Boston Celtics: Game Preview

Round 2, Game 5: Celtics vs. Heat

May, 11, 2011
5/11/11
1:00
PM ET
(1-3)     -- vs. --     (3-1)
at TD Garden, 7 p.m. | TNT, WEEI (850 AM)

PAYNE'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
  • Fight to the Finish: We've already seen one team from last season's NBA Finals mail it in when it was on the brink of elimination in the Los Angeles Lakers. Will the Celtics come out like a team ready for its summer vacation, or a club poised to make every effort to get back into this series? Boston benefited greatly from fast first-quarter starts in the past two games, and another one tonight would help keep morale high as the C's fight to stay alive.
  • Garnett in the Post: Not only did Kevin Garnett fail to take the number of shots desired by Celtics head coach Doc Rivers in Game 4 (Rivers wanted 20 from Garnett, who took only 10 on Monday), but he failed to establish himself in the post and initiate the majority of his offense close to the basket. In Game 4, Garnett took just one shot inside of 10 feet. In Game 3, he took 13 shots within 10 feet of the rim, and it shouldn't come as a shock that he finished with 28 points in what was one of his finest postseason performances in a Boston uniform. By now, it's clear: If the Celtics want to win, Garnett has to be a force down low.
  • Turnovers: Turning the ball over has hindered Boston throughout this entire series, but things hit a new low in Game 4 on Monday when the Celtics were credited with 18 miscues that Miami managed to convert into a whopping 28 points. Making things even more frustrating for the C's was that most of the giveaways seemed careless and preventable, as opposed to being forced by anything Miami was doing defensively. If the C's plan on giving themselves a chance to get a needed victory tonight, they're going to have to keep the turnover number under control.
GAME PREVIEW
MIAMI (AP) -- Their charter flight home from Boston landed around 3 a.m. Tuesday, and the Miami Heat were back at work less than 12 hours later.

Typically, such a late arrival would merit a day off.

Not now -- not when on the cusp of knocking off the team that has pained Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and the Heat for so long.

Up 3-1 in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series, the Heat will go for the clincher at home against the Celtics on Wednesday night. Miami grabbed control with a 98-90 overtime win in Boston on Monday night, and now stands one victory away from reaching the East finals for the first time since the 2006 championship run.

"This is not a team that you let your guard down against," Wade said.

"No way," instantly chimed in James, nodding as he stood on Wade's left.

It was not a long workout for the Heat on Tuesday, mostly film work and some light shooting. The Celtics took the day off, opting instead to gather around midday for their flight to South Florida, though it was certain that ailing players like Rajon Rondo -- who remains hampered mightily by the aftereffects of dislocating his elbow in Game 3 -- would be getting some treatment.

"I'll be fine," Rondo said. "I'm playing."

Read the full preview HERE.

Round 2, Game 4: Celtics vs. Heat

May, 9, 2011
5/09/11
3:28
PM ET
(1-2)     -- vs. --     (2-1)
at TD Garden, 7 p.m. | TNT, WEEI (850 AM)

PAYNE'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
  • Rondo's Status: Rajon Rondo's improbable comeback from a dislocated left elbow in the second half of Game 3 was certainly gutsy, but now it's a question of how well he'll be able to play with the injured arm, if at all. He'll be listed as a game-time decision heading into tonight's game, with Delonte West, who suffered a bruised left shoulder in Game 3, ready to step in should he be unavailable. Rondo's value to the Celtics needs no explanation, but given his effort to return in Game 3, if he's physically capable of participating tonight, he'll give it a shot.
  • Limit Anthony: The Celtics have plenty to worry about with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh on the floor for the Heat, which is why they can't afford to allow guys like Joel Anthony to impact the game in a positive way for Miami. In Game 3, Anthony was nothing short of a game-changer for the Heat, as he posted 10 points and seven rebounds in the first half, significantly aiding the Heat's second unit (along with Mario Chalmers) as it fought to keep the game close when the Celtics were poised to make a run coming off of their best first quarter of the series. Anthony finished with a 12-point, 11-rebound double-double, with four of his boards coming on the offensive end.
  • Can't Stop Garnett: The numbers from Game 3 alone speak volumes. Kevin Garnett put forth a monster 28-point (13-of-20 shooting), 18-rebound effort, while Chris Bosh finished with only six points (on 1-of-6 shooting) and five rebounds. Bosh admitted after the game his nerves failed him somewhat once he saw how amped Boston's fans were, which only further limited him in a matchup the Celtics have to continue to try and exploit if they want to win this series. Expect Garnett to get a boatload of shots once again tonight, and should the Heat alter their defense at all, he can always resort to his excellent passing game to keep them on their toes.
GAME PREVIEW
WALTHAM, Mass. (AP) -- Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers did his best to stay out of the trainer's room on Sunday, lest he learn something about one of his injured players that he didn't want to hear.

"It's a pretty busy room right now," he said on Sunday, a day after the Celtics earned a bruising 97-81 victory over the Miami Heat in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals despite injuries to point guards Rajon Rondo and Delonte West. "Right now, we're going to go with, 'They're all playing."

Rondo dislocated his left elbow in the third quarter on Saturday night when he got tangled up with Miami guard Dwyane Wade and got thrown to the floor. He had an MRI and CAT scan at New England Baptist Hospital on Sunday, and both tests came out negative, Celtics spokesman Jeff Twiss said.

West, who had a bruised left shoulder, was feeling better on Sunday and did not go to the hospital for tests, Twiss said. Rivers said he would likely decide just before gametime -- or later -- whether Rondo will play.

