Celtics look to get healthy as they prepare for Hawks

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Celtics look to get healthy as they prepare for Hawks

WALTHAM The window between knowing who you'll face in the playoffs and the actual first game is a relatively small one - most of the time, at least.

It's certainly not for the Boston Celtics this year.

The C's first playoff game will be Saturday or Sunday, but they already know the opponent will be Atlanta.

It is the only playoff series matchup that has already been determined.

Although the Celtics' docket still includes regular season games against Miami on Tuesday and Milwaukee on Thursday, the C's understand that they have to start shifting their mindset towards the playoffs.

Knowing who they'll face, with nearly a week to prepare, can only help.

"The playoffs, they're going to come quick," said Celtics forward Paul Pierce. "There's a lot of teams that don't know who they're going to play. In the Western Conference, you don't know who the eighth seed is going to be, maybe some seed changes here and there. You play that last game on Thursday, and you got one day to prepare for who you're gonna play Saturday or Sunday."

That's why the Celtics will look to play most of their core guys in at least one of the two remaining regular season games.

However, the C's will be a bit short-handed against Miami on Tuesday. C's coach Doc Rivers has already ruled out Ray Allen (ankle) and Greg Stiemsma (feet) for Tuesday's game, and added that Rajon Rondo (back) and Mickael Pietrus (knee) are both questionable.

Allen has missed 13 games this season with his current ankle injury, which includes the last seven. Stiemsma has been battling foot issues for most of this season, with them getting so bad that he was unable to play in the second half of Boston's loss at Atlanta on Friday. Rondo's back injury, suffered at New York on Tuesday, has kept him out of the last two Celtics game.

While Rivers said there was a chance that he might play Tuesday, Rondo didn't sound nearly as optimistic.

"It's sore a little bit," Rondo said. "It'll be sore for a while, I'm sure."

When asked about playing against the Heat, Rondo said, "We'll see how it feels in the morning."

Rivers also wants to rest Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett for one of the two remaining games, but he said he wouldn't completely rule out playing in both, either.

"They're going to play at least one game," Rivers said. "There's a chance (that they'll play both games) if I think they feel good and have a good rhythm, yeah, there's a chance. But I'm just going to play it out and see how it goes."

Regardless of how they fare in the remaining regular season games, it's all about getting it done in the playoffs.

"A lot of this practice, preparation for today is not only for Miami, but for Atlanta also," Pierce said. "It's good that we can have these days of practice."

Celtics set to face a number of potential first-round foes

Celtics set to face a number of potential first-round foes

BOSTON – Beating the Indiana Pacers 109-100 on Wednesday was about more than padding the win column while improving their position near the top of the East standings.

It was also a potential preview of who they might face in the first round of the playoffs, a scenario that will play itself out several times in the Celtics’ last 10 games of the regular season.

In fact, five of Boston’s remaining games (Miami, Milwaukee twice, Atlanta and Charlotte) are against teams that are likely to be the pool of potential first-round foes that the Celtics will face next month.

And of those five games, three (Miami and Milwaukee twice) will be at the TD Garden which has given rise to optimism that the Celtics can finish the season strong enough to potentially catch the Cleveland Cavaliers for the overall top seed in the East.

Boston’s win over Indiana coupled with Cleveland’s 126-113 loss at Denver moves the Celtics within 1.0 game of the Cavs.

“It’s going to be good for us,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley, referring to playing potential playoff foes to close out the regular season. “Every team is playing hard right now and it’s our job to continue to keep playing the right way and trying to prepare for the playoffs.”

The Celtics did just that on Wednesday against the Pacers, establishing a defensive presence early on that soon morphed into solid play offensively that enabled Boston (46-26) to emerge victorious for the fifth time in their last six games.

And doing so against a potential playoff opponent made the victory that much sweeter.

“It’s very important,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “Every win is big, every game is big. But especially against those teams we might end up facing (in the playoffs). We have to control what we can control, especially at home. We have to take care of business.”

Wednesday’s victory was the latest success story at home for Boston which has won 12 of its last 13 at the TD Garden.

But as well as they have played, the Celtics have left themselves plenty of room for improvement.

