Celtics' long road back starts with Game 5

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Celtics' long road back starts with Game 5

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. Winning an NBA title in 2008 was arguably the toughest challenge this core group of Boston Celtics has faced since coming together.

Coming back to win their current playoff series with the Miami would be a close No. 2.

Monday's 98-90 Game 4 loss put the C's in a 3-1 series deficit heading into Game 5 at Miami on Wednesday.

A loss ends the Celtics' season sooner than any team during the current Big Three regime.

The mood following Saturday's loss was one of disappointment, but the C's speak as though they aren't quite ready to call it a season just yet.

"It's not going to get any easier, but that's what makes it that much more special if you can pull it off," said Ray Allen. "We won't talk about it, we just go out . . . we know the effort we put out there in Game 4 has to be better."

Coach Doc Rivers is convinced it will be, which is why he's still optimistic this series will be a long one.

"In our minds there's a lot of basketball to be played," Rivers said. "It's going to be extremely hard, and if we're not up for that then we'll lose. But if we're up for that, I think we can win three games."

While the C's aren't looking to do anything that's unprecedented, the list of teams that have rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to win it all is a small one.

Only eight teams in NBA history have been able to do it, a list that includes the 1968 and 1981 Celtics, who beat Philadelphia both seasons.

But of those eight teams, only two (one being the '68 Celts) did so without having Game 7 on their home court.

There's no need to remind the Celtics that the chances of winning Game 5, let alone the series, are not very good.

Whether it's pride, confidence or simply being delusional, the Celtics' outlook remains upbeat.

"We've never lacked confidence," said Kevin Garnett. "And when our backs to the wall we've shown great resilience. We'll see what we're made of."

Since the 2008 title run, the Celtics are 3-2 in games in which they faced playoff elimination, with the losses coming in the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals to Orlando and the 2010 NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra is well aware of how prideful the Celtics are, and expects eliminating them to be the toughest challenge his team has faced all season.

"I anticipate well get their best game on Wednesday and we have to be better than that," Spoelstra said. "If were real about what we want to do, we have to beat the Boston Celtics at their best.

That's part of the frustration the Celtics are feeling at this point in the series. If they had played one of their best games in any of the first four, they could better come to grips with their playoff fate.

But if they are unable to rally back and win this series, there will be a sense among the players and coaches that this series wasn't necessarily lost because the Heat played great, but because the C's simply didn't make the most of the opportunities they had.

For the Celtics, now is not the time to think about what could have and should have been done better. They have one chance to extend this series, and that opportunity awaits them on Wednesday in Game 5.

I still believe. I still have all the confidence in the world in our team," said forward Jeff Green. "I know that we can take it one game at a time and come back and win this series."

Added Allen: "Weve had to win on the road in our history together. Weve had to win in some tough environments. This is no different. At the end of the day when you lace them up, its five-on-five and we have to trust in who we have out there on the floor, we have to have trust in the coaching staff, we know the stuff that we have works. We just trust in it, believe in it, and push forward, and then were going to win games, were going to win a game, were going to win the next game, and thats the most important thing: that we believe in each other and just stay with it.

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

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

BOSTON –  Terry Rozier was having a rough stretch where his minutes were limited and when he did play, he didn’t play particularly well.
 
Among the voices in his ear offering words of encouragement was Avery Bradley who knows all too well what Rozier was going through.
 
For all his time as a Celtic, Bradley has let his work on the floor do the talking for him.
 
But as the most tenured Celtic on the roster, his leadership has to be about more than just getting the job done, but servicing as a vocal leader as well.
 
For a player whose growth from one year to the next has been a constant, being a more vocal leader has been the one dynamic of his game that has improved the most during this past season.
 
And it is that kind of leadership that will carry into the summer what is a pivotal offseason for both Bradley and this Celtics franchise which was eliminated by Cleveland in the Conference finals, the first time the Celtics got that deep in the playoffs since 2012.
 
He is entering the final year of the four-year, $32 million contract he signed in 2014. And it comes at a time when his fellow Tacoma, Wash. native and backcourt mate Isaiah Thomas will likely hit free agency where he’s expected to command a max or near-max contract that would pay him an annual salary in the neighborhood of $30 million.
 
At this point in time, Bradley isn’t giving too much thought to his impending contract status.
 
Instead, he’s more consumed by finding ways to improve his overall game and in doing so, help guide the Celtics to what has to be their focus for next season – a trip to the NBA Finals.
 
While Celtics players have said their focus has always been on advancing as far into the playoffs as possible, it wasn’t until this past season did they actually provide hope and promise that Banner 18 may be closer than you think.
 
It was an emotional time for the Celtics, dealing with the unexpected death of Chyna Thomas, the younger sister of Isaiah Thomas, just hours before Boston’s first playoff game this season.
 
And then there were injuries such as Thomas’ right hip strain that ended his postseason by halftime of Boston’s Eastern Conference finals matchup with Cleveland.
 
But through that pain, we saw the emergence of Bradley in a light we have seldom seen him in as a Celtic.
 
We have seen him play well in the past, but it wasn’t until Thomas’ injury did we see Bradley showcase even more elements of his game that had been overlooked.
 
One of the constant knocks on Bradley has been his ball-handling.
 
And yet there were a number of occasions following Thomas’ playoff-ending injury, where Bradley attacked defenders off the dribble and finished with lay-ups and an occasional dunk in transition.
 
Among players who appeared in at least 12 playoff games this year, only Washington’s John Wall (7.9), Cleveland’s LeBron James (6.8) and Golden State’s Stephen Curry (5.2) averaged more points in transition than Bradley (4.7).
 
Bradley recognized the team needed him to be more assertive, do things that forced him to be more front-and-center which is part of his evolution in Boston as a leader on this team.
 
“It’s weird but players like Al (Horford) definitely helped me get out of my shell and pushed me this year to be more of a vocal leader,” Bradley said.
 
And that talent combined with Bradley doing what he does every offseason – come back significantly better in some facet of his game – speaks to how he’s steadily growing into being a leader whose actions as well as his words are impactful.