Celtics maintain focus against lesser opponent

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Celtics maintain focus against lesser opponent

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Even great teams have imperfections, but as the season goes on and the Celtics keep winning (and staying relatively healthy in the process), its become more difficult to find legitimate faults in the 2010-11 squad.

Heading into Tuesday nights blowout win over the Cavs, however, the spotlight was fixated on Bostons record against far inferior opponents.

The Cs were 33-10 when the night began, but five of those losses had come against teams with sub-.500 records. And the trend of looking past, and playing down to, lesser competition reached a new low on Saturday, when Boston dropped a two-point decision to the whacked out Wizards.

"You have to treat every opponent with the same kind of respect," Marquis Daniels had said after that one. "These are NBA players. Everyone in the NBA can play."

We gave them a chance to see that they could to beat us, coach Doc Rivers said. When that happens, you lose games."

But that was then. On Tuesday, the Celtics never gave the sad-sack Cavs now losers of 17 straight games and 28 of their last 29 even a glimmer of hope and cruised to a 112-95 victory.

And the question was, how much did Saturdays loss play into Bostons unbreakable focus. Did the Wizards game serve as a wake up call?

I worry about everything, said Rivers when asked if, despite Saturday, he was still concerned about his team staying on point. You always worry about that stuff, but at the end of the day, I just worry about us trying to understand that whether we win or lose we just have to keep working and getting better and not getting into bad habits, because the more you do it, it becomes habit. So thats what we talked about before the game. I didnt mention Washington once.

He didnt have to.

Because even though the loss to the Wizards isnt something this team harped on, its one that they wont soon forget.

The game is behind us, said Ray Allen, who scored 18 points in only 25 minutes of action Tuesday night. "Its always something that you have a black mark, that box marked in your memory. Its a learning point and we have to make sure its always something that you dont go back to.

Another aspect of the game that helped the Celtics avoid going back to that underachieving state, and also make sure the Cavs never developed any delusions of staying with the Cs, was the first quarter outburst by Paul Pierce who scored 17 of his game-high 24 points in the opening 12 minutes.

Pierce said that fast starts have been a point of focus recently, and that when it came to moving past Saturday, he knew a big first quarter was key.

Its something Ive really been trying to do over the last two, three weeks. Just come out real aggressive from the jump, and try and get us off to a great start.

And he did, and then the Celtics stayed great against a less than great opponent.

Something they'd like to make a habit of as the season goes on.

Rich Levine can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

BOSTON – Prior to Saturday’s game, Terry Rozier talked to CSNNE.com about the importance of staying ready always, because “you never know when your name or number is going to be called.”

Like when trailing by three points in the fourth quarter with less than 10 seconds to play?

Yes, Rozier was on the floor in that scenario and the second-year guard delivered when his team needed it.

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But Rozier’s fourth quarter heroics which forced overtime against Portland, did not provide that much-needed jolt that Boston needed as the Blazers managed to fend off the Celtics in overtime, 127-123.

For Rozier’s part, he had 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

The 15 points scored for Rozier was the most for him since he tallied 16 in a 30-point Celtics win at Orlando on Dec. 7.

But more than the points, the decision by head coach Brad Stevens to draw up a play for him in that moment, a time when most of what Boston does revolves around the shooting of Isaiah Thomas who has been among the top-3 scorers in the fourth quarter most of this season, was surprising to many.

And at that point in the game, Thomas already had 13 fourth-quarter points.

Stevens confirmed after the game that the last shot in the fourth was indeed for Rozier, but Thomas’ presence on the floor was important to its execution.

“He (Thomas) also draws a lot of attention,” Stevens said. “So I think you just weigh kind of … what kind of shot you’re going to get, depending on who it is.”

Rozier had initially screened for Thomas, and Thomas came back and screened for him.

“I was open as soon as I caught … and I let it fly,” Rozier said. “Coach drew up a play for me and it felt good to see the ball go in.”

Being on the floor at that time, win or lose, was a victory of sorts for Rozier.

He has seen first-hand how quickly the tide can change in the NBA for a young player.

After a strong summer league showing and a solid training camp, Rozier had earned himself a firm spot in the team’s regular rotation.

But a series of not-so-great games coupled with Gerald Green’s breakout night on Christmas Day, led to his playing time since then becoming more sporadic.

Rozier, in an interview with CSNNE.com, acknowledged it hasn’t been easy going from playing regular minutes to not being sure how much court time, if any, he would receive.

But he says the veterans on the team have been good about keeping his spirits up, and one in particular – Avery Bradley – has been especially helpful.

Like Rozier, Bradley’s first couple of years saw his playing time go from non-existent to inconsistent. But Bradley stayed the course and listened to the team’s veterans who continued to tell him that his hard work would pay off sooner or later.

Those same words of wisdom Bradley received in his early days, he passes on to Rozier.

“It’s big,” Rozier told CSNNE.com. “He (Bradley) tells me things like that. I felt I was ready for this (inconsistent minutes) after all that he told me. It’s big to have a guy like him that has been through it all with a championship team, been around this organization for a while; have him talk to you is big. It’s always good. That’s why I stay positive, and be ready.”

Which is part of the reason why Stevens didn’t hesitate to call up a play for the second-year guard despite him being a 33.3 percent shooter from 3-point range this season – that ranks eighth on this team, mind you.

“He’s a really good shooter,” Stevens said of Rozier. “I think with more opportunity that will show itself true, but he made some big ones in the fourth quarter. We went to him a few different times out of time-outs, and felt good about him making that one.”

And to know that Stevens will turn to him not just to spell Thomas or one of the team’s other guards, but to actually make a game-altering play in the final seconds … that’s major.

“It helps tremendously,” said Rozier who added that his confidence is through “the roof. It makes me want to do everything. You know defense, all of that. It’s great, especially to have a guy like Brad trust you."