Doc: 'The key is to keep our focus'

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Doc: 'The key is to keep our focus'

PHILADELPHIA Conventional wisdom would lead one to believe that the Boston Celtics, having already regained home-court advantage with their Game 3 blowout win, already have what they came for.
A win in Game 4 would be nice, but not necessary.
For all the game-planning Doc Rivers and his staff will do between now and Friday night's Game 4 matchup, flushing that kind of mentality out of his players will be his biggest challenge.
"We won the first one and now we have another one," Rivers said. "The key is to keep our focus and play the way we played, with the same energy and not play like, 'You won one. Now you can relax.' "
That'll be easier said than done, especially against a Sixers team that will play a desperate brand of basketball knowing a Game 4 loss would make a Game 5 trip to Boston nothing more than a coronation of what many believed was true before the series started -- Boston is better and will make short work of a good, but still growing, Sixers team.
Anyone who witnessed the C's beatdown of the Sixers on Wednesday came away with no doubt as to which team was better.
Even Rajon Rondo, who tends to keep his feelings and thoughts close to the vest, made it clear that Game 3 was indeed a statement-type game for the Celtics after two down-to-the-wire finishes in Games 1 and 2 in Boston.
Celtics guard Ray Allen acknowledged the C's came into Game 3 with something to prove.
"We won Game 1, but there was almost a sense that we stole it from them," Allen said. "And in Game 2, we kicked ourselves because we feel we should have won that one. After those two games, the Sixers are looking at it like, 'Hey, we're supposed to be up 2-0' and we're going to our home floor.' Game 3 was evident if we played convincingly the way we did last night, in the first two games, there would have been a different feeling around the series but it's not. We have to take Game Three and produce that same feeling, that same effect in Game Four."
But as much as the C's want to build off of what they did well in Game 3, the reality is that Game 4 will be different.
The Sixers are only down 2-1, but they know another loss will put them in a predicament that they are highly unlikely to rebound from.
So as much as the Celtics want to replicate the success they had in Game 3, Friday night's Game 4 battle will be a much tougher challenge than Game 3.
There was a heightened sense of urgency heading into Game 3 on the part of the Celtics, the kind of urgency that's difficult to produce again so quickly when the circumstances this time around are so different.
Had the Celtics lost Game 3, they would be the desperate team heading into Game 4, knowing another loss would make it next to impossible for them to move on to the next round.
In so many ways, that must-win mentality brought out the best in the Celtics.
Kevin Garnett continued his dominance of this series with 27 points and 14 rebounds. Rajon Rondo (23 points, 14 assists) once again proved to be a big-game performer. The C's even found a defibrillator for their seemingly dead-to-the-world bench that had produced very little offensively aside from Allen's contributions.
Mickael Pietrus, returning to the Sixers' home floor for the first time since suffering a Grade-3 concussion on March 23, had a huge game off the bench with 13 points on 4-for-8 shooting.
"That's huge for us," said Paul Pierce. "When you got guys like him coming in, Ryan Hollins, Keyon Dooling. Everybody has to contribute for us to win. It takes a lot of pressure off us when our bench can come in and contribute as well as defensively."
The C's will look for all that and then some in Game 4, hoping the end result will be the same as Game 3.
But as hard as it may be to look past the Game 3 beating, Rivers knows that game, as good as it was for his team, won't do them a bit of good on Friday.
"You have to win the series," Rivers said. "That's the point here. You have to take one game at a time. You can't look at what you done, if you lost or won. That last game is over."
And if the C's win on Friday, you can say the same for this series.

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.