"I'm optimistic about both, that they're going to play. I don't know why I am, but I am," Rivers said, adding that he has tried to avoid watching the video of Rondo's arm being bent into an unnatural position when he was thrown to the floor by Wade. "I just don't know how well either one can play."

Read the full preview HERE.

Round 2, Game 3: Celtics vs. Heat

May, 7, 2011
5/07/11
1:55
PM ET
(0-2)     -- vs. --     (2-0)
at TD Garden, 8 p.m. | ABC, WEEI (850 AM)

PAYNE'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
  • Fast Start: The Celtics need to put the Heat up against the ropes early in tonight's Game 3 -- something that didn't happen in Game 1 or 2. The C's were sluggish offensively at the start of Games 1 and 2 and trailed at the end of the first quarter in both games, which forced them to play catch-up for the rest of the night. Hitting first and getting the crowd involved will help to set a new tone for Boston, and will go a long way towards a Game 3 victory.
  • Shaq is Back?: All signs point to a Shaquille O'Neal return tonight, and it couldn't come at a better time. The last time Shaq returned from injury (April 3, in a win over the Pistons), he was a legitimate spark off the bench for five minutes before he departed with a strained calf muscle. If O'Neal does play, he'll come off the pine and will probably be on some type of minute restriction. But his presence alone (and his six hard fouls) should help to lift the Celtics' spirits as they fight to get back into this series.
  • Rondo Coming Through: Rajon Rondo's stats through the first two games have been fair (14 points and 9.5 assists, 38.5 percent shooting from the field), but he has yet to control a game the way many thought he would coming into this series. He has yet to be the most dominant player on the floor -- something he is definitely capable of given the limited resources Miami has to throw at him defensively. And should he perform in triple-double fashion, the Heat could very well switch LeBron James or Dwyane Wade onto him, which would free up either Paul Pierce or Ray Allen.
GAME PREVIEW (via Stats Inc.)
WALTHAM, Mass. (AP) -- Paul Pierce has figured out how to help the Boston Celtics play better during the final minutes of their next playoff game against the Miami Heat.

He's going to stick around.

Pierce was ejected from the series opener with 7 minutes left in the fourth quarter, and in Game 2 he strained his left Achilles' tendon in the first half and was still hobbling down the stretch. He knows that Boston's chances of avoiding a 3-0 hole depend on his ability to stick around at the end, and he plans to be there.

"Paul Pierce being in the game in the fourth quarter, healthy, is always going to help the Celtics," he said before practice on Friday.

The Heat took the first two games of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals in Miami, and the series resumes with Game 3 on Saturday night in Boston. For these Celtics, who have never fallen behind 0-2 since the New Big Three was assembled in the summer of 2007, it's a crucial game to avoid what could be an insurmountable hole.

"We still feel like it's going to be a seven-game series," Pierce said. "I like our chances, especially with our backs against the wall."

Read the full preview HERE.

Round 2, Game 2: Celtics vs. Heat

May, 3, 2011
5/03/11
3:04
PM ET
(0-1)     -- vs. --     (1-0)
at AmericanAirlines Arena, 7 p.m. | TNT, WEEI (850 AM)

PAYNE'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
  • Rondo's Revenge: Rajon Rondo was expected to dominate this series for the Celtics from the outset of Game 1, but he failed to establish any semblance of a rhythm or pace in the first half of Sunday's 99-90 loss before foul trouble glued him to the bench for the majority of the second quarter. While he responded well enough in the second half to still flirt with a triple-double (eight points, seven rebounds, seven assists), he has to reignite his role as the engine to the Celtics' offense early in tonight's game and emerge as the clear winner of the point guard matchup. In addition, he has to limit his turnovers, particularly in the fourth quarter. On Sunday, he handed the ball over five times in the final period when the Celtics were attempting to claw back from what was at one point a 19-point deficit.
  • Truth of the Matter: Tensions were supposed to run high throughout this series, and Game 1 didn't disappoint, as Paul Pierce picked up two technical fouls in less than a minute and was ejected with seven minutes to play. With Pierce back in the fold tonight, will the Heat try to bait him into losing his cool again? It'll be on Pierce to not only respond with a strong performance on the floor, but to also maintain his composure should things get chippy again like they did on Sunday.
  • Paging Kevin Garnett: Kevin Garnett did his job defensively in Sunday's Game 1 loss: Making Chris Bosh feel like a non-factor on offense by limiting him to seven points on 3-of-10 shooting. But it felt like Garnett was just as uninvolved in Boston's offensive schemes, as he registered just six points on 3-of-9 shooting. The Garnett-Bosh matchup is one the Celtics will most likely have to win if they hope to advance past the Heat, and the C's need KG to be more aggressive with his shot selection, particularly in the post.
GAME PREVIEW
MIAMI (AP) -- Paul Pierce is from Los Angeles, so he knows a thing or do about Hollywood.

And he knows he'll have to act better if the Boston Celtics are going to avoid getting into a quick two-game hole in their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Miami Heat.

A day after getting ejected from Boston's Game 1 loss, Pierce acknowledged that his actions were "selfish" and that he needed to do a better job keeping his composure. Nonetheless, he still believes that he was more victim than aggressor during the two plays in which he got technical fouls that sent him to the locker room with 7 minutes left in Miami's 99-90 win.

Game 2 is Tuesday, and Pierce isn't sure if the physicality both teams offered Sunday would carry over.

"This is not a movie or a script," Pierce said. "It's hard to really say what's going to happen game in, game out."

Read the full preview HERE.

