Pietrus breaks slump in big way; Shaq to thank?

784964.jpg

Pietrus breaks slump in big way; Shaq to thank?

MIAMI Shaquille O'Neal is no longer a member of the Boston Celtics, but he may have delivered an assist that could catapult the C's back into the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.

Boston's 94-90 Game 5 win over Miami was fueled in part by Mickael Pietrus' 13 points off the C's bench - that more than doubled his points total (six) in the first four games of this series.

Pietrus said a text message from O'Neal (now an NBA analyst for TNT) was one of the keys to his breakout performance.

"You know (Monday) I got a text from Shaq telling me keep believing and keep playing," Pietrus said. "So that's what I did."

Celtics coach Doc Rivers has maintained for weeks that any scoring from Pietrus would be "gravy" just as long as he continued to provide solid play defensively against the Heat and their perimeter players such as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

But at some point, you had to figure on Pietrus getting into some kind of rhythm offensively.

Tuesday was that night, as Pietrus connected on 5-of-8 shots which included a pair of 3s in the fourth quarter, each coming at a time when the C's were in dire need of a basket.

His first 3-pointer cut Miami's lead in half, to 78-75.

That play came moments after a spectacular block by Dwyane Wade of a Brandon Bass dunk attempt.

Rajon Rondo, who had 13 assists, wisely tapped the loose ball out to a wide open Pietrus for the 3-pointer.

"When Rondo took that rebound and kicked it out to me, I knew I had to take the shot and make it," Pietrus said. "So that's what I did."

And his second 3-pointer came about after a mad scramble. It put the Celtics ahead 85-83, with 2:11 to play.

Boston would not trail again for the rest of the night.

It was indeed a night of redemption for Pietrus, who came into the game having missed eight of his nine shots from the field in this series.

Despite his struggles shooting the ball, Rivers never hesitated to put him on the floor.

In fact, the deeper the C's got in the playoffs, the more confident Rivers became that Pietrus would find his shooting stroke and revert back to the big-shot maker that, when with Orlando in 2009, was pivotal in ending the Celtics' season.

"He's been down this road before," Rivers said. "He played with Orlando, made big shots, had big defensive stops, was very comfortable."

Pietrus hopes to continue delivering in a similar fashion in Thursday night's series-clinching game.

If he does, there will be plenty of folks Pietrus will surely thank - Shaquille O'Neal among them.

Celtics-Wizards preview: Making of a matchup

Celtics-Wizards preview: Making of a matchup

BOSTON -- While it’s debatable whether the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards are rivals, there’s no question there has been a heightened level of animosity towards one another when they play.

When these two met on Jan. 11, the Celtics came away with a 117-108 win.

But the game itself featured plenty of back-and-forth trash talk, finger-pointing, cries of dirty play and NBA fines.

IN FACT . . . Washington plans to bury Boston

“It’ll be a physical game,” said Jae Crowder who was hit with a five-figure fine for his role in a post-game incident involving Washington’s John Wall. “We have to answer the bell; we’ll be ready.”

Crowder knows he and his teammates must balance being the more physical team, with not losing their cool because if tonight’s game is anything like previous ones, there will be trash talk … lots of trash talk.

“They talk a little bit more than other teams,” said Crowder who added that was a factor in the incident him and Wall which cost them $25,000 and $15,000, respectively.

Crowder said a flagrant-foul committed by Washington’s Bradley Beal against Marcus Smart was what really cranked the level of animosity that was already at a high level.

But Beal probably hasn’t fully put behind him an incident last season in which Smart broke his nose and put him in the league’s concussion protocol program on a Smart drive to the basket.

As far as the hard foul that Beal delivered to him earlier this month, Smart said, “you take exception to every hard foul.”

Smart added, “It’s the game of basketball. You play with your emotions and intensity and everything like that. It comes with the game.”

While Crowder understands the Celtics have to play a physical brand of basketball, he’s not looking to do anything that might result in him having to cut another $25,000 check which was the amount of his fine from the Jan. 11 game against the Wizards.

“I’m looking at it as another game we have to win,” Crowder said. “I’m not looking at it as a rivalry or anything like that. I’m not coming in talking; they might.”

For the Wizards, winners in four of their five games since losing to Boston, a major key to their success lies in the play of their backcourt.

John Wall and Bradley Beal are the latest high-scoring backcourt tandem that the Celtics have to be worried about.

And making matters worse for Boston, the Celtics will have to try and make due without Avery Bradley who is still dealing with a right Achilles injury.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said the 6-foot-2 Bradley was not going to be with the team in Washington and would most likely be out all this week.

That means Boston will lean heavily on Smart to not only help the offense run relatively smooth, but also provide some much-needed defense to help limit Wall and Beal who collectively rank among the higher-scoring starting backcourts in the NBA.

“We have to slow them down; by any means we have to slow them down,” Thomas said. “We know they go as far as those two take them. It’s going to be a tough game. They have a lot of momentum at home. It’ll be a tough game for us. But we’re ready for the opportunity.”

Wall and Beal are just the latest in a string of high-scoring backcourts that the Celtics have had to contend with recently.

In Saturday’s 127-123 overtime home loss to Portland, C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard combined to score 63 points on 20-for-42 shooting from the field.

“This stretch of backcourts is exceptionally difficult,” Stevens said. “They (Wall and Beal) both should be and certainly are in the discussion for the all-star team. It’s a real difficult challenge. Our guys are going to have to be really good on both ends of the floor.”

Wizards to Celtics: We're going to bury you

Wizards to Celtics: We're going to bury you

The last time Boston played at Washington, the Wizards buried them by 25 points.

It seems the Wizards have a similar mindset for Tuesday’s game which will feature every Wizards playing showing up in all-black.

“You know where we’re going with that,” Washington’s Kelly Oubre Jr. told the Washington Post’s Candace Buckner.

Yes.

We do.

But in case anyone wasn’t sure, let John Wall put the cookies on the bottom shelf for you and explain in succinct terms.

“A fun-er-ral!” he said with the man who thought this up, Bradley Beal, in the background yelling, “Yaa!”

The Celtics players acknowledged that Tuesday’s game would most likely be a physical, trash-talking affair.

That stems from their matchup two weeks ago that included a lot of physical play both teams that ultimately ended with the Celtics coming away with a 117-108 win.

ROUND ONE: THE JANUARY 11 GAME

Bradley Beal was whistled for a flagrant-one foul against Marcus Smart that seemed to get both benches hyped up.

Those two have a history dating back to last season when Smart, while driving to the basket, landed his left forearm across Beal’s face. The blow resulted in Beal’s nose being broken in addition to being put in the league’s concussion protocol program.

And after the Jan. 11 game, Jae Crowder and John Wall had a heated exchange of words that ended with Crowder’s pushing his finger into Wall’s nose, and Wall retaliating by slapping Crowder’s face.

The league fined Crowder $25,000 and Wall $15,000 for their roles in the incident.

“It’s going to be a competitive game,” Wall said. “Hopefully everybody just keep it clean and … makes it one of those great battles.”

Said Beal: “We want to keep it clean as much as possible but we know it’ll probably get chippy, a little trash talking.”

Isaiah Thomas, who was whistled for a technical foul in the Jan. 11 game, understands emotions will run pretty high in Tuesday’s game.

 “You just have to be ready for whatever comes our way,” Thomas said. “We’re not going to shy away from it. But we’re all human. There will probably be a little bit of physicality, a little bit of things to carry over to tomorrow’s game. But the most important thing is we just have to try and take care of business.”