Boston Celtics: 2011Round1
But you wouldn't know it after the first two games of the playoffs.
The Celtics' execution in the fourth quarter, particularly in the final minute, was on point in their last-second victories over the New York Knicks in Games 1 and 2 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal playoff matchup -- something that surely could not be said consistently over the final two months of the regular season in which the Celtics dropped 11 of their final 21 games.
The effort of Boston's players was questioned over this stretch, and while it might have seemed suspect at times, the more prominent issue was their inability to close out opponents in the final frame.
"We just didn't finish games," Rajon Rondo said before the Celtics-Knicks series opened last week. "I think we were in all the games, we just found a way to lose. Bad teams find a way to lose. Not to say we're a bad team, but we didn't get the job done in the fourth for most of the games, except for probably the Chicago and the Miami games -- we got blown out -- but other than that, we still should have found a way to win games."
The Boston Celtics swept the New York Knicks this season, 4-0. Two other first-round playoff series will match teams coming off a regular-season sweep: Miami vs. Philadelphia (Heat won season series, 3-0) and Los Angeles against New Orleans (Lakers swept season series, 4-0). Since the 1989-90 season, there were 37 instances (before this year) in which one team swept another in a regular-season series of at least three games and then those same two teams faced each other in the postseason. In only one of those 37 instances did the team that swept the regular-season series lose the playoff series. That happened in 1997-98, when the Atlanta Hawks swept the Charlotte Hornets, 4-0, in the regular season, before Charlotte defeated Atlanta in the first round of the playoffs, 3-1.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers has constantly reminded his players that only one of those four matchups with the Knicks this season -- last month's ultra-physical battle in New York -- truly mattered given the roster overhauls on both sides (and the fact that the final game amounted to a junior varsity contest as the regular-season finale for both teams).
--SHERIDAN: KNICKS HOPING TO USE SAME SCRIPT FROM 1990--
Chauncey Billups did not know the details of the last Celtics-Knicks playoff series, which is understandable. It happened 21 years ago. It involved players who are now scattered throughout front offices, coaches' offices and broadcast booths. And it had nothing at all to do with the life he was living back then as a 13-year-old in Colorado. So he asked to hear the story, and he raised his eyebrows when he heard the parallels: The Knicks had acquired a savvy veteran point guard at midseason, and when it all came down to one final game it was that old ball handler, Maurice Cheeks, who made all the difference.
* ESPN New York: Knicks can bring an end to Big Three era with upset
--MAY: WHAT TO WATCH IN ROUND 1--
Madison Square Garden is once again a happenin' place (at least it is until the current season-ticket holders recover from sticker shock for the price to renew for next season). The estimable Chauncey Billups pronounced the Knicks as "dangerous." They certainly appear to be your basic "tough out." But outside of Spike Lee and The Donald, is there anyone who thinks the Knicks have enough to upset the Boston Celtics in the first round? The 10 experts of ESPN.com all picked the Celtics to prevail. The wiseguys in Las Vegas like the Celtics. "I feel good that our team will be ready,'' Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after the regular-season finale Wednesday. They'd better be.
* ESPN New York: Sheridan: Inside the Matchups -- A position-by-position breakdown
Jermaine O'Neal, who many thought could not be relied upon after he underwent left knee surgery almost three months ago, will be ready for Sunday's postseason opener, and will most likely earn the starting nod at the center spot.
"I'm feeling good," O'Neal said after the Celtics practiced at the Sports Authority Training Center at HealthPoint on Friday. "You play a long time and you look at it like this: You've got 16 wins and you've achieved something that you've looked for for so long, so that's how I see it. That's what I talk to my family about. I'm 16 wins away. No matter what I've been through in my career, it can be justified by winning a ring."
Murphy's first nine seasons in the NBA all ended in mid-April with the conclusion of the 82-game regular season, and the playoffs always served as the party he could never obtain an invitation to.
Murphy' playoff odds weren't considered terrific at the beginning of his 10th campaign, seeing as he was a member of the New Jersey Nets -- a club that won just 12 games last season. But his relationship with the Nets broke down, and he was cast into basketball purgatory, forced to miss live game action for almost two months before eventually being traded to the Golden State, bought out by the Warriors, and signed by the Celtics.
Suddenly, overnight, Murphy's playoff odds went from zero to guaranteed, and better yet, his first taste of the playoffs isn't expected to be a one-and-done showing. The Celtics are hoping to go far, and contend for an NBA championship. It all begins Sunday for Murphy, when the Celtics host the New York Knicks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at 7 p.m.
