Celtics focused on chance to close series


Celtics focused on chance to close series

By A. Sherrod Blakely

NEW YORK Even with the New York Knicks on the edge of playoff elimination, the Boston Celtics are doing what most teams do in their position.

They're showing respect for their opponent, saying all the right things about how this series isn't over, and about how tough Sunday's close-out game will be for them.

"We know that Game 4 is as big as Game 1, 2 and 3 was," Celtics center Jermaine O'Neal told CSNNE.com. "Teams can gain confidence. You don't want to give a team confidence. We know they're going to come and play with a lot of pride, backs to the wall."

Pride is a good thing to have.

Players who can play, even better.

New York's Amar'e Stoudemire has a bad back that's only getting worse. Chauncey Billups' left knee injury suffered near the end of Game 1, probably won't heal in time for him to play Sunday. And Carmelo Anthony has already had his put-the-team-on-my-back moment, and that still wasn't enough to get a win.

In arguably the most popular NBA arena of them all, the stage is set for the Celtics to finish off the Knicks and get plenty of days off before they have to play again.

If the Celtics win, a second-round series against what will likely be Miami, isn't expected to begin until Sunday at the earliest.

While Boston understands their focus has to be on the Knicks now, not recognizing the fact that a victory would be the first series sweep during the Big Three era, is too hard to completely ignore.

It would also be the first postseason sweep for the C's since the 1991-1992 season when they eliminated Indiana, 3-0, in the best-of-five first round playoff series. It would also be their first sweep in a best-of-seven series since eliminating the Milwaukee Bucks, 4-0, in 1986.

But for this group, this is a familiar position to be in.

This is the second straight postseason that the C's have held a 3-0 series lead.

In the two previous instances - last year vs Miami in the first round and Orlando in the Conference finals - the C's lost the close-out game before eventually going on to win the series.

"It'd be great to do it," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "We can't focus on the history and the past. We have to focus on this, one game."

Having had two opportunities to do so a year ago - and failing to get it done in both instances - is reason enough for the Celtics to not look ahead to the second round too soon.

"There's a lot at stake," said Celtics forward Kevin Garnett. "We're playing not for just this game, but preparing and try to get better."

Part of that improvement that Garnett speaks of, is showing more consistency when it comes to putting a team away as quickly as possible.

Not only does it help in terms of building confidence, but for a team with as many miles logged as they have, the sooner they can rest up before the next round, the better their chances are of having some success.

But that, they say, isn't being thought about now.

Players were consistent in trying to keep the focus on Game 4 and the preparation that has to go into that in order for the C's to be successful.

"It's one of the hardest things to do; that close-out game, regardless of when it is, it's one of the hardest games," said Celtics Paul Pierce. "Everybody you can expect a team to give you their best, play their hardest. It's like when you're backs against the wall, you try and do anything. It's probably going to be the hardest game of the season. We have to expect them to throw the kitchen sink at us pretty much. Hard fouls. Aggressive play. We have to expect everything tomorrow."

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

WATCH: Celtics vs. Raptors

WATCH: Celtics vs. Raptors

Tune into CSN to watch the Celtics host the Raptors at TD Garden. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by McDonald's on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

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Celtics-Raptors preview: DeRozan, Lowry a challenge for Bradley, C's

Celtics-Raptors preview: DeRozan, Lowry a challenge for Bradley, C's

BOSTON – Avery Bradley doesn’t mind being a standout, but this is probably not what he had in mind. 

Injuries have ravaged the Boston Celtics’ starting five to the point where only one player, Bradley, has been with the first unit in all 22 games this season. 

Just like Bradley was looked upon to step his game up in the absence of Isaiah Thomas (right groin) at Orlando on Wednesday, he will once again be challenged to lead Boston (13-9) to victory tonight when the Thomas-less Celtics face the Toronto Raptors. 

Bradley’s emergence as a two-way talent this season has overshadowed at times what has been another season of elite play defensively. 

And he’ll need to be on top of his defensive game tonight against a Raptors All-Star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. 

Both Lowry and DeRozan present a different kind of challenge for Bradley who will spend time defending each of them at various points during the game. 

Lowry has good size, strength and deceptive quickness in addition to an under-rated perimeter game that will keep Bradley on his toes for sure. 

This season he's averaging 20.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and a career-high 7.6 assists while shooting 42.9 percent on 3's which is also a career mark. 

And DeRozan is having the kind of season that might get him a few league MVP votes. 

His 28.0 points per game ranks fifth in the NBA, but making his numbers even more impressive is that unlike most guards DeRozan doesn’t generate much offense from three-pointers.

DeRozan averages 1.8 three-point attempts per game which is the fewest attempts among any player ranked among the league’s top-25 scorers.

The 6-foot-7 All-Star is the master of the mid-range game which accounts for 31.5 percent of the points he scores. And when he’s not shooting the mid-range, he’s working a defender in one-on-one iso-situations. 

That helps explain why 76.4 percent of his two-point made field goals are unassisted. 

But here’s the thing about Bradley. 

As much as we give him props for what he does defensively, it’s his offense that has put him on the map as a potential All-Star this season. 

Bradley is averaging a career-high 17.9 points while shooting 47.2 percent from the field. He’s also averaging a career-high 7.8 rebounds per game in addition to shooting a career-high 40.7 percent on 3's.

But for Bradley, individual accolades are only going to come his way by the Celtics winning games; preferably against above-average teams like the Toronto Raptors.

And that would make both Bradley and the Celtics stand out this season.