Round 2, Game 1: Celtics vs. Heat

May, 1, 2011
5/01/11
10:30
AM ET
(56-26, 23-18 away)     -- vs. --     (58-24, 30-11 home)
at American Airlines Arena, 3:30 p.m. | ABC, WEEI (850 AM)

PAYNE'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
  • Runnin' Rondo: The one clear matchup advantage the Celtics appear to boast over the Heat lies at the point guard spot, where Rajon Rondo should have the edge over any of Miami's traditional options, be it Mike Bibby or Mario Chalmers. Miami will most likely sag off of Rondo on the defensive end, but that won't deter Boston's point guard from still attempting to slash into the middle and create better looks for himself and his teammates. But Rondo having to fall back on the occasional elbow jump shot isn't such a bad option anymore, as they've been falling with more and more regularity lately.
  • Garnett vs. Bosh: In terms of matchups, Paul Pierce vs. LeBron James will steal most of the headlines heading into Game 1, but Kevin Garnett vs. Chris Bosh will be one of the series' most important duels. It's a matchup the Celtics will most likely have to win over the course of the series, and Bosh won't have any time to chill with the super-intense Garnett breathing down his neck whenever they're on the floor together. Garnett's expected defense will be as important as ever, but the Celtics will also need to utilize him as an offensive weapon, particularly down on the low blocks.
  • Ball Don't Lie: The prospect of foul trouble hasn't been discussed much in the build-up to this series, but neither team can afford to have any of its stars sit for extended stretches on the bench, particularly early in the game. Both teams will most likely try to lure one another into such a predicament, particularly if any player picks up his first personal in the opening minutes. The most likely candidates for the Celtics are Paul Pierce and anyone who rotates over to help on an attacking LeBron James (most likely Jermaine O'Neal or Kevin Garnett early in the game). It's difficult to imagine James settling for too many jump shots in this series, and it'll be up to Pierce and Co. to contest and alter James' shots as best they can without committing personal fouls. Easier said than done, of course.
GAME PREVIEW
MIAMI (AP) -- LeBron James planned to spend a large part of Saturday studying film, looking for any edge that the Miami Heat may use against the Boston Celtics.

Film from this season, that is.

No need to watch the Celtics inflicting past playoff wounds on him. Those remain fresh -- and time has not yet healed them.

The inability to beat Boston is one of the biggest reasons why James is now wearing a Miami Heat uniform. He'll get a third attempt to top the Celtics in a postseason series starting Sunday when the teams collide in Game 1 of what may easily become an epic Eastern Conference semifinal.

"It is personal," James said Saturday as the Heat finished practice. "It is. Absolutely right. You don't want to keeping getting beat by the same team, the same team keep sending you home to plan a vacation. So it is personal."

The Celtics expected him to say nothing less.

"It would be personal for me," Boston forward Paul Pierce said. "I'm sure he's going to take it personal and you've got to expect his best."

Unwittingly or not, the Celtics played a huge role in setting up an offseason unlike any other in NBA history. Boston gave James a big push toward Miami for a strength-in-numbers approach with the Heat that wasn't possible during the two-time MVP's stint with the Cavaliers.

Read the full preview HERE.

Round 1, Game 4: Celtics vs. Knicks

April, 24, 2011
4/24/11
10:00
AM ET
(3-0)     -- vs. --     (0-3)
at Madison Square Garden, New York City, 3:30 p.m. | ABC, WEEI (850 AM)

PAYNE'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
  • Sense of Urgency: The Celtics' quick start was a key ingredient in their lopsided victory in Game 3. They led 9-0 just over three minutes in, and their lead eventually ballooned to as many as 17 (22-5), before Boston ultimately settled for a 27-20 edge heading into the second frame. Another hot start would do wonders for the Celtics in Sunday's potential closeout contest. The worst thing Boston can do is play with a false sense of security and assume the Knicks are going to roll over because they're injury-ridden and are in a less-than-desirable 3-0 hole. The Celtics need to be the ones playing as if their backs are against a wall, and end this series in a convincing manner.
  • So, About the Bench: Stop me if you've heard this one before: Boston's bench mustered just 13 total points between two players in Game 3 (Jeff Green scored nine, Glen Davis chipped in four), once again failing to make a significant impact as the Celtics' victory was fueled by the starters. It's no mystery to the Celtics' reserves that they haven't been playing well, but so far they have yet to have that breakout game. The Celtics have been able to right the ship in a variety of areas as the series has progressed (defense, rebounding, etc.). A reserve-driven win would be an encouraging way for Boston to close out the Knicks and advance to the second round.
  • Encore in Store?: Sure, a strong game from the reserves would be heartening, but the Celtics will still lean heavily on their starters, regardless. How will Paul Pierce and Ray Allen perform after becoming the first Celtic players to record 30 or more points in the same game since 2002? Will Rajon Rondo follow up his 15-point, 11-rebound, 20-assist triple-double with another dazzling performance? The Knicks were helpless against Boston's trio of All-Stars in Game 3, and while asking for repeat performances might be a stretch, the shooting hands of Pierce and Allen might still be sizzling and Rondo has proven time and again that when he gets locked in, he's one of the best in the league at controlling the flow of a game on both ends of the court.
GAME PREVIEW
GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) -- At his best, Rajon Rondo can seize a rebound, dart away from defenders, and set himself or an All-Star teammate up for a basket.

Amare Stoudemire can shake a backboard with a powerful dunk, or scare a spectator sitting courtside by forcefully blocking a shot out of bounds.

He can't right now, though.

Rondo is rolling and Stoudemire is sore, a big reason the Boston Celtics will bring a 3-0 lead over the New York Knicks into Game 4 of their first-round series on Sunday.

The Celtics will be looking for their first sweep since beating Indiana in three games in 1992, so long ago that it was Larry Bird's last playoff series victory.

