Blakely: Celtics continue to strive as underdogs


Blakely: Celtics continue to strive as underdogs

MIAMI A horrible start. A better, but nothing to boast about stretch up to the halfway point. A surge of success in the second half.

It was that kind of night for Kevin Garnett, who shook off a poor start shooting the ball with a dominant finish in leading the Celtics to a 94-90 Game 5 victory that has the Celtics just one victory away from a third trip to the NBA Finals in the Big Three era.

It was fitting that the C's would have a game like this which puts them on the cusp of doing what so few outside of the Celtics' payroll ever envisioned happening.

While the C's are being praised left and right these days for their resiliency, their ability to withstand an unusually heavy dose of bad breaks and worst luck, they are to a man, thankful for it all.

Without those struggles, they wouldn't appreciate the success they've had as much as they do.

But as much as they embrace this new found confidence so many others have in them, they understand all too well that this series is far from over.

Miami will come into the Garden a desperate team, well aware that their season rests on whether they can knock off the Celtics on their floor.

That's why following the Game 5 win, several questions focused on how amazing a journey this has been for the C's.

But the Celtics, much like their coach Doc Rivers, keeps the focus on the task at hand, never lingering in the past too long or looking ahead too quickly.

That's why after all the injuries and suspensions and various setbacks, like the 2-0 series hole they were in once upon a time to this Heat team, never seemed to de-rail this team from their goal - to position themselves for a run at Banner 18.

"We're just a good team," Rivers said. "A close-knit team. We have a lot of positive talk in our locker room. And I think it fuels them. Honestly, they think they can win, and we just got to keep hanging in there. I told them, 'we've done nothing.' We're playing a heck of a basketball team. So just because we're going to Boston (for Game 6), I told them, 'We have to play. They're not going to give it to us. We have to go get it.'"

It's been like that all season for this Celtics team, so why would now be any different?

But when you consider all that this team has gone through to be at this point, one win away from the NBA Finals, age suddenly becomes experience, injuries become adversity hurdles to overcome.

And this Celtics team, one that so many left for dead months ago, is alive and well, ready to storm its way into the NBA Finals where they will indeed be major underdogs and once again be considered too old (if they face Oklahoma City) or too injury-plagued (if they meet San Antonio).

But that's OK.

The 2011-2012 Boston Celtics are used to being viewed as something less than the best.

It makes the view from the mountaintop all the more enjoyable.

Young Celtics playing high-level defense without fouling a lot

Young Celtics playing high-level defense without fouling a lot

When you’re an NBA rookie or early on in your career, there’s so much to learn, especially when it comes to playing defense.
Despite having at least two players with a year or less experience in the starting lineup and at least three or four other rookies who see regular action, Boston’s top-ranked defense has been able to do the seemingly impossible – defend without fouling a lot.
Boston comes into tonight’s game against Atlanta averaging 19.8 fouls committed per game which is the ninth-lowest total in the league.


Celtics guard Kyrie Irving has some ideas as to how the team has been able to defend without fouling a ton.

“Our length, being able to communicate on the fly, having a system that’s predicated on shrinking the floor, just being very active,” Irving said. “Obviously, we’re going to foul. But the times we don’t foul, we limit teams to some tough shots, some tough two’s or some tough contested threes; I feel we put ourselves in great position. And then when you have guards down there rebounding as well as bigs down there boxing out and staying active it makes all our jobs easier, all five connected out there. We understand the importance of valuing each possession.”
The qualities that Irving talks about make sense when you’re talking about the qualities of an elite team defensively.
But for the Celtics to have so much youth tossed into such prominent roles, it is unusual to see everything seemingly come together so quickly.
“They utilize their length appropriately,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “They’re both long for their positions; that helps. So, you’re not playing Jaylen at the 3 (small forward) as much, and Jayson (Tatum) at the four (power forward) as much. You’re playing them at the two (shooting guard) and three (small forward) a lot. So, they can use that length rather than try and have to battle.”

Irving points out there’s added incentive to play at a high level defensively without fouling.

“If you don’t, you’ll be on the bench,” Irving said. “Brad has made that very clear. If the effort isn’t being put out there, and you’re not paying attention and you’re not preparing the way all of us should be preparing, that goes from the head coach all the way down to the 15th guy, if you’re not preparing the way you should and not perfecting your craft outside the game and that’s being very diligent, understanding what we’re trying to do in strategy, understanding our system, why it works, and why we’re doing it, then why the hell would you expect to play? So, he made it very simple. All the guys understand that. We’re a young team, but what we’re trying to accomplish will take a lot of energy and effort and focus. They understand that at a very young point in the season.”


Stevens: Celtics haven't played well enough to make streak 'valid'


Stevens: Celtics haven't played well enough to make streak 'valid'

You know who else - besides Charles Barkley - isn't impressed by the Celtics' 14-game winning streak?

Their coach. 


At the shootaround in Atlanta before the Celtics attempt to make it 15 in a row tonight against the Hawks, Brad Stevens told reporters, including ESPN's Chris Forsberg, that his team hasn't played well enough to make the streak "valid." 

“We haven’t played well enough to consider this win streak to be valid in my opinion,” Stevens said."We’ve figured out ways to win games. We gotta play a lot better.”

The Celtics have come back from double-digit deficits a number of times in the streak. Stevens said they're fortunate those rallies have kept the streak going.  

"We've got to be better, and we know that," Stevens said. "We can't get so caught up in the results of all these games and ride that emotion. We've been fortunate to win a lot of the games in this streak, including Thursday night [92-88 over the defending champion Golden State Warriors]. If we dig ourselves a 17-point hole every other game, it's not going to be as much fun as we've had recently."