Celtics sneak by Heat, 78-66, can still get home-court

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Celtics sneak by Heat, 78-66, can still get home-court

BOSTON For weeks, Doc Rivers and the Boston Celtics talked about home court advantage the same way they talked about winning the Atlantic Division - it'd be nice, but not a necessity.

For most of this season, the Celtics' main guys carried them to the division title. But on Tuesday, it was the reserves positioning them for a shot at beginning the playoffs at home with a 78-66 win over the Miami Heat.

The Celtics have maintained that rest will come before a strong run towards trying to secure home court advantage.

And rest was indeed in order on Tuesday for both Boston and Miami.

The Heat gave their Big Three - LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh - the night off. Boston countered with giving Kevin Garnett the night off, although his rest was in part because of a sore hip flexor injury. Boston was already planning to play without Ray Allen, whose right ankle injury is still sore. In addition, the C's also played without Rajon Rondo (back), Greg Stiemsma (feet) and Mickael Pietrus (right knee).

Boston was led by Sasha Pavlovic's 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting. The C's also got a strong game from Marquis Daniels off the bench with 13 points and five rebounds. Miami got 11 points from James Jones off the bench.

As for home court, it's pretty simple.

A win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday coupled with an Atlanta loss to the Dallas Mavericks would result in the C's and Hawks having an identical 39-27 record with the tie-breaker - and home court advantage - going to the Celtics.

The Celtics didn't look like a team headed for a blowout victory, with the first points not coming until Paul Pierce hit a 10-footer with 5:45 to play in the first quarter which ended with the Celtics trailing,17-10.

Boston opened the second with an 8-0 run to take their first lead of the game, a spurt that was sparked by Marquis Daniels who had eight points and five rebounds at the half.

However, the Heat backups, led by James Jones, regained the lead and went into the half ahead, 34-28.

It remained a low-scoring affair in the third quarter, but the C's were able to make the game even closer and went into the fourth tied at 50.

And with the win, Boston has positioned itself for the playoffs to start here at the Garden.

"Home court is great," said C's Paul Pierce. "You want to have home court, you want to play for home court. At the end of the day, we want to be healthy first. We're definitely a better home team than road team, but at this point we feel like if we're healthy we have a chance in anybody's building. We've shown we can beat anybody in the Eastern Conference in their building."
HOT SHOT: Sasha Pavlovic had the hot hand when it mattered most for Boston, leading all scorers with 16 points - 12 of which came in the fourth quarter. "If I'm wide open I shouldn't be hesitant," Pavlovic said. "And that's what I'm trying to do. The most important thing with me, just don't think and shoot the ball when I'm wide open."
IN-N-OUT: It has been awhile since Avery Bradley had a dud of a game shooting, so he was more than due for a night like this. He finished with eight points, but missed eight of his 10 shots from the field. Like Paul Pierce and Brandon Bass, Bradley never looked comfortable playing without the usual cast in the starting lineup.

"I just kept saying, 'the quicker we get the starters off the floor, the better the chance we have to win the game,'" Rivers said. "And the reason is, I thought mentally it was very challenging for them. Brandon, Avery and Paul. I really did. I just thought they looked around and they didn't see anyone out there and they were just trying to do more stuff."

SUPER SUB: Marquis Daniels came up with another strong night off the bench for the Celtics, delivering the kind of all-around game that the C's haven't seen nearly enough of this season. He had 13 points, five rebounds, four assists, two steals and a blocked shot. "It's good timing," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "We need it."
TURNING POINT: Leading 60-56, the Celtics got a driving dunk followed by a 3-pointer from Sasha Pavlovic that put the C's ahead by nine points. Boston's control of the game was never in doubt afterward.
QUOTE OF NOTE: "Well, someone had to win the game. And we did, which was really nice." - Celtics head coach Doc Rivers.

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.