Celtics-Sixers review: Words come back to bite Sixers


Celtics-Sixers review: Words come back to bite Sixers

BOSTON As a way to motivate his players, Sixers coach Doug Collins told them about the thousands and thousands of minutes logged by Boston's core group of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo in addition to veteran guard Jason Terry.

It was designed to remind them that as tired as they might have felt following Friday night's game, the C's veteran core should be even more tired.

"I'm sure the crowd is going to lift them," Collins said prior to the game. "But there's no reason those guys should be fresher than us, not with the amount of playoff games and minutes they've put into this league."

Celtics coach Doc Rivers, never one to turn down an opportunity to provide added motivation to his players, mentioned this to the Celtics prior to them taking to the court.

Rivers wouldn't say exactly how the team reacted, but did say, "Kevin reacted the way you think he would react."

Regardless of whether it was added fuel for the Celtics, there was no mistaking the C's running away with a surprisingly easy win, 92-79.

Boston (11-9) led the entire game and other than a few minutes in the third quarter, seemed to just get stronger as the game went on.

"You could tell that we definitely wanted this one, needed this one," Celtics veteran big man Chris Wilcox told CSNNE.com. "We brought it the whole game."

And While Collins' comments were intended to motivate his players, Wilcox said they actually wound up providing some much-needed focus to the C's bench.

"We wanted to come in and go to work, so the starters wouldn't have to log that many minutes," said Wilcox who had eight points, three rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.

Paul Pierce was asked about Collins' comments after the win.

"I didn't really think nothing of it; I really didn't," said Pierce who has logged more than 38,000 minutes of court time in his career. "That's crazy that he calculated that."

Finding the necessary motivation to succeed was indeed a key to Boston's win over Philadelphia on Saturday. Here are some other keys identified prior to the game and how they actually played out for the Celtics.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Boston has made a point of getting Kevin Garnett the ball early and often in the post the last two games, which has helped him get into an early groove and the C's get off to a solid start.

WHAT WE SAW: Garnett was a post-presence - offensively at least - for the C's throughout most of his time on the floor. He finished with a team-high 19 points on 9-for-11 shooting. Unfortunately he did not grab a single rebound which had not happened to him since Jan. 21, 1997 when he played for Minnesota and they lost by 12 points to Toronto.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Paul Pierce vs Evan Turner: Both carried their respective teams for long stretches on Friday night with Pierce leading the C's with a game-high 27 points and Turner tallying a double-double with 26 points and 10 rebounds which included the game-winning basket.

WHAT WE SAW: Each player scored 13 points, but Pierce's performance was clearly the more impressive one. In addition to his scoring, he also had a season-high nine assists which took him over the 4,000 career assists plateau - only the fifth Celtic to do so.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jason Terry had his worst shooting game in a Celtic uniform on Friday, tallying just four points while missing 11 of his 12 shots from the field. He promises to be better - a lot better - tonight.

WHAT WE SAW: Terry did all his work scoring the ball in the first half, tallying nine points on 3-for-9 shooting. It wasn't the kind of breakout performance he would have liked, but it was a definite improvement compared to Friday night's debacle.

STAT TO TRACK: The Celtics' rebounding numbers place them at the bottom of the NBA standings this year, but there has been a noticeable improvement lately. Boston came into Friday's game against Philadelphia being out-rebounded by 4.2 boards per game. In the C's last five games, they have edged opponents on the boards by 0.6 per game. Keeping that margin relatively close will once again be a factor in Boston's chances to win tonight.

WHAT WE SAW: The Celtics wound up being minus-4 on the boards for the game. However, when the game was actually a game - the first half - Boston managed to edge out the Sixers on the boards in both quarters which factored into their 48-28 halftime lead.

Celtics-Pistons preview: C's need to defend their top-four spot in East

Celtics-Pistons preview: C's need to defend their top-four spot in East

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- On Friday night, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan absolutely torched the Boston Celtics. The game before that, it was Chicago’s Jimmy Butler giving the Celtics major fits with a barrage of baskets. 

Both were All-Star starters this year, the kind of lofty status that helps explain how the Celtics were so defensively-challenged in their efforts in limiting them.

Detroit doesn’t have a bona fide high-scoring perimeter star like those other teams, but don’t think for a minute that tonight’s game will be a breeze for the Celtics. Boston (37-21) comes in having lost two in a row to Chicago and Toronto, respectively. The Raptors loss was especially painful because it assured the Raptors would get the higher seed in the playoffs if these two teams finished with an identical record. 

Boston hopes to secure an edge over the Pistons tonight with a victory that will give them the season series, three games to one. While it may seem a bit early to get too caught up in tie-breakers and their importance, the last thing Boston wants is to finish the regular season tied with one or more teams, and wind up with the lower seed because they lost the head-to-head series. 

“You hear people say every game counts; it’s true,” Boston’s Amir Johnson told CSNNE.com. “We need to win as many games as we can because you never know which game could be the difference between having home court or not.”

If Boston continues to find ways to win and finish with a tie-free, top-four finish in the East, they will begin the playoffs at the TD Garden for the first time under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens.

Meanwhile the Pistons are currently eighth in the East and, like the Celtics, they too opted to stand pat at the trade deadline. And like Boston, they are looking for growth from within as they try to make their way up the Eastern Conference standings. 

“We’re not real happy with how we’ve played up to this point overall,” said Stan Van Gundy, the Pistons’ president of basketball operations and head coach. “But we still have a young group. As much as you would like the progress to be steadily uphill, it’s not always. That doesn’t mean you lose faith in your guys. At the end of the day, we ended up standing pat, which is pretty much what we expected to do.”

One of Boston’s biggest concerns coming into the game will be rebounding. It was among the many factors contributing to Boston’s loss on Friday. But as much as execution at both ends of the floor will be a factor, effort will be just as vital if not more, to the success of the Celtics in the playoffs. There were plenty of reasons as to why Boston lost on Friday night, with effort being near the top of the list. 

“They played harder than us,” said Celtics forward Jae Crowder. 

And that was surprising when you consider what was at stake – a chance to push their lead over Toronto to five games with a couple dozen to go.

Rookie forward Jaylen Brown has heard all the reasons and explanations as to why the Celtics have hit a mini-hiccup following back-to-back losses. And he has also heard how Boston blew a golden opportunity to beat Toronto with Raptors all-star Kyle Lowry still out. 

“We didn’t have one of our key guys, either,” said Brown, referring to Avery Bradley still being out with a foot injury. So it’s basketball at the end of the day. It doesn’t’ matter who is on the floor. You have to do your job; we just have to do our job.”

Merloni: Red Sox have more pitching depth than people think


Merloni: Red Sox have more pitching depth than people think

Merloni recaps this week of Red Sox spring training.