Celtics hope playoff jitters are in the past

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Celtics hope playoff jitters are in the past

ATLANTA Josh Smith and the rest of the Atlanta Hawks recognize and respect the Boston Celtics as a veteran team with loads of experience.

But the C's do have a couple youngsters, Avery Bradley and Greg Stiemsma, in the rotation who are seeing their first postseason action now.

While there were moments in which those first-playoff game jitters were apparent in Sunday's Game 1 loss, both seemed to get more comfortable as the game proceeded.

It was the kind of in-game growth that the Celtics hope will pay off with more consistent performance by both - and a Celtics win - tonight's Game 2 matchup.

"As a coach, you go into the game expecting a couple of your guys - not just the rookies, but the guys who haven't played with you - to struggle," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "Unfortunately, I thought all of them did."

Rivers said he was pleased with Stiemsma, adding that he was the one bright spot among the rookies and newcomers in Sunday's loss.

Stiemsma, who had nine rebounds off the bench, acknowledged that he was a little nervous heading into the game.

"I was tossing and turning a little bit the night before, not really knowing what to expect, knowing this was going to be another level," Stiemsma said. "But at the same time, you just have to bring it down. It's a simple game. It's the same game I've been playing for a long time. Obviously the stakes have never been higher; but just try to do the things that I do well, keep it simple and play my game."

As for Bradley who has been instrumental in the Celtics' turnaround after the all-star break, Rivers thought he was "pressing" too much.

"He was activating his thoughts instead of activating his instincts," Rivers said. "We want him to stay instinctive; we don't want him to be a thought player. We want him to be an instinctive player."

That'll be tough tonight with Rajon Rondo (suspension) out, which means Bradley will move over to the point guard position and be joined by Mickael Pietrus in the backcourt.

"Now he (Bradley) has to actually be in thought again," Rivers said. "It is what it is. But we have to get him back to playing on instincts."

Their struggles aren't all that different than what most NBA players experience during their first playoff run.

Atlanta's Josh Smith recalls how his emotions were all over the map during his first foray with the playoffs.

"I know how inexperienced I was first time around," Smith said. "I was playing like a wild man, not knowing what I was expecting; just going out there and playing, gaining experience as it went along. They're slowly but surely gaining experience. When you have a couple of postseasons under your belt, you really understand and know the importance of it."

Knowing the Celtics have a few new faces playing regular minutes, you can bet the Hawks will once again try to use that to their advantage tonight.

"We want to use our experience, to our advantage," said Atlanta's Joe Johnson. "Hopefully it works to our advantage."

WATCH: Celtics vs. Pistons

WATCH: Celtics vs. Pistons

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Celtics-Pistons preview: C's need to defend their top-four spot in East

Celtics-Pistons preview: C's need to defend their top-four spot in East

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- On Friday night, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan absolutely torched the Boston Celtics. The game before that, it was Chicago’s Jimmy Butler giving the Celtics major fits with a barrage of baskets. 

Both were All-Star starters this year, the kind of lofty status that helps explain how the Celtics were so defensively-challenged in their efforts in limiting them.

Detroit doesn’t have a bona fide high-scoring perimeter star like those other teams, but don’t think for a minute that tonight’s game will be a breeze for the Celtics. Boston (37-21) comes in having lost two in a row to Chicago and Toronto, respectively. The Raptors loss was especially painful because it assured the Raptors would get the higher seed in the playoffs if these two teams finished with an identical record. 

Boston hopes to secure an edge over the Pistons tonight with a victory that will give them the season series, three games to one. While it may seem a bit early to get too caught up in tie-breakers and their importance, the last thing Boston wants is to finish the regular season tied with one or more teams, and wind up with the lower seed because they lost the head-to-head series. 

“You hear people say every game counts; it’s true,” Boston’s Amir Johnson told CSNNE.com. “We need to win as many games as we can because you never know which game could be the difference between having home court or not.”

If Boston continues to find ways to win and finish with a tie-free, top-four finish in the East, they will begin the playoffs at the TD Garden for the first time under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens.

Meanwhile the Pistons are currently eighth in the East and, like the Celtics, they too opted to stand pat at the trade deadline. And like Boston, they are looking for growth from within as they try to make their way up the Eastern Conference standings. 

“We’re not real happy with how we’ve played up to this point overall,” said Stan Van Gundy, the Pistons’ president of basketball operations and head coach. “But we still have a young group. As much as you would like the progress to be steadily uphill, it’s not always. That doesn’t mean you lose faith in your guys. At the end of the day, we ended up standing pat, which is pretty much what we expected to do.”

One of Boston’s biggest concerns coming into the game will be rebounding. It was among the many factors contributing to Boston’s loss on Friday. But as much as execution at both ends of the floor will be a factor, effort will be just as vital if not more, to the success of the Celtics in the playoffs. There were plenty of reasons as to why Boston lost on Friday night, with effort being near the top of the list. 

“They played harder than us,” said Celtics forward Jae Crowder. 

And that was surprising when you consider what was at stake – a chance to push their lead over Toronto to five games with a couple dozen to go.

Rookie forward Jaylen Brown has heard all the reasons and explanations as to why the Celtics have hit a mini-hiccup following back-to-back losses. And he has also heard how Boston blew a golden opportunity to beat Toronto with Raptors all-star Kyle Lowry still out. 

“We didn’t have one of our key guys, either,” said Brown, referring to Avery Bradley still being out with a foot injury. So it’s basketball at the end of the day. It doesn’t’ matter who is on the floor. You have to do your job; we just have to do our job.”