After needing seven games just to get out of the first round in both 2008 and '09, they would welcome the chance to do something easily for a change -- especially with likely second-round opponent Miami poised to finish a sweep of its series with Philadelphia.

"I've never been part of a sweep, but I don't like to think about that stuff. We don't worry about that stuff," forward Paul Pierce said after practicing at Madison Square Garden. "It's about getting better one game at a time. We want to close the series, but they're not going to give it to us."

Read the full preview HERE.

Round 1, Game 3: Celtics vs. Knicks

April, 22, 2011
4/22/11
1:00
PM ET
(2-0)     -- vs. --     (0-2)
at Madison Square Garden, New York City, 7 p.m. | ESPN, WEEI (850 AM)

PAYNE'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
  • Rebound Game: The Celtics managed to escape with a 96-93 victory in Tuesday's Game 2, but were almost denied a 2-0 series lead thanks to the Knicks' 20 offensive rebounds, which they converted into 24 second-chance points. Overall, the Knicks held a 53-37 edge in rebounds in Game 2, despite playing without Amare Stoudemire for the second half. With Kevin Garnett serving as their only legitimate rebounding force, the Celtics will continue to emphasize "gang rebounding," which calls for everyone to help clear the boards. Glen Davis and Jeff Green could be particularly effective in this area off the bench.
  • Get Off the Bench: Speaking of the bench, it has to play better for the Celtics, plain and simple. Boston's four primary reserves -- Glen Davis, Jeff Green, Delonte West, and Nenad Krstic -- tallied just 22 total points in the first two games of this series. While the starters have been reliable so far, at least one of them is due for an off night eventually, and the Celtics will need to rely on a bench commodity to step up and help fill that void. The bench's effort defensively is even more vital, as Boston cannot afford for its reserves to sacrifice leads the starters built up within minutes of checking into the game, which is what happened on two different occasions in Tuesday's win.
  • Transition Buckets: The Celtics registered 16 fast-break points in Tuesday's victory, led primarily by Rajon Rondo, who routinely took outlet passes from teammates and zipped towards the hoop, tossing in layup after layup. The Celtics said prior to the start of their series with the Knicks that they wanted to run when the opportunities presented themselves, and Tuesday's victory showed why. It's a style of play that can lead to success for Boston as long as it's not allowing the Knicks to return the favor on the other end. The Celtics will look to run, but they cannot afford to be run on.
GAME PREVIEW
NEW YORK (AP) -- Spike Lee and the celebrities will pack the place. ESPN will be there to televise it.

After seven long years, Madison Square Garden is finally open again for postseason basketball business.

And what a perfect time and place it would be for Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire to deliver in tandem after both have been dominant individually so far in the playoffs.

Or maybe it's the ideal setting for the Boston Celtics to torment the Knicks again.

The Celtics bring a 2-0 lead into Game 3 of the Eastern Conference first-round series on Friday, with the Knicks knowing they were close to winning both games but also getting close to going home for the summer.

"We're definitely not thinking about that," Anthony said Thursday after practice. "Game 3 tomorrow here on our home court, it's a must-win for us. ... This is the hardest game by far that we've played this season."

Read the full preview HERE.

Round 1, Game 2: Celtics vs. Knicks

April, 19, 2011
4/19/11
12:30
PM ET
(1-0)     -- vs. --     (0-1)
at TD Garden, 7 p.m. | TNT, CSN, WEEI (850 AM)

PAYNE'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
  • No Billups, no problem?: Knicks point guard Chauncey Billups will likely sit out of Tuesday's game after suffering a left knee strain in the fourth quarter of Game 1 and second-year guard Toney Douglas will, in all likelihood, step into a starting role. Losing Billups will remove both veteran poise and a sizable offensive weapon from the Knicks' lineup, but Douglas showed in Game 1 that he's not afraid of the spotlight when he buried a 3-pointer with 37 seconds left to give New York a 3-point lead at the time. Overall, Douglas finished with eight points, two assists, and zero turnovers in 26 minutes in New York's Game 1 loss.
  • Adjustments Needed: The Celtics need a better effort defensively in the first half of Game 2 after they allowed the Knicks to shoot 54.3 percent in the opening two quarters of Sunday's Game 1 and got down by as many as 12 points in the process. In addition, Boston desperately needs to cut back on turnovers, as the C's finished Game 1 with 18 total, which the Knicks gladly turned into 26 points.
  • Bench Brigade: With the playoffs in full swing, Celtics coach Doc Rivers will likely increase the minutes of his starters and tighten his rotation to eight or nine players. While the majority of Boston's bench won't see action, the players off the pine that do will need to contribute. The four reserves that played in Game 1 -- Delonte West, Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic, and Glen Davis -- combined for just eight points and shot a combined 4-of-15 (thanks in large part to Davis going 1-for-8). Boston will be banking on a better offensive effort from Green in particular, who finished with four points and zero rebounds in Game 1. As Paul Pierce said before the Celtics' practice on Monday, Green can get four points and zero rebounds "in his sleep."
GAME PREVIEW (via AP)
Toney Douglas played well when he replaced an injured Chauncey Billups during the regular season.

There's much more at stake now.

In only his third season, Douglas said he's prepared if, as expected, Billups, the 13-year veteran point guard, misses Tuesday night's Game 2 of the New York Knicks' first-round playoff series with the Boston Celtics with a sore left knee.

Billups is "very questionable," coach Mike D'Antoni said Monday.

If he is out, it will be up to Douglas to direct an offense led by Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.

"I'm ready," Douglas said Monday. "The hardest part is getting my body ready for that situation."

