Celtics need to get gritty to survive the Knicks

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Celtics need to get gritty to survive the Knicks

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

BOSTON The last time Boston played New York, Celtics coach Doc Rivers found himself uttering the seemingly unspeakable to his team at the half.

"I haven't used the word 'soft' in, maybe four years, but at halftime, that word came out a lot," Rivers said that night.

The Celtics rallied in the second half for a win, but the C's haven't totally freed themselves of such criticism.

Boston has shown the ability to lock into opponents and be the physical, grind-it-out kind of team we've seen make deep playoff runs an annual tradition.

Far too many times lately, though, that team is nowhere to be found when its presence is desperately needed.

That has to change if the Celtics are to have any shot at bringing home Banner 18.

But first things first.

They must deal with a red-hot New York Knicks team in the first round of the playoffs, which will begin at the TD Garden this weekend.

New York presents tremendous challenge to any team's defense.

Amar'e Stoudemire averages 25.4 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, and spent a good chunk of the season being talked about as an MVP candidate. Carmelo Anthony is essentially a younger, bigger and stronger version of Paul Pierce.

And don't forget point guard Chauncey Billups, a five-time All-Star who was NBA Finals MVP in 2004 with the Detroit Pistons.

Beyond those three, the Knicks have little firepower.

And we're not even going to talk about the Knicks and defense because, well, the Knicks don't really play defense.

That's why it's vital the Celtics counter New York's explosive trio of scorers with a physical brand of basketball.

It will have to be a team thing, obviously.

But it starts with the Big Four and Glen Davis, the only players on the roster who truly understand what it's like to go deep into the playoffs with the Green team.

"We have a core group of guys who have been there, who won it," Davis said. "At the end of the day, Doc's going to shorten the rotation. The guys out there are guys that got the grit, the guys who are going to grind and make it happen."

One of the more physical plays made by the Celtics recently was a flagrant foul by Jermaine O'Neal against Miami's LeBron James on Sunday.

The play led to the usual theatrical stare-downs between players from both teams, with the end result being a handful of technical fouls being handed out.

"Sometimes you have to have hard fouls, you have to have hard plays," O'Neal said. "Here's the issue. If you don't commit them, somebody is going to commit them to you. Sometimes the first team that hits first, is the team left standing."

O'Neal recalled the many battles he had with the Detroit Pistons when he was a member of the Indiana Pacers.

"It was like fisticuffs every game," O'Neal said. "That's just how it is."

And that's how it has to be if the Celtics are to finish the season off achieving the only goal they set for themselves this season -- bringing home Banner 18.

"It's no ill will to intentionally cripple somebody," O'Neal said. "But you have to make sure, they don't need to be coming into that lane on every possession. That's what it is. We have guys who have grit. Everybody is built differently. But we have a handful of guys who can bring some force and bring some toughness to that lane."

But the issue remains, can they do it with any kind of consistency?

If they plan to be the last team standing, they have no choice.

"We understand exactly what we need to do and where we need to go if we want to be champions," O'Neal said. "That's what it really boils down to."

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

WATCH: Celtics vs. Wizards

WATCH: Celtics vs. Wizards

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Celtics-Wizards preview: Making of a matchup

Celtics-Wizards preview: Making of a matchup

BOSTON -- While it’s debatable whether the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards are rivals, there’s no question there has been a heightened level of animosity towards one another when they play.

When these two met on Jan. 11, the Celtics came away with a 117-108 win.

But the game itself featured plenty of back-and-forth trash talk, finger-pointing, cries of dirty play and NBA fines.

IN FACT . . . Washington plans to bury Boston

“It’ll be a physical game,” said Jae Crowder who was hit with a five-figure fine for his role in a post-game incident involving Washington’s John Wall. “We have to answer the bell; we’ll be ready.”

Crowder knows he and his teammates must balance being the more physical team, with not losing their cool because if tonight’s game is anything like previous ones, there will be trash talk … lots of trash talk.

“They talk a little bit more than other teams,” said Crowder who added that was a factor in the incident him and Wall which cost them $25,000 and $15,000, respectively.

Crowder said a flagrant-foul committed by Washington’s Bradley Beal against Marcus Smart was what really cranked the level of animosity that was already at a high level.

But Beal probably hasn’t fully put behind him an incident last season in which Smart broke his nose and put him in the league’s concussion protocol program on a Smart drive to the basket.

As far as the hard foul that Beal delivered to him earlier this month, Smart said, “you take exception to every hard foul.”

Smart added, “It’s the game of basketball. You play with your emotions and intensity and everything like that. It comes with the game.”

While Crowder understands the Celtics have to play a physical brand of basketball, he’s not looking to do anything that might result in him having to cut another $25,000 check which was the amount of his fine from the Jan. 11 game against the Wizards.

“I’m looking at it as another game we have to win,” Crowder said. “I’m not looking at it as a rivalry or anything like that. I’m not coming in talking; they might.”

For the Wizards, winners in four of their five games since losing to Boston, a major key to their success lies in the play of their backcourt.

John Wall and Bradley Beal are the latest high-scoring backcourt tandem that the Celtics have to be worried about.

And making matters worse for Boston, the Celtics will have to try and make due without Avery Bradley who is still dealing with a right Achilles injury.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said the 6-foot-2 Bradley was not going to be with the team in Washington and would most likely be out all this week.

That means Boston will lean heavily on Smart to not only help the offense run relatively smooth, but also provide some much-needed defense to help limit Wall and Beal who collectively rank among the higher-scoring starting backcourts in the NBA.

“We have to slow them down; by any means we have to slow them down,” Thomas said. “We know they go as far as those two take them. It’s going to be a tough game. They have a lot of momentum at home. It’ll be a tough game for us. But we’re ready for the opportunity.”

Wall and Beal are just the latest in a string of high-scoring backcourts that the Celtics have had to contend with recently.

In Saturday’s 127-123 overtime home loss to Portland, C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard combined to score 63 points on 20-for-42 shooting from the field.

“This stretch of backcourts is exceptionally difficult,” Stevens said. “They (Wall and Beal) both should be and certainly are in the discussion for the all-star team. It’s a real difficult challenge. Our guys are going to have to be really good on both ends of the floor.”