Division clinched, Dooling, bench will get more time

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Division clinched, Dooling, bench will get more time

ATLANTA Judging by the way Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers has strategically shut down his core players recently, it's clear that rest will continue to trump a run at home court advantage now that the Atlantic Division title - and the fourth seed in the playoffs that comes with it - is wrapped up.

That means the bench will get in plenty of end-of-the-year reps, a chance for some of the lesser known youngsters to play major minutes.

But veterans such as Keyon Dooling, who will be 32 years old next month, will benefit from increased playing time as well.

Dooling has missed 20 games this season, 16 because of a sore right knee (seven games) and a right hip pointer (nine).

The injuries made the transition to playing for his new team tougher than it should have been.

Because of that lack of court time, it has taken him longer than he would have liked to have gained the full confidence of head coach Doc Rivers.

Now that he has that, it's just a matter of making the most of his opportunities to play.

And with Rivers insisting that he will continue to find ways to rest guys between now and the playoffs, that means Dooling will have something now that he hasn't had all year - assurances that he'll play consistent minutes.

Now in his 12th NBA season, Dooling is averaging 14 minutes per game with Boston. It is his lowest minutes per game average since he averaged 11.1 minutes while appearing in just 14 games with the Los Angeles Clippers during the 2001-2002 season, his second year in the league.

"It's magnificent when you know (you're playing)," Dooling told CSNNE.com. "When you don't know, it's hard. Even when you're my age, my experience, when you don't know for sure if you're playing, it's very tough. But it's reality. You have to prepare like you're going to play. But it's definitely tough."

But if the playoffs are anything like the regular season, being ready to play at a moment's notice should be a given for this group.

A long laundry's list of setbacks have hit the C's all season, forcing guys few anticipated would even play, to suddenly be thrust into a role of prominence.

Greg Stiemsma was considered a longshot to make the Celtics roster.

Today, he's one of the top rookie big men in the NBA, and has established himself as a reliable back-up center.

Avery Bradley has emerged from being a combo guard that Doc Rivers was not comfortable with playing long stretches at the point guard position, to a defensive menace with a blossoming offensive game that has him on every team's scouting report.

"It's a neat group; I've talked about it all year," Rivers said. "They just kind of figure it out."

Having that ability bodes well for a Celtics team that understands that for them to have a deep playoff run, it'll require every player donning a white and green uniform.

"We don't know who will be in the rotation for the playoffs," Dooling said. "Hopefully we'll have MP (Mickael Pietrus) back. But at the end of the day, they may need us for three minutes, four minutes here or there. We want to be able to contribute, whether it's on the defensive end, in the hustle categories, whether we have to make a shot, whatever it is you have to be mentally tuned in and focused. You can't think about your own personal situation. You have to be bigger than that. That's what's different about this team. That's what's so awesome about this team."

Celtics miss an opportunity in first half with LeBron in foul trouble

Celtics miss an opportunity in first half with LeBron in foul trouble

CLEVELAND – There are 240 minutes of play in an NBA game, but Boston’s 112-99 Game 4 loss to Cleveland came down to seven (six minutes and 46 seconds to be precise).

That would be the amount of time left in the second quarter that LeBron James spent on the bench with four personal fouls (a first for him in the first half of an NBA playoff game ever) and Boston ahead by 10 points.

Boston could not have asked for a better scenario than that, especially considering how well they had played up to that point in the game and again, knowing that James wasn’t about to set foot back on the court until the third quarter.

But here’s the problem.

Boston’s 10-point lead when James left with four fouls.

Halftime rolled around and Boston’s lead was still at just 10 points.

Celtics players agreed that not finding a way to increase their lead with James out was among the more pivotal stretches of play in Game 4.

“They did a really good job of not letting it (the 10-point lead) get out of control while he was on the bench,” Boston’s Marcus Smart told CSNNE.com. “Every time we scored, they came back and scored.  They answered back with everything we answered.”

While many will point to that stretch as a time when the Celtics failed to make the necessary adjustments to increase their chances of winning, it wasn’t as if the Cavs are a one-man team.

“They still have two All-Stars out on the court,” said Boston’s head coach Brad Stevens, referring to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. “With the best player in the world they go to unreal, but they’re still a pretty darned good team when those guys are out there.”

Irving had a playoff career-high 42 points which included him scoring 12 of Cleveland’s 14 points in the final 6:46 of the second with James on the bench.

“He’s one of the best point guards in the NBA, and you know, you can tell he puts in a lot of work in his game, a lot of respect from myself, my teammates,” said Avery Bradley. “We have to do a better job at defending him as a unit, trying to make everything hard on him. He definitely got a great rhythm going tonight, and I felt like we had a chance to make it harder on him.”

James still finished with a strong stat line for the night – 34 points, six assists, five rebounds and a blocked shot.

As good as he was on the court, the Celtics have to be kicking themselves for not doing more with the time James on the bench in the second quarter which in hindsight, was among the bigger factors in them now returning home facing elimination as opposed to being tied at two games apiece in this series.

“What are you going to do?” said Cleveland’s Kevin Love. “You have to continue to fight through it. At halftime, we were down 10. We made some adjustments on the defensive end and we just fought; we needed to. They got everything out of us tonight in that second half, but we played more inspired basketball as well.”

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics don't take advantage of LeBron's foul trouble

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics don't take advantage of LeBron's foul trouble

CLEVELAND – Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Tuesday night’s Game 4 matchup between Boston and Cleveland which ended with the Cavs rallying for a 112-99 win. Boston now trails Cleveland 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.

 

STARS

Kyrie Irving

He was simply the best player on the floor by a mile in Game 4 as he tallied a career playoff-high 42 points with 21 coming in the pivotal third quarter.

LeBron James

Despite picking up four personal fouls in the first half – a first for him in a playoff game ever – James bounced back with a dominant performance. He finished with 34 points, 15 of which came in the decisive fourth quarter. He also had six assists and five rebounds.

 

STUDS

Jae Crowder

He continues to be one of the more consistent Celtics in this series. In Game 4, he had 18 points on 6-for-12 shooting with eight rebounds and four assists.

Kevin Love

Most of Game 4, Kevin Love found ways to make life difficult for the Celtics. He ended up with a double-double of 17 points and 17 rebounds with five assists and two blocked shots.

Avery Bradley

Boston’s Game 3 hero couldn’t deliver like that in Game 4, but Bradley still managed to score a team-high 19 points to go with five rebounds, three assists and two steals.

 

DUDS

Boston’s sense of urgency

They had the Cavs in prime position to be beaten. But they didn’t play with the kind of effort and focus in the second half, that we saw through most of the first. And that 6:46 stretch in the second quarter when LeBron James was on the bench, and they didn’t increase their lead? That was a major, major factor in the game’s outcome.