Billups was hurt late in Boston's 87-85 victory Sunday night when his leg "buckled on me." He limped off the court with 51 seconds left and didn't return.

"It's really sore" he said after watching practice in street clothes. "At this point in the season, this is the worst thing that could possibly happen, getting hurt in the first game of a tough series. I know my team needs me and it's just frustrating."

D'Antoni said it's much more likely that Billups will play at home Friday in Game 3 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference series.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers sees a possible trap for his team if Billups is sidelined.

"If you take someone lightly in the playoffs, then shame on you," he said. "Douglas has had a terrific year. (The Knicks) went on a winning streak when Douglas was playing and Chauncey was out. But I don't think that'll affect the way we approach the game. We just have to worry about us."

Read the full preview HERE.

Round 1, Game 1: Celtics vs. Knicks

April, 17, 2011
4/17/11
11:50
AM ET
(56-26, 33-8 home)     -- vs. --     (42-40, 19-22 away)
at TD Garden, 7 p.m. | TNT, WEEI (850 AM)

PAYNE'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
  • Star Power: This series features a host of future Hall of Famers and All-Stars, and in the playoffs, those are the players who typically determine how far a team advances. The Celtics' Big Four might have had their respective shares of up and downs over the final weeks of the season, but if Boston hopes to get through New York and move on to the second round, it will need Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett to play well. Likewise, the Knicks will be counting primarily on the production of Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, and Chauncey Billups.
  • Center By Committee: If the Celtics had their druthers, a healthy Shaquille O'Neal would start at center for Boston tonight, but due to his lingering Achilles heel and calf injuries, the Celtics will instead use the combined services of Jermaine O'Neal, Nenad Krstic, and Glen Davis in the middle (possibly Kevin Garnett and Troy Murphy at times as well). Both coach Doc Rivers and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge have said in the days leading up to the postseason that such an approach can work throughout the playoffs and Sunday we'll get a look at how that experiment unfolds. The Knicks are not very deep in the middle, with only Ronny Turiaf and Shelden Williams as their primary options. But they will, at times, employ a lineup that features Stoudemire at the center position as well.
  • Green Power: The integration of Jeff Green has taken longer than what might have been originally expected, but one of the Celtics' main goals over the last three days of practice was to establish a set role for Green in this series. As much as Boston will be relying on its starters, Green could serve as a sort of X-Factor not only in this series, but throughout the entire postseason. He'll spend time guarding Carmelo Anthony (this after being the Anthony dummy in the team's practices), and the Celtics are hoping he'll be that consistent spark of offense off the bench throughout the series.
GAME PREVIEW (via Stats Inc.)
The New York Knicks and Boston Celtics took big gambles when they shook up their rosters less than two months ago.

They're about to find out which team was the winner.

On Feb. 22, the Carmelo Anthony soap opera ended when he and Chauncey Billups came to the Knicks from the Denver Nuggets, a trade that cost New York three regulars. Two days later, the Celtics obtained Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic from Oklahoma City and gave up starting center Kendrick Perkins, a stout defender and strong physical presence.

The transitions haven't been smooth for either team.

And now they face each other in Sunday night's opener of a best-of-seven Eastern Conference playoff series.

"It was risky for both of us," Boston coach Doc Rivers said Saturday. "Both teams, when they first made the trade, started winning right away and then started losing right after that. It happens all the time."

The Celtics were 41-15 at the time of the deal and 15-11 since then, finishing third in the East at 56-26. The Knicks were 28-26 before their trade and 14-14 after it, ending up at 42-40.

Boston did win its first five games with Green and Krstic and New York went 6-3 immediately after Anthony and Billups arrived.

"When you first make (the trade), everyone's just kind of playing," Rivers said. "Then, all of a sudden, the new system starts kicking in, their old system is still in and you completely lose the rhythm. I'd say both teams did that.

"But now, I think, we've had some time together. These three, four days (of practice) have been tremendous for us. I think we'll both be ready."

Read the full preview HERE.

Game 82: Celtics vs. Knicks

April, 13, 2011
4/13/11
12:51
PM ET
(55-26, 32-8 home)     -- vs. --     (42-39, 19-21 away)
at TD Garden, 8 p.m. | CSN, WEEI (850 AM)

PAYNE'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
  • 12th Man Auditions: Celtics coach Doc Rivers said following Monday's 95-94 overtime loss to the Wizards that he is still determining which players will earn the final spots on his 12-man active playoff roster, and that Wednesday's game will serve as one final opportunity for the reserves to state their respective cases. For guys like Troy Murphy, Sasha Pavlovic, and even Von Wafer, this game still holds some weight as they seek to be a part of Boston's postseason plans.
  • Arroyo's Rhythm: Delonte West re-sprained his right ankle in Monday's loss in Washington, and while he's currently listed as day-to-day, Arroyo might be counted on more than originally anticipated with the postseason looming. If West's health prevents him from playing in the first games of the first round, Arroyo will be the one to log minutes at the backup point guard position. While the minutes will still be sparse because of all the court time Rajon Rondo will log, stability at each position is always important in the playoffs. Arroyo played 30 minutes against Washington on Monday, producing mixed results, but should get a chance for extended time once again Wednesday.
  • Don't Expect Defense: Assuming Rivers follows through with his plan to rest the majority of his starters for the second straight game, Wednesday's tilt will once again consist of the bench guys going blow-for-blow in the regular-season finale. Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni might follow Rivers' lead and hold out some of his key players (especially since the Knicks played on Tuesday), but the team's philosophy is still very much in play. The Knicks will look to run and score quickly, and don't be shocked if Boston gets caught up in a frantic, defense-free game dictated by New York's pace.
GAME PREVIEW (via Stats Inc.)
The Boston Celtics and New York Knicks will play at least their next five games against each other, but the first one will look considerably different than the rest.

