OFFSEASON

Celtics need to get gritty to survive the Knicks

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Celtics need to get gritty to survive the Knicks

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

BOSTON The last time Boston played New York, Celtics coach Doc Rivers found himself uttering the seemingly unspeakable to his team at the half.

"I haven't used the word 'soft' in, maybe four years, but at halftime, that word came out a lot," Rivers said that night.

The Celtics rallied in the second half for a win, but the C's haven't totally freed themselves of such criticism.

Boston has shown the ability to lock into opponents and be the physical, grind-it-out kind of team we've seen make deep playoff runs an annual tradition.

Far too many times lately, though, that team is nowhere to be found when its presence is desperately needed.

That has to change if the Celtics are to have any shot at bringing home Banner 18.

But first things first.

They must deal with a red-hot New York Knicks team in the first round of the playoffs, which will begin at the TD Garden this weekend.

New York presents tremendous challenge to any team's defense.

Amar'e Stoudemire averages 25.4 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, and spent a good chunk of the season being talked about as an MVP candidate. Carmelo Anthony is essentially a younger, bigger and stronger version of Paul Pierce.

And don't forget point guard Chauncey Billups, a five-time All-Star who was NBA Finals MVP in 2004 with the Detroit Pistons.

Beyond those three, the Knicks have little firepower.

And we're not even going to talk about the Knicks and defense because, well, the Knicks don't really play defense.

That's why it's vital the Celtics counter New York's explosive trio of scorers with a physical brand of basketball.

It will have to be a team thing, obviously.

But it starts with the Big Four and Glen Davis, the only players on the roster who truly understand what it's like to go deep into the playoffs with the Green team.

"We have a core group of guys who have been there, who won it," Davis said. "At the end of the day, Doc's going to shorten the rotation. The guys out there are guys that got the grit, the guys who are going to grind and make it happen."

One of the more physical plays made by the Celtics recently was a flagrant foul by Jermaine O'Neal against Miami's LeBron James on Sunday.

The play led to the usual theatrical stare-downs between players from both teams, with the end result being a handful of technical fouls being handed out.

"Sometimes you have to have hard fouls, you have to have hard plays," O'Neal said. "Here's the issue. If you don't commit them, somebody is going to commit them to you. Sometimes the first team that hits first, is the team left standing."

O'Neal recalled the many battles he had with the Detroit Pistons when he was a member of the Indiana Pacers.

"It was like fisticuffs every game," O'Neal said. "That's just how it is."

And that's how it has to be if the Celtics are to finish the season off achieving the only goal they set for themselves this season -- bringing home Banner 18.

"It's no ill will to intentionally cripple somebody," O'Neal said. "But you have to make sure, they don't need to be coming into that lane on every possession. That's what it is. We have guys who have grit. Everybody is built differently. But we have a handful of guys who can bring some force and bring some toughness to that lane."

But the issue remains, can they do it with any kind of consistency?

If they plan to be the last team standing, they have no choice.

"We understand exactly what we need to do and where we need to go if we want to be champions," O'Neal said. "That's what it really boils down to."

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

OFFSEASON

Report: Celtics make qualifying offers to Zeller, Sullinger

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Report: Celtics make qualifying offers to Zeller, Sullinger

All the free-agent focus on the Celtics has been on players -- Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard -- who they might bring in. But they have players they might lose, too.

One, of course, is Evan Turner, who's an unrestricted free agent, free to sign to anyone after July 1. But they also have two others, Tyler Zeller and Jared Sullinger, who could have joined Turner on the completely open market if they didn't tender them qualifying offers.

Yesterday, according to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald, they did just that:

Zeller and Sullinger are still free to solicit offers. But, because they made the qualifying offers, the Celtics have the right to match any deal the two might receive and keep them in Boston.

OFFSEASON

Blakely: Boston becoming a favored destination for free agents

Blakely: Boston becoming a favored destination for free agents

BOSTON -- In some circles the pursuit of Dwight Howard by the Boston Celtics is just as perplexing as Boston being one of the six teams getting an audience with Kevin Durant and, with that, a shot at the Durant sweepstakes this summer. 
 
Both serve as examples of how the Celts are no longer at the back of the line when it comes to being a potential destination for the best free agents. 
 
Of course it’s about sealing the deal, and getting the best free agents on the market under contract, and all that good stuff.
 
But before that can happen, Boston has to be seen as a place to even be seriously considered by free agents. That's exactly what we’re starting to see happen right now.
 
It’s easy to point to the Celtics having a ton of salary cap space, which in itself makes them a possible landing spot for players who we all know will be hauling in max to near-max salaries this offseason.
 
But there’s just one problem with that line of thought. More than half the league enters free agency with enough money to sign one max player.

The fact that Boston is on the short list for the summer’s top free agent (Durant) and have already secured a sit-down with one of the top centers (Howard) says a lot in terms of how far Boston has come in the eyes of players. 
 
And several factors point towards the Celtics getting an audience with other top-shelf free agents this summer if they fail to secure one or two of their top choices.
 
But let’s not kid ourselves. How others view this franchise is the reality of what the Celtics have to deal with when it comes to adding elite, upper-echelon talent like Durant. 
 
The fact that Durant is willing to include Boston in his short-list of teams is a bit of a head-scratcher when you see that the Celtics are the farthest away from the group in terms of competing for an NBA title (although an argument can be made that they are neck-and-neck with the Miami Heat along those lines). Durant has said in the past that would be something he would be looking for in whatever team he signed with.
 
The biggest selling point the Celtics have to offer Durant or any other free agent (besides money) is that they are a franchise on the rise, they have stability on the floor with Brad Stevens as the head coach, and they have stability in the front office with Danny Ainge. Both Stevens and Ainge signed long-term extensions earlier this month. 
 
And one of the perks that players who come to Boston quickly discover is the fan base, which is about as rabid a group as you'll find in the NBA.
 
There’s no mistaking they wear their emotions on their sleeves, whether it’s cheering the team on following a season-ending playoff loss, or booing the owner after the team makes a draft pick they don’t particularly care for. 
 
They bleed green!
 
Add all those things up and it’s clear that Boston has the kind of environment, the kind of culture, where a star can come and thrive. 
 
The Celtics and their fans have known this for a while.
 
Now it seems some of the game’s best players are starting to catch on, as well.

OFFSEASON

Is it curious that Kevin Durant is even giving the Celtics an audience?

Is it curious that Kevin Durant is even giving the Celtics an audience?

Mike Felger, Dan Shaughnessy and Glenn Ordway wonder why the Celtics are even getting a meeting with Kevin Durant when free agency begins. Does it mean they have a legitimate chance of signing him?