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Celtics don’t rest on laurels

They overcome cavalier attitude

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / May 22, 2010

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WALTHAM — The Celtics barely got off the floor in Orlando when the distractions started to mount.

It began with Paul Pierce, the All-NBA trash-talker, dealing some parting words for Magic fans after the Celtics’ 95-92 victory in Game 2 Tuesday night.

Then the tweet surfaced, with someone presumed to be Pierce writing, “Anybody got a BROOM?’’ There was the response from Magic star Dwight Howard moments after: “Pride comes before a fall.’’

The next day, Magic forward Matt Barnes called Pierce a flopper. There’s an Internet investigation out to prove Pierce didn’t send the tweet.

This was two days’ worth of drama.

“Now we know what the guys in football feel like before the Super Bowl when they have two weeks off,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “My gosh, I couldn’t imagine that. I think we would go away somewhere on an island.’’

With the Celtics leading the Magic, two games to none, in the Eastern Conference finals, Rivers’s fear was the team would hear continuous praise for three days. Instead, there was talk about overconfidence and the potential for a letdown, considering what hap pened two weeks ago. In the Celtics’ second-round series, they split the first two games on Cleveland’s home court and came back to Boston with three days off before Game 3.

Rivers had described the practices as “lousy,’’ and the Cavaliers dealt the Celtics their worst home playoff loss in team history, with LeBron James exploding for 38 points in a 124-95 decision.

Rivers said there was no need to show the team tape of that game again. The lesson was obvious.

“That’s something they should remember,’’ he said.

The image of James ripping up the parquet is still vivid.

“Guys don’t want it to happen again,’’ said center Kendrick Perkins. “Doc reminded us about the last time we had a few days off to practice, we didn’t really take advantage of it. We had two bad practices. And Cleveland came out and dominated us in that game.’’

Michael Finley, part of the well-oiled Spurs team that won the 2007 NBA championship, said the days leading up were part of the reason for the Celtics’ letdown.

“This is the second time around for us,’’ Finley said. “The first time, with the break during the Cleveland series, we didn’t approach it as professionally as I think we should have. But when we came into this situation [against Orlando], we were able to focus more.’’

The Magic won both meetings at the Garden during the regular season, but Perkins said, “It’s a different focus.’’

For a team constantly reminded of its age, time off should be a reward.

“The challenge is trying to get proper rest and proper work and at the same time keeping their edge, which is almost impossible with a stretch like this,’’ Rivers said. “You never know, honestly, until the game starts. When you’re up, 2-0, you would rather play a game a day later. But we couldn’t do that. We knew that. In the long run it may be better for us. We’re not a young team.’’

Practices were better the past two days. The Celtics were preparing for any Orlando adjustments, be it Barnes guarding Pierce or the Magic attempting to breathe life into Rashard Lewis, who shot 4 for 16 (1 of 9 on 3-pointers) in the first two games.

“It doesn’t affect us,’’ Rivers said. “I mean, when you’re down, 2-0, you do make some changes. We have to anticipate that.’’

Whatever the Magic change, it’s out of Boston’s hands. The adjustment the Celtics can control is how they respond to time off.

“Definitely you can learn from the things you’ve been through,’’ said Pierce. “We don’t take these practices for granted. That’s why we made sure we are sharp the last two days. I don’t know if we took it for granted last time winning the game on the road, taking a few days off. We’re not this time.’’

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