Both teams may rest starters when they finish the regular season Wednesday night at TD Garden, the same place where they'll open the playoffs this weekend.

"We just have to stay healthy," Knicks point guard Chauncey Billups said Tuesday. "Nothing we can really accomplish tomorrow to be honest with you, just kind of stay healthy. Tomorrow to me is nothing. (In the playoffs) everything will be different, intensity will be different, players will be more focused, it will be a totally different game."

Boston (55-26) is locked into the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Knicks (42-39) are assured of finishing sixth, which means the clubs will square off in the postseason for the first time since 1990.

Coach Mike D'Antoni's plans for Billups and Carmelo Anthony in the finale are unclear. Anthony has been outstanding lately, averaging 30.3 points on 49.0 percent shooting in his last nine games.

While the Knicks can't exactly send a message by beating Boston's reserves, they wouldn't mind avoiding a season-series sweep. The Celtics have won the first three meetings, although they were decided by an average of just 5.3 points.

The Knicks haven't won in Boston since Nov. 24, 2006, losing eight straight there -- seven since the Celtics acquired Garnett and Allen.

Read the full preview HERE.

Game 81: Celtics vs. Wizards

April, 11, 2011
4/11/11
5:31
PM ET
(55-25, 23-17 away)     -- vs. --     (22-58, 19-21 home)
at Verizon Center, Washington, D.C., 7 p.m. | CSN, WEEI (850 AM)

PAYNE'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
  • Response Time ... Again: After the Celtics lost to the Chicago Bulls last Thursday, 97-81, they needed a bounce-back game, and the Wizards served as the perfect opponent the very next night. Boston reverted back to the aggressive, attacking team it has to be in last Friday's 104-88 win over Washington, and while a win against a club with three victories on the road this season wasn't enough to make up for Thursday's lashing, the C's at least came away having played better basketball. The same formula is in the works for tonight's tilt, as the Celtics need to get back up after stumbling badly in a 100-77 loss to the Miami Heat on Sunday. Including tonight's game, the Celtics have two games remaining before the postseason, and they still would like to play well and gather momentum, even if that consists only of a modest two-game winning streak.
  • Run, Run, Run: The Celtics registered 25 fast break points against the Wizards last Friday, good for their second highest total of the season. Playing on the second night of a back-to-back didn't hurt Boston's chances of scoring in transition, and the same should hold true tonight against the exact same Wizards club. Taking advantage of Washington's turnovers helped, as the C's converted 21 Washington miscues into 23 points last Friday.
  • Get Baby Going: Glen Davis remains pivotal to the Celtics' championship hopes, despite his struggles over his last five games. How Davis performs off the bench will go a long way in determining how far the Celtics advance in the postseason, and the fourth-year forward could use a confidence boost. In his last five games, Davis has averaged 8.0 points and 3.4 rebounds, while shooting just 34.1 percent from the field. Putting together back-to-back strong games to close out the season will certainly help Davis regain his rhythm before the playoffs get under way.
GAME PREVIEW (via Stats Inc.)
Washington (22-58) defeated Atlanta 115-83 on Saturday, handing the visiting Hawks their fourth straight loss.

The Wizards have won five of eight, largely by taking advantage of slumping opponents. Since March 28, Washington has defeated Utah, Cleveland, Charlotte, Detroit and Atlanta. Those teams are a combined 10-24 in that same span.

A couple of recent NBA D-Leaguers helped lead the Wizards on Saturday, as Othyus Jeffers had 13 points and 11 rebounds and Larry Owens scored 10.

"Those guys have helped bring our energy level up," coach Flip Saunders said.

Veteran Andray Blatche led the way against the Hawks with 23 points while shooting 9 of 15. Blatche is averaging 25.5 points -- 8.7 better than his season average -- in six games this month. That includes a 20-point, 10-rebound performance against the Celtics on Friday.

John Wall also had 20 points in that game, along with seven assists and five steals. The rookie is averaging 21.0 points in his last four games.

Read the full preview HERE.

Game 80: Celtics vs. Heat

April, 10, 2011
4/10/11
11:08
AM ET
(55-24, 23-16 away)     -- vs. --     (55-24, 29-11 home)
at American Airlines Arena, Miami, Fla., 3:30 p.m. | ABC, WEEI (850 AM)

PAYNE'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
  • Sense of Urgency: The Celtics squared off against the Chicago Bulls last Thursday in a marquee game with potential playoff implications, and, to say the least, Boston came away disappointed with its effort. The C's suffered a 97-81 defeat and were thoroughly outplayed on both sides of the ball in the process. But with the winner of Sunday's tilt emerging as the favorite for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and home-court advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs, will Boston play like a team that's hungry for another deep postseason run? When asked about his expectations for today's game after Friday's 104-88 win over the Washington Wizards, Paul Pierce had this to say: "I know we'll be ready. I just know we'll be ready. A lot more ready than we were in Chicago."
  • Defending Wade: LeBron James and Chris Bosh have fared well against the Celtics in the teams' three previous meetings this season, but the same cannot be said for Dwyane Wade. Wade's averaged just 12.3 points against the Celtics this season (he's averaging 25.8 points per game -- good for third overall in the NBA) on 26.7 percent shooting from the field, 20 percent from 3-point nation, and 64.7 percent from the free throw line. Perhaps most concerning for Heat fans has been the fact that Wade's averaged six turnovers in the three games against the Celtics. Boston might hold a slight advantage Sunday, as Wade's currently battling a sore right thigh that kept him out of the Heat's 90-85 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks last Wednesday.
  • First Impressions: The Celtics are 3-0 against the Heat this season, but all three victories came before Boston traded Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. Boston's identity has shifted since the last time these two clubs took the floor, and Sunday will mark a series of firsts for the new-look Celtics. How well will Jeff Green defend LeBron James? Green spoke recently about his need to improve on defense and lending a hand in trying to contain James could go a long way towards his defensive reputation. Meanwhile, will the likes of Jermaine O'Neal, Nenad Krstic, and (potentially) Troy Murphy be enough inside today? In the three previous meetings with Miami, the C's had the services of either Shaquille O'Neal or Kendrick Perkins in the paint on defense, but neither luxury will be available for today's game.
GAME PREVIEW (via AP)
Somehow, after 79 games, nothing between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat has been decided.

