WALTHAM -- The door to the Celtics' doghouse swung wide open shortly after the team clinched the Atlantic Division title and home-court advantage, said Tony Allen.
After being banished to the bench for inconsistent play late in the regular season, the rookie shooting guard is back in the starting lineup for the playoffs. Not only that, coach Doc Rivers has entrusted him to help guard Reggie Miller.
The Celtics hope Allen can use his energy, athleticism, and toughness to contain Miller, who almost single-handedly led the Pacers to the playoffs by averaging 19.1 points per game during March and 17.4 in April.
To make sure Allen keeps his priorities straight (i.e. defense, defense, defense), his teammates shouted "Reggie Miller" every time the rookie was scored on in practice. That was in addition to the constructive criticism from the coaching staff and veterans.
According to Rivers, Allen "improved hourly" during the two days of practice between the regular-season finale and tonight's Game 1.
Suffice it to say, Allen has heard it all and then some. As a result, no Boston player seemed more eager for the start of the postseason -- and the end of all the pre-Game 1 talk -- than Allen.
"The coaches and them have been on me, so right now, it's just buckling down and getting more focused," said Allen. "I'm going to just stay on [Miller], be like a pest on him. I've been watching the acting that he does a lot. I know he likes to flop a lot. You've got to be ready for all the little veteran tricks. [My teammates] have just said, `Try to stay out of foul trouble. Contain him. Contest all shots. Don't leave him open. Know where he is at all times on the court.'
"It sounds easy, but I know it's a big task for me and I'm ready to step up to the challenge. I'm ready to go in and make a name for myself, but most importantly help my team do whatever we can do."
Allen admitted carelessness on defense put him in the doghouse, and he knows he cannot lose focus on the defensive end in the postseason.
And the Celtics know they cannot expect to average 101.3 points per game as they did during the regular season (46.8 percent for field goals). They recognize the maxim that defense wins championships.
"[Our offense] is going to have to change," said Gary Payton. "We can't throw up 100-something on their squad. I don't want to have that every night. That's going to beat us down.
"So, what we're going to do is try to play defense. If we can keep them in the 80s, we'll be fine."
As a veteran of 12 playoff runs over his 15-year career, Payton knows what the Celtics must do to defeat the Pacers. With that in mind, Rivers plans to use Payton to guard Miller, complementing the efforts of Allen and Ricky Davis. Payton has a big enough name that Rivers believes the referees won't call cheap fouls on the veteran point guard in a matchup with Miller.
The trio should have their hands full, though Rivers cautioned that his team cannot forget about the "Stephen Jackson problem." The shooting guard was forced into duty as a small forward with the season-long suspension of Ron Artest.
During the 22 games Jermaine O'Neal missed with a sprained right shoulder, Miller or Jackson led Indiana in scoring in all but one game.
O'Neal can also expect to see multiple Boston defenders. The power forward returned to the Pacers' lineup with three games left in the regular season, so expect him to shake off the last bit of rust and gain momentum as the first round progresses.
Rivers preferred not to contemplate a Game 7 with a fully reintegrated O'Neal on the floor. Until then, the Celtics will use a mix of big men, including Antoine Walker, Raef LaFrentz, Kendrick Perkins, Al Jefferson, and Mark Blount, to try to contain O'Neal.
"[O'Neal] is one of those rare bigs who is athletic enough to go around you, but has enough size to shoot over you," said Rivers. "He has great post moves and he's also good off the post. So, he's a tough matchup.
"The key for us with Jermaine is to fight him for every inch of position on the floor. The one thing we saw that was a constant last year in the playoffs and the two games he played against us [this season] was we allowed him to post where he wanted to post. The second thing is I think we have to change coverage. I don't think we can guard him the same way, force him one way, double-team him some, put different guys on him. He's too good to guard one way."
Above all, Rivers wants the Celtics to stay patient on defense, to recognize the Pacers will run their offense, move the ball, and use a lot of the shot clock. Rivers said it was vital for the Celtics to remain alert for the entirety of the Pacers' possessions. Patience is also a key on offense, as Rivers expects Indiana to take away Boston's first and possibly second options.
"We have to fight what we were in the past this entire series," said Rivers. "We have to stay with what we've done well."
Otherwise, the door to the Celtics' doghouse may swing wide open again and it could get quite crowded.