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."

Celtics fire a shot heard 'round the world

Celtics fire a shot heard 'round the world

CLEVELAND -- The Celtics' shocking 111-108, Game 3 victory over the Cavs on Sunday has clearly changed the narrative of the Eastern Conference finals.  (Those sweep references? Delete, delete, delete.)

CELTICS 111, CAVS 108

But the Celtic players aren't changing their narrative:

Us against the world.

“Everybody in this locker room on this team has been told we couldn’t do something or had somebody that really didn’t believe in us,” said Marcus Smart, who stepped in for the injured Isaiah Thomas and finished with a playoff career-high 27 points. “We just kind of put that together all in one, and we just . . . told each other no matter what happens we’ve got to be the hardest-playing team. We just have to go out there and play.”

And play they did.

"We decided were going to go out and play hard, swinging." said Avery Bradley, who hit the game-winning 3-pointer with less than a second left. "We never counted ourselves out."

"We have guys who have chips on their shoulders," said coach Brad Stevens. "We knew that Friday (their 130-86 Game 2 loss at TD Garden) was a disaster. But [that game] wasn't worth [four losses]. It was worth one. So we got back together."

As good as they feel about themselves right now, the Celtics are well aware that Game 4 will likely see a more aggressive showing by LeBron James and a Cavaliers team that will be much more locked into their its assignments than it was in Game 3.

That’s okay. Boston knew finding success in Cleveland wasn’t going to be easy . . . or pretty.

“It hasn’t been pretty, but I don’t think this is a team is a pretty team,” Celtics wing Jaylen Brown told CSNNE.com. “We just kind of get it done.”

And that mindset should serve them well in what should be another tough and rugged matchup in Game 4 on Tuesday.

“We’re happy and excited, but we didn’t come to just win one game,” Brown said. “We came to win two.”

LeBron's off night a major factor in Celtics' shocking Game 3 win

LeBron's off night a major factor in Celtics' shocking Game 3 win

CLEVELAND –  LeBron James has had a bad night or two in the playoffs before, but Sunday’s clunker ranks pretty damn high among his all-time worst playoff performances.

Let me put it you this way.

Kelly Olynyk, serenaded with a steady chorus of boos from the Q Arena crowd, still managed to score 15 points.

LeBron James?

He had 11 … for the game!

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Take a screen shot of that folks, because the chances of that happening in a game, one in which James doesn’t get hurt except for maybe his feelings, is slim.

But it did happen, and it was a major factor in Boston shocking the NBA world in knocking off the Cavs 111-108 in Game 3 following a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Avery Bradley.

For James’ part, he finished with just 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting which included him going scoreless in the fourth while missing all three of his shots in the quarter. He was also rolling some serious sixes statistically – six rebounds, six assists and (gulp!) six turnovers.

There were no foul issues for James other than his mood after the game (can you blame him?) or an injury he was dealing with.

James, the best player on the planet, had what amounts to one of the worst playoff games in his 14 NBA seasons.

When reminded that he had a tough second half in which he only scored three points, James responded, “I had a tough game, period. Not just in the second half. Me personally, I didn’t have it. My teammates did a great job of keeping us in the game, building that lead. But me personally, I didn’t have it. That’s all I’ve got to say about my performance.”

As far as the Celtics’ game plan defensively against James, head coach Brad Stevens acknowledged that there’s “only so much you can do.”

Stevens added, “we just tried to be as solid as possible. We tried to switch a little bit less. I think we had a couple of guards out there that are bigger guards, and we just tried to rotate bodies on him. Jae Crowder picked up his fourth (personal foul), I think in the third (quarter), and the threat of not having him out there is scary. So, we were glad that he was able to finish.”

Boston’s Avery Bradley added, “I feel like guys like Jae Crowder and Al Horford, whoever switched on him, they did a great job.”

And the Cavs will look to get back on track after enduring their first loss of this postseason.

Despite the disappointment with his play and the loss in general, you can bet James will find positives to take from the defeat and use it to help him and Cleveland play better in Game 4.

“Well, I feel some adversity is all part of the postseason,” James said. “I feel like you have to have some type of adversity in order to be successful. If it was going to happen, let it happen now; let us regroup. Let us regroup and … let’s get back to playing desperate basketball, which they did tonight. So we’ve got to be a lot better, for sure.”