Boston, 55-24. Miami, 55-24. Tied for the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference, one team will take a stranglehold on the race for home-court through at least the first two playoff rounds on Sunday when the Celtics and Heat meet in Miami. Boston is 3-0 in the season-series between the clubs, and has won 18 of its last 20 games against the Heat since April 2007.

But if Miami finds a way on Sunday, that Celtic dominance may be temporarily forgotten.

"Let's toss the ball up and play," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Saturday. "We think we're a different team than the last three times we've played them, but until we prove it in between the lines, it doesn't matter."

The Heat are understandably thrilled that Game 4 of the regular-season series is in Miami. That won't be the case if Game 4 of a potential Heat-Celtics postseason series is also in Miami.

The No. 1 seed in the East has been locked up by the Chicago Bulls, and in some order, seeds 2 and 3 will go to Miami and Boston. So that means the Heat and Celtics will be slotted to meet in the East semifinals -- where Games 1, 2, 5 and 7 would be hosted by the higher seed.

Read the full preview HERE.

Game 79: Celtics vs. Wizards

April, 8, 2011
4/08/11
12:35
PM ET
(54-24, 31-8 home)     -- vs. --     (21-57, 3-36 away)
at TD Garden, 7:30 p.m. | CSN, WEEI (850 AM)

PAYNE'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
  • Reason to Respond: After suffering through a difficult 97-81 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Thursday, the last thing the Celtics need is another uninspired loss to the 21-57 Washington Wizards, who currently boast a 3-36 record on the road. With four games remaining on the regular-season schedule, will the Celtics start to put some momentum together heading into the postseason, or will they lead with their inconsistent play for a second consecutive night? A throttling of the Wizards would seem like the appropriate response to Thursday's defeat, but given the way the Celtics have played lately, nothing is guaranteed.
  • Rondo's Recovery: Derrick Rose stole some of Rajon Rondo's thunder on Thursday, as their head-to-head battle became more and more one-sided as the night went on. Rondo, though, will have a chance to redeem himself tonight against another of the NBA's top young point guards in John Wall. Wall didn't play the first time the Wizards visited Boston back on November 17, but when these two teams met in Washington back on Jan. 22, Wall finished with 16 points, six rebounds, and four assists, on top of hitting a 3-pointer off the glass in the final minutes to help seal an 85-83 Wizards victory. In two games against Washington this season, Rondo's averaged 12.5 points and 11.0 assists.
  • Bench Consistencies: The Celtics may have finally found a second unit that works. The five-man unit of Delonte West, Ray Allen, Jeff Green, Glen Davis, and Nenad Krstic has played exceptionally well in Boston's last two games, and was a big part of the Celtics' first-half comeback against the Bulls on Thursday. Maintaining a level of consistency is always crucial for a second unit, and this last stretch of games should serve as a great opportunity for this group to continue develop that all-important chemistry that will prove to be crucial throughout the playoffs.
GAME PREVIEW (via Stats Inc.)
The Wizards (21-57), who defeated Boston 85-83 at home Jan. 22, close out their home schedule Monday against the Celtics.

In the teams' last matchup in Boston, the Celtics won 114-83 on Nov. 17 with Paul Pierce leading six players in double figures with 23 points. It is tied for the Celtics' most lopsided home win this season.

Washington, loser of five of seven in Boston, is a league-worst 3-36 on the road. Coach Flip Saunders' team, however, has gotten two of those wins in its last three contests outside the nation's capital.

The Wizards, though, enter this contest following one of their worst defensive efforts of the season, a 136-112 loss at Indiana on Wednesday. It was the most points allowed by Washington since a 144-139 overtime win at Phoenix on Dec. 22, 2006.

"Energy caught up to us," Saunders said after his team's season-best three-game winning streak was snapped. "I was worried before the game. Guys just didn't seem to have that pep in their step. We almost really lost the game in the first seven minutes."

The Wizards are allowing a league-worst 109.4 points per game on the road. Boston is shooting 57.9 percent from the field, including 11 of 21 from 3-point range, in winning its last two home games.

Wizards rookie point guard John Wall will play his first game in Boston after missing the Nov. 17 matchup with a sprained left foot. The No. 1 overall pick had 16 points, six rebounds and four assists Jan. 22.

Read the full preview HERE.

