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Celtics notebook

It all starts with the starters, says Rivers

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / April 29, 2011

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WALTHAM — Celtics coach Doc Rivers does not consider the Heat’s 100-77 win over his team less than three weeks ago relevant to the teams’ playoff situation.

“During the regular season, you don’t know how your team’s playing, you don’t know if they’re injured, you don’t know if they’re tired from travel,’’ said Rivers. “So, I’ll just say it again: The regular season is so overplayed, it really is.

“I mean, there’s things you can get out of it, but for the most part, what you get out of the regular season, you see a style of play — how they play you, how you play them. Then you put it on the floor.’’

The Heat, who face the Celtics in the second round of the playoffs starting Sunday at Miami, dominated the teams’ 80th game of the regular season April 10 in Miami.

“I assume they’re going to match our intensity,’’ Rivers said. “I think both teams will be extremely intense.

“To me, it’s more about how emotionally hard you can play and still play smart. But at the end of the day, we’re not going to change our style, and if they change their style, that’s probably good for us.’’

Rivers indicated there could be an overemphasis on the contributions of the reserves.

“I don’t think anybody has that big of a bench problem in the playoffs,’’ Rivers said. “Honestly, they have enough guys, they’ll move them around. [Against Philadelphia in the first round], they changed rotations in the middle of the game. They have enough veterans they can do that, so I don’t think they have any issues there.

“It’s important, but at the end of the day, the starters are the key. If your starters are playing well, you have a very good chance of winning playoff games.’’

Asked about the reserves, Celtics captain Paul Pierce said, “It’s going to be big, we need everyone playing well. It’s not going to be easy when you start getting into the later rounds, playing against better defensive teams, better offensive teams.

“You get in a situation where some of the stars get into foul trouble because the teams are better, or get tired a little faster from playing a little harder, so it’s going to be very important for our bench to be ready to really provide a big spark for us.

“We just want them to be able to do it on a more consistent basis, give them confidence. But I think this week has been really great to give them practice time — over the last couple weeks, actually — so they can find out who they are and what they can do for this team to help us win ballgames.’’

Duel purposes In past Celtics-Cavaliers playoff matchups, the Pierce-LeBron James matchup was a determining factor. Asked if James would consider the duel “personal,’’ Pierce replied, “Probably so, at this point. When you lose to a team in the playoffs, I know it gets personal for me, so I’m sure he’s going to take it personal and give his best.’’

“Paul is a big guy,’’ said Rivers. “He’s not a guy that you’re just going to push around and bully. LeBron’s a big guy and he’s used to doing that to people.’’

As for other matchups, Rivers said the Celtics will stay with their defensive scheme, which involves little switching and few gimmick matchups.

“Even though they may look good on paper and they may look good visually for two minutes, statistically, they’ve been horrendous for us,’’ Rivers said of temporary mismatches.

“I anticipate they are going to go big at times — LeBron, [Dwyane] Wade, James Jones in the lineup, we’ll see a lot of that. We’ll see one of those guys guarding [Rajon] Rondo, which means one of them isn’t guarding Ray [Allen] or Paul, so we’re good with all those.’’

Change for the better The Celtics won the first three games against Miami this season, but lost the last matchup, which came after a late February trade and acquisition of three free agents. “Both teams have improved, but we’ve changed,’’ Rivers said. “We had to take a step backwards a little bit after the change and now we’re building back up. So, yeah, I think we’re both better.’’ . . . Celtics reserve Glen Davis on the physicality of the series: “It’s going to be a battle, we’re going to have to bring our A game. It’s going to be real physical. The pressure is going to be on them to be more physical than us, so we’ve just got to do what we do best.’’ . . . The Celtics are still hoping Shaquille O’Neal returns to action during the playoffs. O’Neal (calf) was scheduled to go through a light workout yesterday and a full practice today.

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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