Not a winning effort

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Not a winning effort

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

BOSTON After six weeks of uninspired basketball, the playoffs were supposed to serve as an immediate wakeup call for the Boston Celtics. But when the curtain went up on Sunday, the Cs merely hit the snooze bar, and spent the better part of the night stuck in a familiar nightmare.

Their All-Star point guard was inconsistent. Their Hall of Fame shooting guard struggled to find rhythm. They were sloppy with the ball and wasted key possessions. Their bench was non-existent, and at many keys moments, so was their defense.

The truth is that for most of their Game One battle with the Knicks, the Celtics were the same team thats struggled since the deadline. The playoff alarm sounded, and they couldn't be bothered. And had any number of things played out differently over the final quarter hell, the last 21 seconds Boston would be a very different place this morning. Bruins fans wouldnt be the only ones lining up at the Zakim Bridge.

Instead, Ray Allen happened, and now the Celtics are up 1-0.

Sure, it wasnt pretty, but style points dont count for much in the NBA playoffs. Regardless of how they got there, Boston still achieved what fellow contenders like the Lakers, Spurs and Magic couldnt. Their homecourts still intact. Momentums on their side. Meanwhile, the Knicks are stunned, and left to wonder if they just let their best chance to steal the series slip away.

Now, Bostons seemingly in control, but as much youd love to get lost in Allens heroics and Carmelo Anthonys failures and celebrate the Celtics win with no strings attached, its also hard to ignore the gory details of their performance:

Although he played better in spurts, Rajon Rondo didnt break out the way everyone expected, or dominate in the way he needs to. The playoff spotlight didnt bust Jeff Green out of his shell, or bring out Big Babys familiar magic. There were still long stretches when the team looked like it was put together that afternoon. The Cs have lost confidence in Nenad Krstic, still have no answer for Amare Stoudemire and are now counting so heavily on Jermaine ONeal who despite an unbelievable performance, still hasnt shown that his body can survive the rigors of playoff hoops.

The fire, chemistry and cohesiveness that we all assumed would return with the start of the playoffs wasnt completely there, and at the end of a long, hard-fought night, the Celtics still only proved that theyre good enough to barely beat the Knicks at the Garden. And that was never even in question.

Despite any general pessimism heading into the postseason, beating New York was always the expectation. The problems, questions and fears were about Miami and Chicago. And despite Sundays win, those fears still very much exist. Boston can take solace in its 1-0 lead its certainly better than the alternative but it did very little to raise expectations or soothe fears that Banner 18 is slipping away.

At least for today.

But moving forward there obviously is reason for optimism.

In an ideal world, the postseason switch was supposed to be an easy remedy to Celtics problems. They were going to just show up at the Garden, see hordes of media, the playoff decals on the court and snap back into shape. But in retrospect, that attitude probably didn't do justice to what the NBA Playoffs are all about.

In reality, you don't just show up playoff ready. You don't just step onto the court, a year later, and snap right back into that mentality. You have to live it. You need to struggle. We saw it all around the league. Game Ones are a crap shoot. All bets are off. Everyone's feeling it out.

Players need to independently remember: "Oh, that's right. I forgot how different this is." Teams, if they're going to succeed, need to collectively have that moment when they come together and realize: "OK, this is for real now. Let's make this happen."

Last year, the Celtics didnt officially arrive in the playoffs until Kevin Garnett shoved Quentin Richardson in front of Miamis bench. That was the moment when the Celtics switch officially flipped, and they never looked back.

On Sunday night, only a few feet from where that season-changing altercation took place, Ray Allen drained a dagger that Celtics fans can only hope will have the same effect.

Boston was at the brink of disaster. Not that a 1-0 is remotely insurmountable, but for all this team has gone through, the way they'd played up to that point and the overriding tension surrounding the franchise after trade, it's hard to imagine them responding well to a Game 1 loss. Especially one lost in that fashion. It would have been bad.

Instead, Ray Allen happened, and now the Celtics are up 1-0.

Now, the Celtics have had their moment. They've gone through the playoff ringer, and should come out awake and ready to play on Tuesday.

If not, at this point, its hard to imagine what might do the trick.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Avery Bradley (Achilles) returning to Celtics lineup vs. Hawks

Avery Bradley (Achilles) returning to Celtics lineup vs. Hawks

BOSTON – The wait is finally over for the Boston Celtics and Avery Bradley.

Bradley will return to the Celtics starting lineup tonight after having missed the previous 18 games (and 22 out of 23) with a right Achilles injury.

“I’m excited to be back out there,” Bradley said. “I can’t wait for the game to start.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said Bradley will play with a minutes restriction for the first week, and adjust accordingly.

