Celtics look to home court to stop the bleeding

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Celtics look to home court to stop the bleeding

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Nobody said this march toward Banner 18 was going to be easy for the Boston Celtics.

But as it stands now, the path could not be much tougher.

The Celtics are down 2-0 to the Miami Heat, a team that's younger, more athletic and, right now, playing with the kind of swagger the Celtics aren't used to having to deal with this early in the playoffs.

Just when it seemed the Celtics were turning the corner on what has been a season filled with injuries, Paul Pierce (left Achilles strain), Ray Allen (chest) and Rajon Rondo (back) all left the floor at some point in Game 2 with injuries.

And we're not even going to get into the Shaq-who-cried-wolf tale that seems to have no ending in sight.

It all adds up to the Celtics returning to the TD Garden for Game 3 on Saturday in as dire a hole as we've seen this core group.

"We need to go protect our home court, period," said Kevin Garnett. "There isn't much to talk about. It's do-or-die."

Indeed, the Celtics are banking on a change of scenery being just what they need in order to gain some footing in a series in which they are sinking fast.

"They held their serve at home," said Pierce. "Now it's our job to go home and get two wins."

Boston was among the NBA's best teams at home during the regular season, compiling a 33-8 record. Only Chicago and San Antonio, which each finished 36-5, were better.

The Celtics' home-court advantage was on display in the first round of the playoffs against the New York Knicks, a team the C's defeated in both Game 1 and 2 of that series in Boston.

Home or away, it really doesn't matter at this point for the Celtics.

"We just have to win," said Rajon Rondo. "I thought we had a decent sense of urgency (in Game 2 against the Heat), but we didn't play smart down the stretch. We have to find a way to get stops those last three minutes of the game."

Limiting Dwyane Wade and LeBron James in the closing minutes of quarters, is among the issues that the C's have to work through between now and Game 3.

After spending most of Game 2 playing from behind, the Celtics rallied to tie the score at 80-80 in the fourth.

The Heat responded with a 14-0 run to put the C's away with James scoring seven of his game-high 35 points during the spurt.

And while the C's clearly have to make some adjustments in how they defend Wade and James, the biggest change needs to come about in their attitude.

Points. Defensive stops. Turnovers.

The Celtics are allowing all these things to happen too easily, a trend they have to reverse.

Boston prides itself in being a defensive-minded team first. But far too often, their struggles offensively have dictated their play defensively and for a team that's serious about winning a championship, that can't happen.

"They've played well and we can't allow them to play like this or it's going to be tough at our place," Rivers said. "Bottom line is we have to go back and take a look at what we're doing, fix it and be ready for Game 3."

Part of that process of preparation involved giving the players Wednesday off to, according to Rivers, "do whatever they want to do, just stay away from each other, stay away from film and stay away from basketball. Just relax. We'll get right back at it (practicing) the next day."

Then comes more specific adjustments that the Celtics hope will get them a much-needed win to get back into this series.

"We'll be ready (for Game 3), I can guarantee you that," Rivers said.

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

Celtics-Bucks preview: C's preferred starting five making an impact

Celtics-Bucks preview: C's preferred starting five making an impact

BOSTON – It took Brad Stevens about eight minutes to realize his starters worked well together.

That’s how long they were on the floor to start Boston’s first preseason game back in October, opening the season with a 23-9 run against Philadelphia.

Now the rest of the NBA basketball world is starting to take notice with the Celtics (48-26) holding down the best record in the Eastern Conference with a chance to add to that tonight against the hard-charging Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bucks (38-36), coming off a 118-108 win at Charlotte on Tuesday, have won 12 of their last 15 games.

Boston is well aware that Milwaukee is playing some of its best basketball at the moment, led by all-star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the Celtics, that doesn’t matter.

Regardless of where they are in the Eastern Conference pecking order or who they play, the number one priority for them at this point is to continue playing good basketball.

“Every team in the NBA should want to be the best team in the NBA,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “We’re showing that we can be if we’re playing the right kind of basketball. That’s an accomplishment, to be first in the east. We understand that. But at the same time, we understand we could lose it (tonight against Milwaukee). We have to worry about (tonight’s) game and everything will take care of itself.”

