Celtics to face red-hot Knicks in Round One


Celtics to face red-hot Knicks in Round One

By A.Sherrod Blakely

WASHINGTON Lately, the Boston Celtics have had this nasty habit of making things much harder on themselves than needed.

Keeping true to form, that goes for their playoff fortunes as well.

Boston's 95-94 overtime loss to the Washington Wizards, coupled with a win by Miami and a loss by Philadelphia -- all on Monday -- have the Celtics locked in as the No. 3 seed against the No. 6 seed New York Knicks, one of the hottest teams in the NBA right now.

While the two teams will face each other in the regular-season finale on Wednesday, there's no point in trying to glean too much information from that game.

"We're going to rest guys on Wednesday and get ready," said coach Doc Rivers, who held Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett out of action on Monday and will likely keep them out on Wednesday, along with Jermaine O'Neal. "I'm sure they'll do the same."

In other words, for those looking for a preview of the Pierce-Carmelo Anthony matchup, chances are very good that you won't see either on the floor on Wednesday.

While there may not be a lot to gain from Wednesday's matchup, there are benefits to knowing who they'll face in the first round right now.

"That's not a bad thing," Rivers said.

What has been bad in spurts lately, is the Celtics' play.

They come into their regular-season finale having lost three of their last four games, the kind of late-season slump no team that's seriously thinking about winning a title, should be riding as they gear up for the postseason.

Despite the struggles, players sound convinced that it won't be an issue once the playoffs arrive.

"The playoffs are a different level," said Celtics forward Jeff Green. "Every possession counts. We just have to continue to move forward. We can't look back to what we did in the past. We have to put that behind us and continue to get better."

Added Glen Davis: "Everyone is ready, so I'm not worried about losing three of the last four games," he said. "We still have one more game and then it's a new season. That's how we see the playoffs. We're ready to play at that level."

In New York, Boston faces one of the more explosive trios in the NBA.

Amar'e Stoudemire has been joined by Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, forming their own Gotham version of the Big Three.

While New York has had its share of ups and downs this season, they seem to be figuring out how to get wins at just the right time.

The Knicks have won seven in a row, which is currently tied with top-seeded Chicago for the longest current winning streak in the NBA.

"They're going to be challenging," Green said.

Which is why many within Celtics Nation were hoping that the Celtics would avoid facing a red-hot New York Knicks team, and instead square off against a Philadelphia 76ers club that's high on athleticism but lacking playoff experience.

While the Celtics have a number of players with a decent postseason resume, the majority of this Celtics team wasn't around last season. So for many, this is their first go-around with a team like Boston where competing for a championship isn't something that's desired - it's an expectation.

"We are taking the same intensity and focus into these playoffs as we always do," said Ray Allen. "We don't have the same team and it is going to be great experience for our new additions to play at the playoff level. You can't expect anything going into the playoffs. You just have to go in full force and make it happen. It's not something to be comfortable about; you have to go in with an attitude and play your best."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

C's showed Patriots support in AFC semifinal game

C's showed Patriots support in AFC semifinal game

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens has a tremendous amount of respect for New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and what he has built in Foxboro.

But it wasn't until Sunday’s playoff game between the Patriots and the Houston Texans did he actually see them play at Foxboro.

And while Stevens is from Indiana and is indeed an Indianapolis Colts fan, the Patriots have his support for a multitude of reasons.

“It was fun to watch,” said Stevens who attended the game with his father and his son. “When you talk about rooting interest, you root for who you know. I was definitely rooting for them. I hope they can go all the way. It was fun to watch.”

He wasn’t the only Celtic in Foxboro cheering on the Patriots who pulled away for a 34-16 win over the Texans.

Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas was there watching from a suite.

“It was a nice. They won. I got a lot of backlash for switching up,” said Thomas, a Tacoma, Wash. Native who grew up rooting for the Seattle Seahawks.

“It was good, just to be on that field and be around those guys,” Thomas said. “You can tell, they’re focused on winning a championship, winning the Superbowl. You want to be around those type of players.”

That goes for coaches as well, which is why Brad Stevens has maintained a good relationship with Belichick who has created the kind of winning atmosphere that all coaches want.

“One of the things they’ve’ created is sustainability and culture,” Stevens said. “Any coach wants to be in a position where over the course of time every single year you suit up, you got a chance. Because of the commitment of doing things the way they want to do it … they’ve created that. I can’t say enough good things about the job that he’s done. I’ve got a chance to watch him up close. You feel pretty inadequate when you walk out of that building as a coach.”

Stevens has also been impressed with the way the Patriots have handled injuries and situations where  a key player has been down.

“There’s been a ton of change in the roster and he just keeps churning out wins regardless of who is on the field. Obviously (Tom) Brady has been a constant through all of that. But at the same time, there have been a lot of changes at a lot of significant positions. They just do their job well. That’s the bottom line.

Celtics being cautious with Avery Bradley's return from Achilles injury

Celtics being cautious with Avery Bradley's return from Achilles injury

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Before Sunday’s practice, Avery Bradley was off to one of the side courts working on his catch, two-dribble, pull-up game.
And once practice started, Bradley was on the floor with the rest of his teammates, participating in both contact and non-contact drills.
While his return on Sunday was certainly a positive, there’s still some uncertainty as to whether he’ll return to action on Monday against Charlotte after having missed the last four games with a right Achilles injury.
While he has made steady progress since suffering the injury earlier this month, the Celtics are being cautious about his return, knowing how a return too soon could set him and the Celtics back significantly.
Bradley’s value to the Celtics is not even up for debate, but the Celtics have managed to find ways to win despite being without their top on-the-ball defender and number two scorer.
“We’ve gotten good practice with not being with our key guys this year,” quipped Stevens. “So it’s just the next guy has to be ready to go. A lot of guys can fill in, and not try and replace one guy with another guy but rather by committee.”
Marcus Smart, a player Stevens has often referred to as the team’s sixth starter, has filled in for Bradley with the first unit.
In the last four games, Smart has averaged 14.0 points to go with 4.8 assists, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.5 steals while shooting 40 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from 3-point range.
Terry Rozier has seen an uptick in his court time as well with Bradley out, resulting in him averaging 5.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.0 assists while shooting 60 percent (9-for-15) and 40 percent (2-for-5) from 3-point range.
Indeed, Bradley’s absence has afforded other Celtics an opportunity to step up and do so in a meaningful way that’s helping Boston win games.

Bradley has missed a total of five games on the season. Boston has managed to hold their own in his absence, posting a 4-1 record.

This recent Achilles injury has been the only setback of significance this season for Bradley.

We’re used to seeing Bradley improve from one year to the next, but this season has been nothing short of sensational for the sixth-year player.
His 18.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game are both career-highs. He’s also shooting 41.7 percent on 3s which is also a new career mark for the 6-foot-2 guard.