Celtics need to get gritty to survive the Knicks

191544.jpg

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

Stars, studs, duds: Jae Crowder scores game-high 6 3-pointers

Stars, studs, duds: Jae Crowder scores game-high 6 3-pointers

BOSTON – Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 123-111 Game 1 win over the Washington Wizards in their best-of-seven series. 

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: To be effective with all that he’s dealing with from an emotional standpoint continues to amaze us all. Thomas, just 24 hours removed from his younger sister’s funeral, delivered yet another gem of a game with 33 points on 11-for-23 shooting with nine assists with just two turnovers.

John Wall: Showing he’s more than just a guard with speed who can score, Wall finished with a double-double of 20 points on 9-for-20 shooting, to go with a game-high 16 assists.

STUDS

Jae Crowder: The Celtics needed a solid complimentary scorer to Isaiah Thomas, and Crowder was that dude during a critical third quarter stretch for Boston. He finished with a playoff career-high 24 points on 8-for-14 shooting with six rebounds. 

Bradley Beal: Half of one of the NBA’s best backcourts, Beal showed a much-improved postseason perimeter game. Having shot less than 30 percent on 3’s in Washington’s first-round series with Atlanta, Beal was 4-for-7 from long range which was part of his team high 27 -point game. 

Al Horford: Once again Horford flirted with a triple-double, scoring 21 points on 10-for-13 shooting, to go with 10 assists and nine rebounds with a blocked shot.  

Otto Porter Jr.: He was one of the few players for the Wizards whose plus/minus in Game 1 was positive (+3). He had 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting to go with 11 rebounds and two steals. 

Avery Bradley: The numbers don’t always tell the story when it comes to Bradley’s impact. He didn’t shoot the ball particularly well in Game 1, but he still managed to score 18 points on 7-for-20 shooting, in addition to grabbing five rebounds with four assists and four steals.

Kelly Oubre Jr.: He was a major factor in Washington’s fast start and with Markieff Morris’ knee injury, he may wind up starting Game 2. He finished with 12 points off the bench, shooting 5-for-8 from the field.

DUDS

Gerald Green: The Celtics remain undefeated with Green in the starting lineup, but his impact on Game 1 was nowhere to be found. He played just seven minutes without taking a single shot from the field. The only stat he registered was a turnover while his plus/minus on the floor was -13.

Isaiah Thomas scores 33 as Celtics beat Wizards in Game 1

Isaiah Thomas scores 33 as Celtics beat Wizards in Game 1

BOSTON – Two weeks ago, Isaiah Thomas was less than 24 hours removed from the death of his baby sister, Chyna Thomas. 

He played well, but it wasn’t enough to get the win because he got very little help from his teammates. 

Call it a lesson learned. 

Because 24 hours after attending the funeral of his sister in Tacoma, Washington, Thomas delivered yet another 33-point performance – just like he did in Game 1 against Chicago. 

But there was a difference on Sunday – he got some help this time. 

Thomas’ scoring coupled with a pair of teammates also cracking the 20-point plateau – Jae Crowder and Al Horford – was enough to propel Boston to a hard fought 123-111 Game 1 win over the Washington Wizards. 

Game 2 in this best-of-seven series will be Tuesday night at the TD Garden. 

This game, like most of the four regular season battles with Washington, was not easy to come by even when the Celtics seemingly had the game under control in the second half. 

After a red-hot third quarter that propelled Boston to a 15-point lead, the Celtics cooled off considerably to start the fourth. 

That’s all the Wizards needed as they opened the quarter with a 9-0 run, similar to how they began the game.  

Boston’s first points of the fourth didn’t come until Thomas made a short floater with just under eight minutes to play. 

Washington showed tremendous fight in trying to get back in the game, while the Celtics did what they needed to do in order to keep a healthy distance score-wise between themselves and the Wizards.

Indeed, the Celtics had fought too hard and for too long to blow this game. 

The Celtics didn’t take their first lead until a Crowder 3-pointer put Boston ahead 73-71 with just under seven minutes to play in the third quarter. He finished with a playoff career-high 24 points and six rebounds.

Washington soon tied it up, only for Crowder to strike again with another 3-pointer that made it a 76-73 game. 

The Celtics continued to surge ahead.

After a Marcus Smart steal, Avery Bradley moments later drained a wide open 3-pointer to give Boston an 81-74 lead to cap off a 13-3 run by the Celtics which led to a Wizards time-out with 4:45 to play in the quarter. 

Boston continued to pull away, ending the third with a 27-9 run which gave them a 95-80 lead going into the fourth quarter. 

The Wizards didn’t just come out hitting to start the game; they were absolutely smacking the Celtics around something silly as they opened the game with a 16-0 run and led by as many as 17 points in the first quarter. 

Marcin Gortat, who had a double-double of 16 points and 13 rebounds, did most of the damage early on. But as the game progressed, Washington’s John Wall (20 points, 16 assists) and Bradley Beal (27 points, four assists) put their imprint on the game as well.

Thomas got the Celtics on the scoreboard after being fouled on a three-point attempt. He would give Boston its first points of the game, making all three free throws with 8:04 to play in the quarter. 

The Celtics spent the rest of the first quarter facing a double-digit deficit which stood at 38-24 at the end of the first. 

Boston opened the second quarter with a 7-2 run which led to Wizards coach Scott Brooks calling a time-out with 10:27 to play in the half with Boston now trailing 40-31. 

The Celtics surge continued with the eventually tying the game up at 42-all after a Crowder 3-pointer. 

Washington regained the lead, but a 3-point play by Avery Bradley tied the game up again at 49-all.

Boston continued to hang close in the first half, which gave them the confidence to surge ahead in the second for the victory.