Celtics turn down Heat
Last year's championship season involved 26 playoff games for the Celtics. Coach Doc Rivers's program has the Green possibly playing even more postseason games this time.
The NBA playoffs officially start a week from today. But the Celtics, a game away from clinching the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, are of the mind the postseason starts tomorrow.
"The next three games are playoff games," Rivers said after last night's 105-98 win over the Miami Heat at TD Banknorth Garden. "Two on the road [Cleveland tomorrow and Philadelphia Tuesday], and they're all important for everybody. You're playing Miami, which is in a desperate race with Philly; Cleveland in a desperate race with the Lakers; and we're playing Philly, in a desperate race with Miami. Everyone is playing desperate now."
The Cavaliers clinched the East's top seed with a 102-92 victory over Philadelphia and the Celtics (60-19) increased their lead over third-place Orlando to two games as the Magic lost to the Knicks, 105-95.
"I'm not a big believer in that, honestly," Rivers said of gaining momentum for the playoffs. "I think it's important to go into the playoffs with confidence, and we have that."
The Celtics won their eighth successive home game and sixth straight overall, coinciding with the shutting down of Kevin Garnett (right knee), who will join the team on this road trip and could return to action Tuesday.
And if the Celtics have gained confidence, Glen Davis is the symbolic figure.
Davis (22 points), replacing Garnett, has added guile to his inside game and consistency to a quick-trigger perimeter shot.
Miami was without Dwyane Wade on its last visit to Boston, and Wade (31 points) was a major factor in keeping the Heat in contention last night, though he misfired in the end.
The Celtics started the fourth quarter slowly, with Davis their only scorer for the first 5:52, a span that included Kendrick Perkins committing his fourth foul and Mikki Moore his fifth. A Wade free throw capped a 10-4 Heat run, cutting their deficit to 83-82 with 6:39 remaining, before the Celtic starters returned en masse.
Ray Allen (3-pointer) and Davis (two jumpers) converted on consecutive possessions, but Wade hit two treys and James Jones had a 3-point play to give the visitors a 91-90 lead with 4:20 left.
Then, it was Paul Pierce time.
Pierce scored 9 points in a 2:37 span, clinching things with two foul shots with 32.2 seconds remaining.
"I play within the framework of what we're trying to do," said Pierce, who scored a team-high 28 points. "If other guys have it going, then I'm going to help get them by rebounding and doing other things to help the team. I just saw a need for my offense in the second half. [I needed] to be a little bit more aggressive than I was in the first half. And that's about it. It's not that I'm out there at the beginning trying to press, trying to find my offense. I'm playing within the framework of what we're trying to do."
Pierce regained the lead for the Celtics with a 3-pointer with 4:07 left, then hit a jumper and two foul shots to counter a Michael Beasley drive and Jermaine O'Neal 15-footer for a 97-95 edge with 97 seconds remaining. Wade shot wide out of a timeout, unsuccessfully appealing for a foul as he fell, and Davis's layup off a Perkins pass increased the lead to 99-95. The Celtics wrapped things up as O'Neal missed in close and Wade was off on a lefthand drive before Pierce sank a pair of freebies.
Stephon Marbury sparked a 10-3 second-quarter run as the Celtics seized a 54-47 halftime lead. Marbury, who scored 6 points in a 95-second span, started things with a 19-footer then followed with a drive out of a timeout.
When it really counted, though, the Celtics counted on Pierce.
"We somewhat had them guessing," Allen said. "They were worried about what I was doing off pick and rolls, and Glen was getting shots, and Paul was [isolated], so sometimes it can get tiring moving around so much - but it does free Paul up and it takes a lot of the brunt of the defense away from him. So, when we were executing we were getting good shots."