Especially if Boston’s preferred starting five – Isaiah Thomas; Bradley; Jae Crowder; Al Horford and Amir Johnson – are playing together.

Although they have only played 31 games together this season, they have reeled off an impressive 24-7 record which puts them among the best starting fives in the NBA this season.

“They really have complimented each other well,” Stevens said. “But you could see it. I remember the first exhibition game (against Philadelphia), we could all see it. Before that, the second unit had given them fits a little bit, the first couple of weeks of practice. But that subsided and I thought our guys, that starting unit has been pretty good.”

And it’s not just what they do during games, either.

Setting the tone in all phases of the game, on and off the court, is vital to both the success of the starting unit and the team as a whole.

“That’s part of it; part of us being leaders on the team,” Bradley said. “We have to bring it every single day. Shoot-around, being focused, film sessions. It’s our job to try to help the bench players focus just as much as we are. We’re a team. We all have to hold each other accountable. I feel like we’re doing a great job.”

But ultimately, every team and every unit within that team is judged on how their works contribute to winning.

And when it comes to the Celtics’ starting five, there’s little argument that they get the job done better than most of the NBA’s starting units.

So when asked why they have been so successful this season, Thomas delivered a straight-no-chaser response.

“Because we’re good; like we’re really good,” Thomas said. “That’s why it’s been so successful. When we are healthy, we know how to play with each other and guys are unselfish and know their roles. We have a really good starting lineup and when healthy, we play at a really high level. We have to continue to do that and end this season on a good note.”

First-place Celtics continue to focus on playing well, not standings

First-place Celtics continue to focus on playing well, not standings

WALTHAM, Mass. – When it comes to NBA standings, no Celtic pays closer attention to it than Isaiah Thomas.
 
But the 5-foot-9 All-Star is quick to say that while he’s aware of what’s happening with other teams record-wise, Thomas, like his teammates, isn’t obsessed with it, even with the Celtics (48-26) now in first place in the East following Cleveland’s loss at San Antonio on Monday.
 
“It’s a good feeling,” Thomas said. “It’s still not the end of the year; anything can happen. It’s a nice feeling to be the number one seed for once, but we just have to continue to control what we can control.”

The fact that Boston is even in position to finish with the best record in the East is amazing when you consider injuries and illnesses have forced them to use 13 different starting lineups this season.
 
And the preferred starting five of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Al Horford and Amir Johnson has played together 31 times and posted an impressive 24-7 record.
 
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has been consistent in his message that while having the best record in the East is nice, he’s more consumed with the team continuing to improve.
 
“It doesn’t mean a whole lot right now,” Stevens said of being in first place. “The whole idea is to make progress, get better every day and stay in the moment. You do that if you’re in last place trying to build up or whether you’re in a position where you’re fighting for seeding. Ultimately, we’ve been able to grow and get a little bit better. But I still think we can play a lot better. That’s where my focus is.”
 
And the same holds true for his players. Thomas knows how unusual this season has been for the Celtics, who continue finding ways to win despite frequently being short-handed.
 
The latest example of that involves forward Jonas Jerebko, who is questionable for Wednesday’s game against Milwaukee because of a sore left knee that limited him in Tuesday’s practice.
 
“It’s a long season. A lot of things can happen whether they be good or bad and we know that,” Thomas said. “We just try to withstand the storm we’ve had a few times this year, and continue to try and stay as positive as possible and we’ve done that. We’re in a good position right now. We just have to continue to take care of business.”
  
And that means steadily improving while piling up the wins, particularly against teams such as the Bucks (37-36), who are among a handful of teams that could potentially be Boston’s first-round opponent.
 
Milwaukee comes in having won 11 of its past 14 games.

“It makes the game that much more important,” said Celtics guard Avery Bradley. “Just like the Miami game. We want to let the teams know now, they go up against us in the playoffs, it’s no mercy. We’re going to play hard. We’re going to bring it every single night. We’re going to play Celtics basketball every single night. Them knowing that, we can scare a lot of teams if we’re playing the right way.”