By A.Sherrod Blakely
WALTHAM In Boston's two playoff wins over New York, the Celtics' ability to execute in the closing moments has stood out.
Just as important has been Celtics coach Doc Rivers' uncanny knack for knowing who to go to, at just the right time.
You put it all together and you have a tightly contested series that, in terms of winners and losers, has been decisively lopsided.
The C's hope to keep the series like that moving forward with Games 3 and 4 at Madison Square Garden on Friday and Sunday, respectively.
Rivers said his formula for play-calling success in tight games is pretty simple.
"It's all about multiple options," he said.
For most late-game plays, Rivers will call a play in which either Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen or Paul Pierce will be the player they're looking to for a basket.
In Boston's 87-85 Game 1 victory, the C's trailed 85-82 with less than a minute to play.
Coming out of a time out, Rivers called for a lob pass to Garnett.
The play completely caught the Knicks off guard.
After a turnover, the C's called another time out.
Again, there were a number of options on the play. The ball ultimately wound up in the hands of Allen who calmly sank the game-winning shot.
"It's like football. You have a whole list, and you pick," Rivers said. "I've been wrong as much as I've been right. But when you're right and the shot goes in, it makes it a lot better."
A big part of the Celtics' late-game success is the fact that this group has been through so many trials and tribulations. It's given them a certain confidence that regardless of what the call is, they can make it happen.
"They've been together for a while and they understand what they have," said Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni. "They've just got so many weapons and it's tough."
But it's still on Rivers to make sure he puts his players in the best position possible.
And part of that involves coming up with plays that completely catch the opposition off guard.
In Game 2, Garnett put the Celtics ahead by one point and then forced a turnover with about four seconds to play.
The Knicks were planning to foul immediately.
Rivers had the Celtics inbound the ball to Delonte West, which was a surprise to the Knicks.
It took New York nearly three seconds to foul West, who went to the line with just 0.6 seconds to play.
"Doc Rivers drew up a hell of a play," said New York's Carmelo Anthony. "A lot of us thought that the ball was coming in the front court, he threw it in the backcourt, it took a lot of time off the clock. You have to take your hat off to Doc for drawing up a hell of a play like that."
But a play is only as good as those who execute it.
And for the Celtics, that starts with point guard Rajon Rondo.
Because of the bond that he has with his coach, Rivers won't hesitate to call a play with several options and be confident that Rondo will make the right read on the play.
"I guess he trusts me," Rondo said. "I've earned his trust, I guess."
And it's true.
The NBA is indeed a player's league.
But those players need direction and guidance, especially down the stretch in close games.
We've seen that up-close in the Celtics series, one that Boston leads 2-0 in part because of Rivers' ability to make the right call in the closing moments of games.
"He does all the plays," Rondo said. "We don't have anything to do with it. We just execute them, I guess. Obviously, we didn't execute them well in the regular season. But these last two games, we've done a pretty good job of executing plays."
Said Allen: "As a coach, he's watching. Doc has watched numerous hours of film. When you see kind of what's happening, you adjust to it on the fly. We have a play for almost everything. He knows who we are; what we're good at."