Game 78: Celtics vs. Bulls

April, 7, 2011
4/07/11
1:00
PM ET
(54-23, 23-15 away)     -- vs. --     (57-20, 34-5 home)
at United Center, Chicago, 8 p.m. | TNT, WEEI (850 AM)

PAYNE'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
  • Rondo vs. Rose: The All-Star point guard matchup highlights Thursday's tilt in Chicago, as Rajon Rondo and MVP candidate Derrick Rose each try to pace their teams to a crucial victory. In the three previous meetings between these two clubs this season, Rose has held a major edge in points over Rondo (24.7 points per game to Rondo's 11.7), but has shot a lower field goal percentage (45.5 percent for Rose to 48.6 percent for Rondo) and hasn't been up to par in the assist department (6.3 assists per game compared to 12.7 per game for Rondo). How these two play will go a long way in determining who will emerge victorious in tonight's bout.
  • Out of the Box: After shooting a combined 10-of-13 from the field in his last two games, Ray Allen might finally be breaking out of the mini-slump he's been stuck in these last few weeks. If the Celtics involve him in their offense the way they should, he could serve as a crucial factor in tonight's outcome. In three games against the Bulls this season, Allen has averaged 19.3 points on 56.8 percent shooting from the field and 50 percent shooting from 3-point nation.
  • KG vs. Noah: With Carlos Boozer back in the fold for the Bulls, Kevin Garnett and Joakim Noah might spend less time guarding each other than usual, but even those limited minutes should keep us riveted. Their off-the-court jawing only helps to intensify their on-the-court battles, which often boil down to two of the most passionate players in the NBA going at one another. The two have been pretty evenly matched so far this season. The pair have played in two of the teams' three head-to-head meetings this season and have been pretty evenly matched, with Garnett averaging 18 points and 13.5 rebounds and Noah registering 20 points and 11 rebounds.
GAME PREVIEW (via AP)
Joakim Noah has a pretty good idea what to expect on Thursday night.

The Chicago Bulls host the Boston Celtics in a game that could have a big impact on the race for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, and he anticipates a charged atmosphere at the United Center.

"I think it's going to be a zoo in here on Thursday," he said. "It's very exciting."

These, indeed, are exciting times in Chicago.

With 16 wins in 18 games and the No. 1 seed in reach, the Bulls haven't had it this good since the Michael Jordan championship era.

They were three games ahead of Miami and Boston at 57-20 after hanging on to beat Phoenix on Tuesday. A win over the Celtics would all but eliminate them from the race for the top seed. The Bulls would salvage a four-game split and be four games ahead of Boston four to go in the regular season.

The next tiebreaker if they finished with identical records would be conference play, and at the moment, the Celtics are 35-12 with the Bulls 34-13 against the East.

"It means a lot," veteran forward Luol Deng said. "(The top seed) gives you the homecourt, but also, just having the best record tells a lot about the kind of season you had."

Read the full preview HERE.

Game 77: Celtics vs. 76ers

April, 5, 2011
4/05/11
12:00
PM ET
(53-23, 30-8 home)     -- vs. --     (40-37, 15-25 away)
at TD Garden, 7:30 p.m. | CSN, WEEI (850 AM)

PAYNE'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
  • Playoff Preview?: The Celtics and 76ers currently hold the third and sixth seeds in the Eastern Conference, respectively, which means if the playoffs started today, they'd square off in a first-round battle. While games between these two clubs might not have held too much significance in recent years, don't be shocked if Tuesday's tilt has that extra air of intensity as each team tries to make a statement to the other with the postseason less than two weeks away.
  • Inside Men: Celtics coach Doc Rivers has been preaching for weeks for his club to initiate its offense in the post, and after registering just 34 points in the paint in an 88-83 loss to the Atlanta Hawks last Friday, the C's responded with 48 points in the paint in a 101-90 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday. Kevin Garnett boasts a slight height advantage over Elton Brand, but his added length when he shoots should give him an edge down low if the Celtics feed him the ball regularly. Paul Pierce said after Sunday's win in which Garnett scored a team-high 23 points that Boston will have to make an effort to get Garnett the ball on a more consistent basis as the regular season winds down.
  • Getting Guys Back: Both Nenad Krstic (bruised right knee) and Troy Murphy (sprained right ankle) are expected to return to the lineup after brief absences. Krstic has missed the last two games after leaving late in the first half of the Celtics' 107-97 victory over the San Antonio Spurs last Thursday, while Murphy has missed six straight games following a right ankle sprain he suffered in practice on March 24. The Celtics will welcome their big men back with open arms, as they've been lacking size in their last three games, with Shaquille O'Neal battling multiple injuries and Jermaine O'Neal still on a Rivers-imposed minute restriction as he works his way back from left knee surgery.
GAME PREVIEW (via Stats Inc.)
The 76ers won the most recent matchup 89-86 on March 11 to avoid a four-game losing streak in the series. Boston has taken 12 of the last 15 meetings.

While the Celtics won't have Shaquille O'Neal, the Sixers (40-37) will be without Lou Williams, their top reserve who is third on the team with 13.7 points per game.

The guard strained his right hamstring during a 93-87 overtime loss to Milwaukee on Saturday and did not return. The team said he will be out for the foreseeable future. The 76ers are in sixth place in the East, 1 1/2 games ahead of seventh-place New York with five remaining. Philadelphia evidently missed Williams as it blew a 12-point lead against the Bucks and failed to win a season high-tying fourth straight.

"I talked to our guys a little bit about it. I said, 'That's what playoff basketball is going to be about. They're going to know all of our plays," coach Doug Collins said. "I know we picked it up back up in the fourth quarter. It's a shame we couldn't find a basket late in the game. We just couldn't make one."

The Sixers have dropped four of their last five games at Boston.

Read the full preview HERE.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Jeff Green
PTS AST STL MIN
18.4 2.0 1.2 35.2
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Sullinger 8.4
AssistsR. Rondo 10.7
StealsR. Rondo 1.7
BlocksJ. Sullinger 0.9