Celtics prove they still have it in them

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Celtics prove they still have it in them

In Game 3, we learned that the Celtics wont need their best basketball to beat the Hawks. In Game 4, we learned that either way the Celtics still have that best basketball in them.

Now, theyre heading back to Atlanta, with a very real chance to send the Hawks fishin'.

Here are a few thoughts on last night and what lies ahead:

It was just a nice way of playing. Doc Rivers, on the Game 4 victory

Hard to disagree with the Dr. on that one.

The Celtics we saw last night, were the Celtics from early April. They were the team that peaked against the Heat before shutting it down for the rest of the season (and the first three games of the playoffs). They were the team that can compete with anyone in the Eastern Conference.

Now obviously the Hawks weren't the most worthy opponent, but at the very least, they were better than the team that took Boston into OT on Friday. And really, it doesn't matter, because if the C's are clicking like they were last night, they can play with and beat anyone.

But maintaining the magic won't be easy.

The biggest issue is Paul Pierce's knee.

Of course, with Pierce, you're never entirely sure what's going on, and the details surrounding this particular injury only make the whole thing more confusing. He tripped over someone in shoot around? Either there's something else to the story, or this is karma's way of burning everyone who laughed at the Mariano Rivera video.

That being said, it's very fair to assume that Pierce will be in the lineup on Tuesday, but until he's out there and not limping around like was during the last few minutes on Sunday the questions will linger, and add just a little more pressure on the Celtics to keep their foot on the pedal and send the Hawks home early. Everyone needs the rest.

(Random stat: Pierce thankfully only played 17 minutes in last night's game, but that wasn't his career playoff low. Back in 2009, the Captain found a ton of foul trouble in Game 2 of Boston's second round series against the Magic, and played only 15:42. The Celtics won that one, too. Thanks to a Rajon Rondo triple-double and 31 POINTS from Eddie House. Mikki Moore chipped in with two points and a rebound).

The fact that Ray Allen played in both games this weekend is incredibly uplifting, but the news that he's reconsidering surgery is almost unbelievable.

At shoot around, Allen said that his ankle hurt so badly on Saturday that he had to walk sideways, and then all of a sudden, it's better than ever and ready for the long haul?

I don't know. Regardless of how great Allen felt last night, I still expect this to be a day-to-day issue, and wouldn't be surprised to see him miss a few more games down the stretch. Still, the fact that Allen has given the Celtics anything in this series is more than anyone could have expected, and it's thankfully quieted any speculation that his absence was an issue of spite as much as it was injury.

Allen's availability may remain up in the air, but there's no question on Avery Bradley. Here's what he had to last night, when asked about his status:

"I'm ready, and I'll be ready for Round 2."

First of all, it's somewhat fitting for Bradley to make a premature comment about Round 2 with Tracy McGrady sitting in the other locker room, but we'll cut him some slack, and focus on this: Avery Bradley is turning into a monster.

The level of confidence he's developed over the course of this series after a very shaky first game is off the charts, and like his game, seems to grow every time he takes the court.

Last night was the kind of game we expected to see from Rondo on Friday. The kind of performance that takes the Celtics from the middle of the pack basically, what you saw in the first three games to being a legitimate Eastern Conference contender.

Speaking with the media last week, Rondo made a subtle reference to being "the best point guard in the NBA," and while that's very debatable, there's no doubt that when he plays like he did last night, there's no point guard in the world who's a better fit for this team. There's no one who Doc Rivers, Danny Ainge, Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce would rather have running the show.

If Rondo can maintain that energy and focus tomorrow night in Game 5, it will be the last game of the series.

(Random stat: Going back to the regular season, Rondo's now picked up 10 assists in 27 straight games. If he can do it again on Tuesday, he'll tie his personal playoff best of 10 assists in four straight games, which he accomplished in Games 4-7 against the Bulls in 2009.)

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Beleskey, Liles sitting tonight vs. Coyotes

Beleskey, Liles sitting tonight vs. Coyotes

BRIGHTON, Mass. – With the NHL trade deadline a mere one day away, the Bruins will keep two veterans, who could be shipped elsewhere, out of their lineup tonight against the Arizona Coyotes at TD Garden.

Matt Beleskey and John-Michael Liles will both be scratches as the B's try to make it seven wins in eight tries under interim coach Bruce Cassidy. Tuukka Rask will get the call between the pipes against the Western Conference foe. The Liles scratch means that Colin Miller draws back in after being the healthy scratch in the Sunday matinee victory in Dallas.

The lines and pairings will look the same as they’ve been most of the time over the past seven mostly successful games. The Bruins will be focused on setting the tone rather than worrying about what the new-look Coyotes are going to do.

“The road trip is behind us and Arizona is in front of us, and that’s about as simple as we can make it,” said Cassidy. “They’re one of the teams that is on our schedule. I’m not being disrespectful at all in any way, shape or form, but our focus is on the Boston Bruins and getting our game in shape to play. Then we’ll make the minor adjustments we have to make.”

Here are the projected Bruins line combos and D-pairings against the Coyotes based on the morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena:

 
Marchand-Bergeron-Backes

Cehlarik-Krejci-Pastrnak

Vatrano-Spooner-Hayes

Schaller-Moore-Nash

 
Chara-Carlo

Krug-McQuaid

K. Miller-C. Miller

 
Rask 

Spooner, coming to life with Bruins, feels Julien 'just didn't really trust me'

Spooner, coming to life with Bruins, feels Julien 'just didn't really trust me'

BRIGHTON -- The Bruins' third line has been reborn under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, and the players are now openly admitting they desperately needed a change.

Claude Julien never trusted Frank Vatrano, Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes enough defensively to play them together, but this line has blossomed under Cassidy: Six goals, 15 points and a plus-11 in seven games. They’ve survived in the defensive zone by rarely playing there. Instead, they push the pace, make plays to keep the puck out of the D-zone and, most importantly, keep producing the secondary offense that wasn’t there in the first 55 games of the season. 

No one has been freed from the shackles more than Spooner, who is back playing his natural center position after being forced to play left wing under Julien. The 25-year-old said Tuesday that getting a clean slate with a new coach has been extremely beneficial to him, and that perhaps he didn't always love playing for the guy now minding the bench in Montreal. 

“I felt like the last coach ... he just didn’t really trust me,” said Spooner, who has two goals and six points along with a plus-1 rating in seven games post-Julien. “It might've been kind of on me not really playing to the potential that I have, but at the same time . . . I just don’t think that he really liked me as a player. It’s kind of in the past now. It’s just a part of the game. It’s up to me to just go out there and just play, and not have that stuff in the back of my mind. 

“I just kind of have to go out there and believe in myself and I think at times I wasn’t really going out there and doing that. Maybe that’s something to learn. This sport has ups and downs, and I’ve had my downs. You learn that you can just sort of push through it. If you do that then things can be good.”

Spooner has 10 goals and 33 points along with a minus-3 this season, and could potentially surpass last year's numbers (13-36-49) in his second full season. 

Most felt that the speedy, skilled Spooner would be one of the big beneficiaries of the move from Julien to Cassidy, and now he’s showing that with a new lease on life in Boston.