"I'm very excited," Murphy said prior to the Celtics' practice at the Sports Authority Training Center at HealthPoint on Thursday. "I'm very pumped up. I'm really looking forward to this."
--RENEWED CELTICS READY FOR POSTSEASON--
As the Boston Celtics assembled at the Sports Authority Training Center at HealthPoint on Thursday for the first of three scheduled practices leading up to their first postseason game Sunday against the New York Knicks, it almost felt like training camp again. Nearly 200 days have passed since the team convened for a season-opening, three-hour session at the Rodgers Recreation Center on the campus of Salve Regina University. Thanks to a late-season stumble, Boston failed in its preseason goal to secure a top seed and make its playoff path a little less daunting this time around. But none of that seemed to matter Thursday. For the first time since a heartbreaking loss in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, the Celtics have a chance to actually start the atonement process. What's done is done with the regular season, but there's a chance to make things right in the playoffs.
Morning leftoversA handful of links from Thursday that we didn't previously direct you towards:
* 5-on-5: Most intriguing matchups, Upset City?: Five ESPN.com writers weigh in on five questions surrounding the 2011 NBA playoffs, with Boston earning two votes in the dubious category of, "Which team screwed up worst in terms of playoff seeding?"
* The Most Unlikely Impact Player: The Wall Street Journal profiling Tony Allen?! Mind = Blown. Key quote from Mike Conley: "[Allen is] clinically insane. He's so loud, it can be obnoxious. It'll be 7 o'clock in the morning, and he'll be babbling about something."
* C's do film work; Knicks hit TV airwaves: The Celtics utilized the first postseason offday to go through a light practice and film session. The Knicks? Amare Stoudemire hit up "LIVE! with Regis & Kelly," while Carmelo Anthony chatted with David Letterman. Said Stoudemire: "I think now it's just a matter of us continuing to learn how to play together. We're fairly new with each other, and it takes more time to get the chemistry. But it's now the playoffs and so I think we're ready."
With the regular season having ended on Wednesday and Game 1 of the opening round of the playoffs against the New York Knicks not coming until Sunday, the C's have been granted three days in which they can schedule practice sessions, and they plan on taking advantage of all of them.
"These are going to be big practices for us," said captain Paul Pierce. "For one, you know, we don't have [Shaquille O'Neal] in there, he hasn't practiced in a while. Practice time has been limited, so right now this is what we play the game for, this opportunity. We've got three days of practice, so there's no more excuses for us."
As Pierce noted, reintegrating O'Neal will be crucial, but equally important will be establishing set roles for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic within head coach Doc Rivers' rotation. When the Celtics traded for Green and Krstic back in late February, Rivers admitted his most difficult task would be properly integrating Green into his club's various schemes. The experiment has been ongoing for several weeks now, but the desired results have yet to take shape. Green has certainly shown flashes of the player the Celtics want him to be, but he has lacked the ever-important consistency, which will be examined under an even finer microscope once the playoffs commence.
WALTHAM, Mass. -- The Boston Celtics eased their way into playoff preparation Thursday, planning to watch film for much of the afternoon, then get on the court for some light walkthrough work while installing their defensive game plan in advance of an Eastern Conference quarterfinals matchup against the New York Knicks, which tips off Sunday night at TD Garden.
Coach Doc Rivers was simply excited to have three days to not only plan for the Knicks, but work on the things that have plagued his ball club as it stumbled to a 10-11 finish over the final 21 games of the season. The lack of practice time is something that Rivers believes contributed to his squad's inconsistent play over the final month of the regular season.
Here's a handful of news and notes from media access before the Celtics dove into their workload Thursday:
* Rivers reiterated his belief that reserve guard Delonte West will be on the floor for Sunday's Game 1. West aggravated a right ankle sprain Monday against the Wizards and sat out the regular-season finale Wednesday against the Knicks. While West appeared a bit glum while discussing the injury before Wednesday's game, Rivers offered nothing but optimism Thursday.
" I think he’ll be fine," said Rivers. "I don’t know that, but he’s walking [today] and his gait is normal. He said he could play today if there was a game, that's a good sign for us."
Rivers stressed the importance of West in the postseason.
