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Celtics pause for reflection

First goal is met, but work left to do

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / April 26, 2011

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Knowing that four straight wins was the fastest way to inflate egos, Celtics coach Doc Rivers didn’t want to get carried away.

How good is his team?

“I don’t know,’’ he said. “I really don’t.’’

Sunday’s 101-89 win in New York enabled the Celtics to sweep their first-round series with the Knicks. They beat them all 10 times they saw them this season. In theory, they were dominant.

Then again, if Carmelo Anthony had drained a 3-pointer, or Jared Jeffries’s fingers weren’t so buttery, or Chauncey Billups’s knee hadn’t given out on him, or back spasms hadn’t flared up on Amar’e Stoudemire . . .

“I don’t like to really play what-if,’’ the Celtics’ Paul Pierce said. “I could sit here and tell you, ‘What if Shaq played?’ ’’

The most that can be gathered about the Celtics at this stage is that they’ve responded to the postseason smelling salts and that even if flaws were apparent in the Knicks series, they’re also correctable.

Rivers was wondering where his bench was until Glen Davis broke out Sunday. The only thing that stopped the coach from calling Giant Glass after the Knicks dominated the boards in Game 2 was that the Celtics were able to withstand it, as well as Anthony’s 42-point outburst.

“We do some things that drive us all nuts but at the end of the day they have a way to play together,’’ Rivers said. “They trust each other and that’s all you can ask for.’’

Four wins is four wins, and if they come with some turbulence, so be it.

“Adversity is good,’’ Rivers said. “That’s what I take away from it. It’s a good thing, and I told our guys that. I told them to expect it going into the series.

“We’re going to have it — it wasn’t an if. Be prepared for it. Embrace it, it’s a good thing. Enjoy the adversity. You find out who handles it well and who doesn’t, but even the ones who [don’t] at times, you hang in there with them, and eventually they’ll come through for you.’’

Between last year’s issues and this season’s finish, the Celtics have learned to put the panic button in a glass case and put that case in a black box.

Poise practically won the Knicks series. The first two games came down to last-minute execution. Once the Celtics had a two-game lead, they took the momentum and ran.

“We did a great job of closing out,’’ guard Rajon Rondo said. “Especially the games we didn’t play well, 1 and 2. We were able to execute down the stretch and I take away that as a positive.’’

The one stat the Celtics were haunted by last postseason was rebounding. They harped on it this season, but at times opponents were spending so much time on the glass they could see their reflections.

“We haven’t been a great rebounding team all year long,’’ Pierce said. “But when we do rebound and we play defense, we’re a tough team to beat.’’

The Celtics averaged 44.3 boards a game against the Knicks, almost six more than their regular-season average. They won the rebounding battle in every game except Game 2, when the Knicks pulled down more offensive rebounds in the second quarter (8) than the Celtics grabbed in total (7).

“We’ve got to make that an emphasis for the rest of the playoffs,’’ Pierce said.

Even after crushing the Knicks in Game 3, the Celtics were brooding over the 21 turnovers.

“If we can clean up those few things, we’ll be ready,’’ Pierce said.

Jermaine O’Neal played in 81 playoff games before this season. He came within two games of the Finals in 2004 with the Pacers.

“The thing I’ve been impressed with is, it’s no alarm,’’ O’Neal said. “Nobody’s panicking. We understand if we play the way we’re supposed to play, we win.’’

The Celtics won their series faster than any other team in the playoffs. The Bulls, the top seed in the East, not only dropped one to the Pacers, but their star, MVP candidate, and generally accepted end-all-be-all Derrick Rose is now playing through an ankle sprain that had him walking in a boot.

The Heat have a chance to dust off the 76ers tomorrow night.

Both of those teams beat the Celtics at the end of the season, the reason the Celtics’ bandwagon got lighter entering the playoffs.

“Let’s pick all those other teams,’’ Rivers said. “I prefer that.’’

The Celtics took yesterday and today off. Some players still had plans to go to the practice facility today.

“We’ve got a lot of work, a lot of work,’’ O’Neal said. “We’re not even halfway there yet. It’s good to win, but we’ve got much bigger plans than just to win in the first round.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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