C's motivation won't be an issue against Heat


C's motivation won't be an issue against Heat

By A.Sherrod Blakely

MIAMI The Boston Celtics' Big Four share an NBA title from 2008, and came within a few minutes of a second championship last year.

The Celtics have won nearly 75 percent of the regular season games (233-92) played since Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett joined forces with Paul Pierce and an up-and-coming point guard, some guy named Rajon Rondo.

You don't have that kind of success without understanding how to perform in big games.

And Sunday's game against the Miami Heat?

They don't get much bigger than that for the Celtics before the playoffs.

Both teams share the No. 2 spot in the East with identical 55-24 records.

But the Celtics hold the tie-breaker because they swept the first three games of the regular season series. Because of that, the C's would get the higher seed if they finished in a tie.

Which brings us back to Sunday's game.

Knowing what's at stake, it's a given the Celtics would come out with great energy and focus.

But as we've come to find with this team, nothing should be taken for granted.

That's why Celtics head coach Doc Rivers isn't too keen on proclaiming that his team will be ready to play at a high enough level to win on Sunday.

"It does bother me because if we would have done our job, this would have been decided," Rivers said. "And that's what bothers me. Now, we've put ourselves in this position."

And only they can get themselves out of it.

To do so, Boston will have to continue its dominance of the Heat. Boston has won its last three road games against Miami, and seven of the last eight at America Airlines Arena.

But those games featured a different team.

And the stakes back then weren't nearly as high as they are now.

The Celtics players know that there have been times lately when their sense of urgency deserves to be questioned.

But they don't see that as an issue on Sunday.

"I expect everybody to be ready," said Boston's Allen. "A game like that I don't look over my shoulder, wondering if guys are going to be ready to play."

Pierce had similar thoughts on the C's approach to Sunday's nationally televised matchup.

"This is a big game for us," Pierce said. "That's what we are playing for, for the home court advantage. Not only for the first round, but hopefully we will see them in the second round. This is a big game for us when you are talking about seeds and trying to advance in the playoffs. It's huge."

And while the Celtics have shown a certain dominance over the Heat, even with all their highly regarded additions, there's no mistaking that the Miami Heat team they see on Sunday will come in with a playoff-like mentality.

"You are going to get an extremely hungry team in Miami for a lot of reasons," Rivers said. "We're going into a hornet's nest and we're going to have to deal with it."

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

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.