Celts ignore doubters to win Atlantic

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Celts ignore doubters to win Atlantic

BOSTON -- When the Boston Celtics started the season 0-3, there was doubt.

When the Celtics lost five straight in January, and then again the next month, there was doubt.

When the Celtics suffered injuries, looked tired closing out games, and battled with inconsistency, there was doubt.

The notion of the Celtics winning the Atlantic Division this season didnt seem like the most plausible outcome at points during this season. But to the Celtics, there was no doubting their ability to claim the title they have held since the 2007-08 season.

And after clinching the division on Wednesday night following a 102-98 win over the Orlando Magic, they let it be known.

You guys called us old, over, said Kevin Garnett. I heard some of your pathetic articles and some of your lousy announcers (scans group of reporters with his eyes). Its a pity. Obviously you dont know what drives us. We thank yall for those articles, appreciate it because it lit a fire under us.

The Celtics headed into the All-Star Break with a 15-17 record. Since then, they are 22-9 while facing multiple injuries and setbacks. They improved to 37-26 on Wednesday with three games left in the regular season.

Garnett points to chemistry and confidence in one another as the key to this success in the second half. He noted it is a process that doesnt happen overnight, and with less than two weeks before the playoffs, it has happened in time.

One of the hardest things Ive always said in this league is to create chemistry, he said. I knew at some point we all, as a unit, would get a rhythm and ride that rhythm out. I think thats what youve seen since the All-Star break. Weve come back, refreshed, focused.

Like I said, havent had a lot of practice time to implement a system of schemes, but we do have a core here and what youve seen up until this point to obviously come to a point to where weve won the division is not only confidence, but believing in that system and believing in that rhythm and riding that rhythm out.

Like Ive always said since Ive been here, you can rewind the tapes right now. Different outfit, no scarf, same frames, that in order to build chemistry, its a process. You just dont do that in one or two days. And were a very confident team, Ive always said that. We never lack that. To be able to come and win your division is a huge thing. All those things combined is what you got today.

The Celtics are on the same page on and off the court. Prior to Garnetts postgame interview, Keyon Dooling echoed the same sentiments of being counted out by the critics.

Everybody pretty much wrote us off, talking about how old we were, how washed up we were, Dooling said. We all, internally, never bought into that. Obviously coming out of a condensed season when theres a lockout and from a conditioning standpoint, we werent were we wanted to be earlier in the season. But we know as we continue to get healthy, continue to round ourselves out into shape, we will be here at the end.

With that confidence is also focus. The Celtics goals are far bigger than the Atlantic Division. All the banners in the rafters represent the ultimate title and serve as constant reminders of the task at hand.

Im not about to go pop some champagne bottles or anything like that, said Paul Pierce. I know they do in baseball. I mean, it is a good accomplishment. The guys should recognize where we came from to what we are today. Its a good accomplishment, I guess. But all we care about around here is a championship banner. I guess its just a step towards the journey we are trying to go towards.

Celtics move into No. 1 spot in East as Cavs get crushed by Spurs

Celtics move into No. 1 spot in East as Cavs get crushed by Spurs

SAN ANTONIO -- The Cavaliers acknowledged having heavy legs, yet there is something far weightier on the minds of the defending NBA champions.

Cleveland is in the midst of one of its worst stretches this season and there is little time to fix it.

Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points and the San Antonio Spurs dismantled the ailing Cavs 103-74 on Monday night in a much-anticipated showdown that turned into a major letdown for Cleveland.

"The way we've been struggling, (the Spurs are) the last team that you want to play," said LeBron James, who was fine after taking an elbow to the neck. "A well-oiled machine like this, they exploit everything that you're not doing well at that point in time of the season and right now we're not playing good basketball."

James, who finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 29 minutes, said he will play Thursday at Chicago.

Cleveland (47-26) dropped its second in a row, set a season low for points and fell a half-game behind Boston (48-26) for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Cavaliers have nine games remaining, all against teams in the East, including a visit to Boston on April 5.

James said the standings "always matter," but playing more consistently is far more important and he refused to blame injuries or an arduous schedule for the team's troubles.

"It matters more that we're playing better basketball than where we're at," he said. "If that results in us having the No. 1 seed, the No. 2 seed, 3 or whatever the hell it is, we need to play better basketball. That's what it comes down to."

What Cleveland is seeking, the Spurs have already found.

San Antonio (57-16) is two games behind Golden State (59-14) for the league's best record entering a home game against the Warriors on Wednesday.

The Spurs have won five straight and 8 of 10 after sweeping the season series with the Cavaliers.

"It was a big game, but in the end, it's just one game, and one win," San Antonio guard Tony Parker said. "We're trying to be consistent. We're trying to play the same way every game. It was definitely surprising. Coming off a loss, I thought they would play with a lot more energy, but it can happen. It's a long season. It's just one game and I'm sure they're going to bounce back and use this game as motivation."

LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol added 14 points apiece for the Spurs.

San Antonio led by as many as 33 to the delight of the sold-out crowd, and the Spurs' bench outscored the Cavaliers' reserves 49-24.

"We did a good job coming out early and then keeping our foot on the pedal," Leonard said.

Cleveland, which was already without injured Iman Shumpert, received more bad news Monday morning when it was announced that Kyle Korver will miss at least two more games with a sore left foot.

"You lose Korver and Shumpert off your bench and things tend to change," Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. "With those two guys out, we tried some different things and it didn't work. It was not on the bench. It was on me."

Cleveland opted to play its stars rather than rest them, but the trio of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love sat out the fourth quarter of the Cav's second lopsided loss in the past two weeks.

Lue said he has considered resting his stars over the team's final nine games, which James is not in favor of.

"Coach is going to have his logic of things, but we need to play," he said.

James exited with 25 seconds remaining in the third after taking an elbow to his neck from David Lee on a rebound. James continually rubbed the area before collapsing after he crossed midcourt. He remained on the floor for about a minute before walking unassisted to the bench.

James left for the locker room early in the fourth quarter during a timeout, but said afterward he is fine.

EXTRA SHOOTING

Irving returned to the court for about 15 minutes following the loss to work on his jump shot. The star guard had eight points and two assists in 26 minutes. He finished 4 for 13 from the field and missed his two 3-point attempts.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: Cleveland completed its schedule against the West, finishing 16-14. In addition to losing to the Spurs by 29 points, the Cavaliers lost by 35 to Golden State and 30 to the Los Angeles Clippers . . . James needs 24 points to pass Shaquille O'Neal for seventh overall in career scoring. O'Neal has 28,596 career points . . . The Cavaliers averaged 116.3 points in their previous four games.

Spurs: San Antonio is holding opponents under 100 points per game for the 22nd straight season . . . Danny Green tied his season high with four blocked shots . . . Leonard has scored in double figures in 100 straight games.

UP NEXT

Cavaliers: At the Chicago Bulls on Thursday night.

Spurs: Host the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night.

Bertrand: Raptors a 'scary team' in the Eastern Conference

Bertrand: Raptors a 'scary team' in the Eastern Conference

Mike Felger and Marc Bertrand talk about the Celtics clinching the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference and other potential threats for the C's.