Ray (Allen), it's never on one person's back. We all take pressure off each other. And it was just a beautiful thing to watch and be a part of."

Said Rivers: "Paul just gave us everything he had, but didn't have a lot."

Among the things Pierce was able to provide was someone attacking the rim and getting to the free throw line - something he did very little of in Boston's two previous games in which he shot just one free throw compared to shooting 30 in the C's first three playoff games against the Hawks.

On Thursday, Pierce went to the line eight times which was pretty close to the number of free throw attempts (9.3) he averaged in Celtics victories prior to closing out the series on Thursday.

Pierce getting to the line was indeed a contributing factor in Bostons' series-clinching win. Here are some other keys highlighted prior to the game, and how those keys actually played out.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Boston will look to shore up its defense against the Hawks' 3-point shooting. A big part of this will have to do with the C's doing a better job of rotating out to the Hawks' shooters. In the second quarter of Boston's Game 5 loss, Atlanta connected on four consecutive 3-pointers that in hindsight, gave the Hawks the kind of confidence that they rode for the rest of the game.

WHAT WE SAW: Atlanta's 3-point shooting once again gave them a chance at victory as they connected on 7-of-15 attempts. Marvin Williams and Joe Johnson did the most damage from 3-point range against Boston as they combined for six of the team's seven 3s.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Brandon Bass vs. Josh Smith: This has been a really tough matchup for Bass, but he's starting to figure out how to deliver offensively in a similar fashion displayed during the regular season. Bass has scored in double figures the last two games, which includes 14 points - the most he has scored in this series - in Boston's Game 5 loss. As for Smith, the sprained left knee injury that has bothered him for the bulk of this series still hasn't prevented him from being a double-double machine that the C's have yet to find an answer for containing.

WHAT WE SAW: Smith got the best of Bass in this battle, although Bass did a much better job than previous games in keeping Smith from going bonkers on the boards. Smith had 18 points but grabbed just nine rebounds - the first game in this series in which he did not snatch double digit rebounds. Bass did a decent job defensively (he had two blocked shots) and rebounding the ball, with six - only Garnett who grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds had more boards among the C's players, than Bass.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Al Horford was the best player on the floor in Game 5 when it mattered most - the fourth quarter. It wasn't so much that he scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as much as it was the timing of those points, that hurt the Celtics so much. His play has improved from one game to the next, but you have to wonder is he ratcheting up his play too quickly and thus making himself more vulnerable to some type of physical setback.

WHAT WE SAW: Horford had stretches of impressive play, but he was never able to manufacture the excitement and energy he brought to the floor in the Hawks' Game 5 win. He finished with 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting, with nine rebounds.

STAT TO TRACK: Even though Ray Allen is coming off the bench now, he's still playing starter-like minutes. So you know it's only a matter of time before he delivers a vintage Ray Allen, starter-like game. He has had some good games as a reserve, but has failed to surpass the 20-point barrier in 11 straight games - the longest such streak he has had with the Celtics. Considering the magnitude of tonight's game and the fact that he has yet to surpass the 20-point mark, it wouldn't be all that shocking if his shot-making propelled the C's to a win tonight and with it, moving them on to the next round of the playoffs.

WHAT WE SAW: Ray Allen's shooting never really came into play much, as he finished with 7 points while missing six of his second shot attempts.

Celtics and Wizards facing similar challenges with quick turnaround

Celtics and Wizards facing similar challenges with quick turnaround

BOSTON – Regardless of the outcome in Friday’s series-clinching win over Chicago, Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens knew his team would be playing someone on Sunday.

Well the quick turnaround came sooner than anticipated with Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semi-final matchup against Washington having a 1 p.m. start time.

“It is what it is,” said Wizards guard Bradley Beal. “It’s tough because it’s the playoffs. You play hard every night. Your body gets sore. You’re a little tired, but your opposing team, they’re going through the same thing. So it’s no excuse. It’s a matter of who wants it the most.”

While that’s certainly a factor, one must also remember that with the short turnaround comes a much more limited amount of time to lock and prepare for the opponent.  

During the playoff series with Chicago, some of the Celtics’ staffers were working on a game plan in case the Celtics did play the Wizards in the second round of the playoffs.

“They’ve done a great job of bringing the rest of us up to speed ASAP,” Stevens said. “When you play 82 games and they’re all back-to-back or one day apart, you get used to preparing for the next one quickly.”

Knowing how quickly a series’ momentum can shift,  Stevens also spent time watching Washington’s first-round opponent, Atlanta.

“You kind of, any of your down time as you’re in this, you think about what possibly could happen so you’re as prepared as you can be,” Stevens said. “We know they’re (Washington) a handful.”

Because of the short turnaround, Stevens didn’t see value in potentially overloading his players with too much information.

“You’re just doing what are the most important things,” Stevens said. ”We started the last series with four keys to the series. We start this one in the same vein with what’s the most important things; try to keep the main thing the main thing and tweak as we must to do well in those areas.

Stevens added, “Obviously rebounding was number one against the Bulls. We didn’t do it so hot but we got better as the series went on. And some of the coverages and those type of things helped us do that. So, (Game 1) is about playing with a clear mind and going out and playing hard with two or three things to think about and not 15.”

Washington head coach Scott Brooks has similar challenges with his team which advanced to this round about an hour before Boston did on Friday.

None of the players or coaches are ecstatic about the quick turnaround, but they both take solice in the fact that they each have similar challenges from a quick turnaround standpoint, as their opponent.

“You can’t have that (quick turnaround) as your excuse,” Brooks said. “They had the same situation that we have going into (Sunday) afternoon’s game. Like I said, we know each other. There’s not going to be a lot of surprises in the set calls, how they play defense. Same thing on our end. We have to be prepared and play well. It takes a good performance to win on their court. We felt we had one good game here, and didn’t get the win and the other game they beat us pretty handily. And we played well on our home floor. Two competitive teams. They have the best record in the (East) for a reason. They have a lot of good players.”