“I wanted to come back four weeks ago,” Bradley said. “But I have to do what’s smartest. Those (medical) guys know better than me. It was tough listening to them. But we came to a compromise I guess you could say and I can play tonight. I’m happy with that decision.”

Bradley said the training staff wanted him to get more practices playing at the level he’s accustomed to, prior to returning to action.

But with the Celtics’ schedule, practice time would be few and far between so limiting his minutes initially is indeed a compromise of sorts.

Although rookie Jaylen Brown has done a solid job filling in for Bradley with the first unit, Stevens had every intention of Bradley returning as a starter.

“He’s our starting two-guard,” Stevens said. “We started the year really well as far as that group playing together. We haven’t had that group playing together very often. Jaylen and Marcus (Smart) are both able to give us a lot off the bench as well as if we need to plug them into a (starting) lineup later on. We feel good about that.”

As far as handling Bradley’s minutes this week, Stevens has a very simple approach to what he needs to do.

“I’m just going to play him in the first couple of stints,” Stevens said. “And when his minutes run out he won’t play anymore. It is hard if you’re trying to save minutes for the end. I’m not sure that makes a lot of sense with getting stiff, sitting for a long time, coming off a long lay-off.”

Bradley is the Celtics’ second-leading scorer at 17.7 points per game along with a team-high 6.9 rebounds. A first-team All-NBA Defender last season, Bradley is also shooting a career-high 40.9 percent from 3-point range.

Thomas says he's 'not even worried about' bad blood with Schroder

Thomas says he's 'not even worried about' bad blood with Schroder

BOSTON -- No matter what Isaiah Thomas and Dennis Schroder say, you get the feeling there’s still some bad blood between these two.
 
It goes back to the playoffs last season when Thomas slapped Schroder in the face and extended into their last meeting in which Schroder said Thomas spoke unkind words about his family in Atlanta (allegations that Thomas has repeatedly denied).
 
Following Atlanta’s shoot-around this morning, Schroder doubled down on his previous comments about Thomas having said things about his family.
 
“Everybody heard it, too,” Schroder said earlier today. “My family sat courtside too. Thabu (Sefolosha) heard some things; he was involved in that. It is what it is. We just try to compete and it’s getting heated in the game. It is what it is.”
 
I asked Thomas about the Schroder allegations following Boston’s 104-98 win at Detroit on Sunday night.
 
“Man, I’m past that. I’m not worried about that guy,” Thomas said. “Once he did that the last game, where he tried to damage my character, (saying I was) talking about his parents … I’m past that. Hopefully we can beat the Atlanta Hawks. I’m not even worried about him.”
 
Schroder speaks a similar tone about his approach to tonight’s game.
 
Boston (38-21) is looking to build off the win at Detroit which snapped a two-game losing streak.
 
Meanwhile, the Hawks (32-26) have lost three straight -- each defeat by at least 15 points -- and four of their last five.
 
In the last two losses, Schroder was suspended for one game because he missed practice following the All-Star break (he told the Hawks there was a visa mix-up) and was late arriving to the team bus for another so he began that game on the bench.
 
That’s why the beef that still exist between both players isn’t likely to be a major deal tonight; at least that’s what they want us to believe.
 
“We gotta win,” Schroder said. “We lost two in a row after All-Star break. I think the team is more important than a player on the other team. We just focus on winning this game and try to compete for 48 minutes.”
 
Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer will be the first to tell you that Schroder’s competitive drive is among the reasons the franchise hasn’t looked back on its decision to trade all-star Jeff Teague and give Schroder the keys to running the team.
 
He has certainly had his moments when that decision might be questioned, but for the most part he has shown the kind of growth individually that they were hoping for as a full-time starter.
 
This season he’s averaging career highs in scoring (17.4) and assists (6.3) per game.
 
However, Atlanta hasn’t enjoyed the same level of success this year that we’ve seen from them recently.
 
A fixture among the top two or three teams the past couple of years, they are currently fifth in the NBA, trailing East-leading Cleveland by 8.5 games and the No. 2 Celtics by 5.5 games.
 
And while Boston does have a nice cushion with 24 games left to play, they know a strong finish will position them to better control their postseason destiny -- something that hasn’t been the case the past couple of seasons in which Boston began the playoffs on the road as a lower seed.
 
As much as the need to win will be front and center tonight, all eyes will be on the two point guards.
 
But in the end, both understand that tonight’s game isn’t about which of them can out-perform the other.
 
“Dennis is a competitive guy, as is Isaiah,” Budenholzer said. “They both are more concerned about their teams and what’s best for their teams.”