They came into Wednesday’s game averaging 13.2 turnovers per game which would be a franchise-low if they can maintain that through these last 10 games.

But on Wednesday, they had 14 turnovers by halftime.

“There were moments in the first half where we were careless,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “And then there were moments that it was just like one of those nights where for whatever reason we missed a few catches, we missed a few, probably, easy passes. For whatever reason those nights happen.”

But the Celtics were a completely different team in terms of turnovers in the second half, courtesy of a stern tongue-lashing by Stevens.

The second-half turnaround by Boston turning the ball over – they only had three in the second half – shows both the potential problems and the promise of figuring it out on the fly that makes this Celtics team one to watch come playoff time.

“We’re almost there,” Bradley said. “We’re close.”

Stars, studs and duds: Stevens' strategy key to win vs. Pacers

Stars, studs and duds: Stevens' strategy key to win vs. Pacers

BOSTON – For as long as the Boston Celtics have been winning under Brad Stevens, the team’s depth has been critical to that success.

It affords him the luxury to throw wave after wave after wave at opponents, a tried and true strategy of wearing teams down over time.

But there are times when head coach Brad Stevens will look to match his depth with certain matchups, and that at times results in more players watching from the bench … all night.

That was indeed the case on Wednesday night against Indiana, but you can’t knock the game plan considering how crucial that strategy would be to Boston pulling away for a 109-100 win over the Pacers.

Rotation regulars Terry Rozier and Jonas Jerebko did not play (coaches decision), as did Gerald Green whose status has fluctuated in and out of the rotation most of this season.

Stevens said the decision to shorten the player rotation was purely about matching up best with a physical Pacers team which is why 7-foot center Tyler Zeller saw more action than usual.

“This team was bigger,” Stevens said following the win. “The rebounding was a scary thing. Obviously, they hurt us on the glass big-time in the second half and I wanted a little bit more size.”

Having the ability to go deep into the bench and cater the rotation to a specific opponent is a luxury few NBA teams have at their disposal.

“We’re deep. We’ve been deep since I’ve been here,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “That’s one of the strengths but it’s also … it’s tough for Brad. You obviously want to play everybody and he can’t.”

Stevens knows all too well that the players that did not see action on Wednesday, aren’t happy about not playing.

But to their credit, each of them has been down this road before and while disappointed, they continue to prepare as though they will play the next time out.

“And I respect that,” Stevens said. “And that’s hard. But we’re going to need all those guys and we’re going to need them to be playing great.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Wednesday’s game between Boston and Indiana.

 

STARS

Paul George

It was another dominant scoring night for George who reminded us all that he was indeed the best player on the floor. He led all scorers with 37 points on 11-for-26 shooting with five rebounds and three steals.

Isaiah Thomas

The contributions of others is allowing Thomas to play more manageable minutes and just as important, rest for long stretches in the fourth quarter. He still managed to lead the Celtics with 25 points on 9-for-21 shooting with five assists, a steal and a blocked shot.

 

STUDS

Jeff Teague

Isaiah Thomas had problems early on keeping up with Teague, and that seemed to be just what Teague needed to get going and frankly, not slow down. He had 25 points on 10-for-15 shooting with six assists and a steal.

Avery Bradley

One of the triumvirate of defenders used by Boston on Paul George, Bradley had 18 points on 7-for-13 shooting with eight rebounds and two assists.

Kelly Olynyk

The big nights for Olynyk are starting to become the rule and not so much the exception. He had a near double-double with 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting to go with eight rebounds and four assists.

Tyler Zeller

Six points and three rebounds may not seem like that big a deal. But Zeller’s play once again, even in limited spurts, was one of the keys to Boston coming away with the win. Despite playing fewer minutes than any Celtic off the bench, he had a plus/minus of +8 which was second among reserves only to Kelly Olynyk (+12).

 

DUDS

Celtics turnovers

Boston did a much better job at limiting turnovers in the second half, but the damage had already been done with 14 – that’s more than their season average of 13.2 – in the first half.

Celtics defensive boards

Boston was very fortunate that second-chance points didn’t become a bigger factor considering the Pacers had 18 offensive rebounds but only got 15 second-chance points compared to the Celtics who grabbed 10 offensive rebounds which led to 12 second-chance points.