Still, players admittedly were somewhat surprised to have their series start so quickly while the two other teams in the East that advanced past the first round, Cleveland and Toronto, don’t start their series against one another until Monday.

Wizards star John Wall recalled how things came together for Washington in the hours after moving on to the conference semifinals by winning in Atlanta on Friday.

“Pretty crazy,” Wall said. “We got home at like 2, 2:30,  woke up at like 11;  went to the plane and now we’re here. The NBA made the schedules. We can’t do anything about that but compete and play.  And make no excuses, it’s the playoffs now.”

I asked Wall whether he scratches his head when he sees how quickly he and his teammates had to scramble to get to Boston for a playoff game just 13 hours after beating the Hawks, while Cleveland and Toronto closed out their series earlier and are basically resting up until they return to the floor for their Game 1 matchup on Monday.

“No comment,” said Wall, smiling.

While Avery Bradley wasn’t overly thrilled about the team having to return to the court so quickly, there are worst – a lot worst – things that could be going on right now with the Celtics.

“It’s strange but it’s fun,” Bradley said. “Coach (Stevens) was prepared. I feel like all the guys were prepared; no one was complaining. It’s better to be here preparing than instead of having exit meeting, you know what I mean?. That’s how we’re looking at it. We’re excited about the matchup tomorrow.”

Celtics-Wizards Game 1 preview: Bad blood or just competitive basketball?

Celtics-Wizards Game 1 preview: Bad blood or just competitive basketball?

BOSTON – The worst part about this burgeoning rivalry between the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards?

It becomes increasingly more difficult to look at these two teams and not think of that damn ‘Bad Blood’ song by Taylor Swift.

But on the eve of Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semi-final matchup this afternoon, players for both teams are singing a very different tune when it comes to describing what has been nothing short of contentious, feisty, cantankerous duels every time these two have squared off recently.

“I think both teams play hard,” said Wizards head coach Scott Brooks whose words reminded many on hand of Rasheed Wallace’s famous line during his time with the Portland Trail Blazers. “I have no problem with playing hard. I think the NBA wants players to play hard and wants teams to play hard. The rivalry, I don’t know if it’s a rivalry. When’s the last time the teams played in the playoffs? I don’t even know the answer to that.”

You’re not alone, coach.

These two haven’t met in the postseason since 1984 when Boston won the first-round best-of-five series, 3-1.

And consider this.

The oldest player in this series, 33-year-old Marcin Gortat, was just a couple months old when that series took place.

Players for both teams speak as if the rivalry, bad blood talk is overblown.

“It’s basketball,” said Washington’s Bradley Beal. “We’re not fighting out here. I don’t think that’s either team’s intentions. We both play hard, we’re both competitive, we both want to win. That’s how it is. There’s no dirty play out here from us and none from them. We’re going to keep it clean and just play clean basketball.”

Yeah.

Right.

While Beal’s words have the best intentions, that’s just not how things have worked when these two have played one another this season.

In November, John Wall was ejected after a senseless flagrant-2 foul against Marcus Smart in the fourth quarter of a game the Wizards had well in hand and eventually won 118-93.

When the two met on Jan. 11, Isaiah Thomas scored 20 of his game-high 38 points in the fourth quarter in what was a physical, hard-fought game that ended with the Celtics rallying for the 117-108 win. But the real fireworks came after the game when Boston’s Jae Crowder and John Wall had some heated words for each other with Crowder eventually pointing his finger while making contact with Wall’s nose.

The league looked into the incident and decided to fine Crowder $25,000 and Wall $15,000 for their respective roles in the incident.

Their third meeting on Jan. 24 in Washington, dubbed “The Funeral game” because the Wizards’ entire team came to the arena wearing all black, was a game in which the Wizards wasted no time burying the Celtics 123-108 in a game that wasn’t that close.

The two met a fourth time on March 20, a game in which Thomas returned after missing the previous two with a knee injury. It was yet another testy, physical game with Boston emerging with a 110-102 win.

“With that team it's always going to be a physical game, always going to be trash talking and things like that,” Thomas said after the win. “We're basketball players. We love it. We love that type of environment, but we've got to be smart about the things we do.”

Nobody knows this better than Crowder who still laments the incident involving him and Wall that he knows will be seen repeatedly in the coming days.

“I haven’t seen that in a long time,” Crowder said. “I’m sure y’all be seeing that a lot the next 24 hours. Emotions took over. A lot was going on that game. It cost me a lot of money; I regret it. It was an emotional game; some bickering going back and forth the whole game. But I moved on from it.”

But that incident speaks to the competitive juices that are sure to flow from both teams throughout this series.

“We know it’s going to be real competitive from the get-go,” said Bradley Beal. “We’re all chasing the same thing at the end of the day. They’re going to play physical, they’re going to play hard, they’re going to play smart. That’s the type of team they are. They’re going to be competitive and we’re going to be the same.”

And while Boston’s Avery Bradley agrees that these two teams play some pretty heated, highly contested games, he’s not willing to call it a rivalry, either.

“I see them as another good team in the East,” Bradley said.

The way Crowder sees it, it’s hard not to develop some level of increased animosity towards one another when you play a team so many times.

“Those guys play very, very hard and we do as well,” Crowder said. “And we play each other so many times. You ask for bad blood when you play a team four times in one season. I think it was just two teams playing hard.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has steered clear of getting into whether this is a rivalry or bad blood between these two teams.

“If we don’t play well, we won’t win,” Stevens said. “Whatever distracts from playing well is not worth it.”