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Celtics notebook

Garnett suffocating without space

Absence of guards led to little room

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / May 4, 2012
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WALTHAM - If Ray Allen’s right ankle heals enough for even a brief appearance in the playoffs, Celtics coach Doc Rivers will be relieved.

The Celtics’ lack of a consistent perimeter threat has simplified Atlanta’s defensive strategy in the first two games of their playoff series, allowing the Hawks to double-team Kevin Garnett.

“We’ve got to establish him more,’’ Rivers said of Garnett. “We’ve got to get bodies off him. They’re putting bodies on him, knocking him around, and we’ve got to do a better job as a staff, we’ve got to get bodies off of him and give him some room.

“Our spacing is horrendous. Clearly, without Ray, they’re using both guards to just sit in the paint. And we have to do a better job of creating space. It’s tough when you have two guards they’re just not guarding. And that makes the difference for Kevin.’’

The return of Rajon Rondo from a one-game suspension could help.

“It reminds me of Perk [Kendrick Perkins] and Rondo early on - a big and a guard,’’ Rivers said of opposing defenses. “And now it’s two guards who are quick and they can go and jab at the ball. We are going to have to figure out something, because we have to get something down low.’’

The Celtics, who were seventh in the league in 3-point shooting this season (36.7 percent), were 3 for 25 in the first two games against Atlanta. Even without Allen, they made good on 34.1 percent of 3-pointers this season (257 for 754), a tick below the league average of 34.9.

“We’re a team that shot threes in the season,’’ Rivers said. “We’ve got to find out other ways. [The Hawks are] really guarding the line and they’re actually clogging the paint up, too. They’re doing a pretty good job on us defensively.

“We’ve adjusted and we’ve defended them back. We’re that kind of group, we just hang in there.’’

Allen, who has missed the last 11 games because of right ankle bone spurs, returned to practice Thursday.

“I do feel good today,’’ Allen said before the 90-minute session. “I can’t say that I don’t. I definitely am practicing, so for me, that’s . . . I’m excited about it.’’

But Rivers was taking a cautious approach.

“He’s going to practice, but it’s going to be under my watch,’’ Rivers said. “I don’t know what to do. We don’t know if practicing is a good idea or not.

“We just need a scorer. We need to space the floor. They’re killing us with their help. They’ve just decided that without Ray on the floor, we’re going to swarm everyone and you’re going to have to find someone, and it’s hard.’’

Rivers jokingly said Allen’s absence could increase his contract value.

“Ray should renegotiate,’’ said the coach. “I think he has a better shot [of playing], but we’ll find that out.

“I’d rather take 10 minutes of him on the floor than nothing, if that’s what it comes to. When Ray can play, we’re going to play him.’’

A big help

Ryan Hollins had two brief stints in Game 2, totaling zero points, two rebounds, and two fouls in 6 minutes 16 seconds of relief of Greg Stiemsma. “Ryan came in, and his energy - that saved us,’’ Rivers said. “We needed someone, Greg was struggling, and we needed someone on the floor. Kevin needed a blow. You look at minutes, and I thought Ryan Hollins’s minutes really was the turning point in the game. Clearly, it helps him, it has to help his confidence. And it helps the team’s confidence in him.’’

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

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