"He's huge," said Rivers. "There's no second unit in the playoffs -- there's a first and a half unit, usually a combo of both [starter and reserves] on the floor. But he's big for us. He can play multiple positions in this series because of their guards and we need a guy like that."
* Celtics captain Paul Pierce said he's feeling good after sitting out the last two games, meaning he and Boston's veterans will have enjoyed nearly a full week off from last Sunday's loss in Miami (the last game the veterans appeared in) to this Sunday's Game 1 against the Knicks.
"It's good for the body," said Pierce. "Those little aches and pains, it's amazing, when you play so many games, the little injuries you get, you play through them. You get numb to them. Then you sit down for a couple games and those injuries go away. That's when you see the difference. I'm feeling pretty good right now."
* Kevin Garnett, a player that Boston typically can't keep off the court, echoed Pierce's sentiment that the extra time off has been a good thing.
"Rest is always good," said Garnett. "I'm not going to deny that. Rhythm-wise, you still want to play, so I've been doing the things that I normally do -- nothing out of the sequence of my everyday preparation. But rest is always good."
* Rivers said he could understand if fans were dissatisfied by Boston's up-and-down play over the final month of the season, but he's not losing any sleep over those that have jumped off the bandwagon.
"You're a fan or you're not," said Rivers. "So, no, [I don't understand fan frustration] would be the answer. There's nothing wrong with being disappointed with wins and losses, but we did make a lot of changes. That takes time. If you don't get that, I can't help you. If you want to jump, I'm not going to be there with you."
WALTHAM, Mass. -- Celtics center Shaquille O'Neal did not address the media, hoping to test his sprained right calf the next couple days before that happens, but did appear on the court briefly Thursday before the start of Boston's practice session at the Sports Authority Training Center at HealthPoint.
O'Neal got up some shots, then retreated to the locker room with his teammates to watch film. Celtics coach Doc Rivers said his team will simply hold a walkthrough Thursday as part of on-court activity before ramping up Friday, which will provide O'Neal's first real test with eyes towards getting him back on the floor for Game 1 against the New York Knicks on Sunday night.
Rivers remains confident O'Neal will be ready to go when Boston tips off postseason play.
"I do [think Shaq will play in Game 1], I can't guarantee that," said Rivers. "He's going to do a little bit today. We're not going to do enough -- we're going to walk through stuff so I could do today -- but [Friday] and [Saturday] are the big days for Shaq. He's going to try to get through practice and see what we can do."
--WHAT MAKES KNICKS DANGEROUS FOR C'S?--
Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers operates under the theory that you don't want to get into a playoff series in which the other team has the best player on the floor. Considering he's touted the New York Knicks tandem of Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire as among the NBA's elite, Rivers concedes that New York is not the ideal first-round draw (if such a thing exists). Rivers wouldn't bite when asked if the Knicks are a "dangerous" team, dismissing the suggestion by saying that he wouldn't get involved in wordplay and noting that some might dub his own team "dangerous." But Rivers knows from experience just how threatening an opponent with elite scorers can be. "I almost won a series in Orlando with one guy named Tracy McGrady," Rivers said.
* Required reading: May: Rivalry? What rivalry? | Sheridan: Stoudemire (ankle) says he's OK
Game 1 - Sun., April 17, New York at Boston, 7 p.m (TNT)
Game 2 - Tues., April 19, New York at Boston, 7 p.m. (TNT)
Game 3 - Fri., April 22, Boston at New York, TBD (ESPN)
Game 4 - Sun., April 24, Boston at New York, 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
Game 5* - Tues., April 26, New York at Boston, TBD
Game 6* - Fri., April 29, Boston at New York, TBD
Game 7* - Sun., May 1, New York at Boston, TBD
* if necessary
The rest of the schedule will not be finalized until after all of Wednesday's action is complete with all 30 teams active on the final night of the regular season (while the Eastern Conference bracket is set, the West still has potential to shuffle seeds).
--BOCKERS TO BEAT BOSTON? FAT CHANCE--
Here's what we've learned about the New York Knicks in the past two weeks: Carmelo Anthony has lived up to the hype. With him and Amare Stoudemire, there are two stars in New York who want to run this town. The Knicks, as a result, are heading to the playoffs, having registered their first regular-season record above .500 in a decade -- yet it all might not amount to a hill of beans because, by the time any of us is able to enjoy it, their postseason exit will have already arrived. Sorry!
* ESPN New York: C's are only focus | Knicks looking ahead | Thibs: Knicks are dangerous
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