Celtics' view quickly in focus

One day after closing out Atlanta, the Celtics were together again at practice, preparing for tonight's Game 1 against Cleveland. One day after closing out Atlanta, the Celtics were together again at practice, preparing for tonight's Game 1 against Cleveland. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / May 6, 2008

WALTHAM - Less than 24 hours after finally closing out an emotionally and physically tough seven-game series against the Atlanta Hawks with a 99-65 victory Sunday, the Celtics were at practice yesterday, cramming for their second-round series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, which starts tonight at TD Banknorth Garden.

How much time did they spend celebrating the dispatch of the pesky Hawks? About as much time as it takes point guard Rajon Rondo to go coast-to-coast. When the Celtics returned to the locker room after Game 7, the coaching staff had Cleveland playbooks and DVDs awaiting them, in preparation for yesterday's practice session at the team's training facility.

"It was a good win for us finally getting past the first round," said Paul Pierce. "But when the game was over and we were in the locker room, we really didn't have any time to think about Atlanta. We had to go and get ready for Cleveland."

The coaching staff had Cleveland on the brain even earlier. Coach Doc Rivers said yesterday that when the Cavaliers went up, 3-1, on the Washington Wizards more than a week ago, all the preparation shifted to LeBron James and Cleveland. Such is the nature of NBA life this time of year.

But while Cleveland had a day of downtime Saturday after eliminating the Wizards Friday night, the Celtics spent the weekend trying to finish off a frantic series with the Hawks that left an impression on guard Ray Allen, both literally and figuratively.

"That was the first time that we've really been tested and who we were and what we meant and what we stood for as a team," said Allen, sporting a nasty gash on his left shoulder. "Honestly, for myself, I like those moments.

"For us it's opened up the lines of communication. I've been on teams in the past that when you lose, you splinter apart. This team has always come together, and I think that's the sign of a true team."

Allen acknowledged that such a quick turnaround after a hard-fought series can be a little challenging mentally.

"You're split half and half because you have the feeling of celebration," said Allen. "You have the feeling of joy and euphoria, but at the same time you say, 'There is another grind that is about to take place.'

"We know how we approached that series. We knew every play that Atlanta was running, and now it's like you have to tune back in and start all over. You got the new booklet of all their plays, what they're going to run, and it's time to do it again."

Judging by practice, said Rivers, his players weren't that mentally or emotionally drained because they had taken the time Sunday night to go over the Cleveland material.

"I would say most of them have because they were already calling out their plays," said Rivers. "That's pretty good."

The coach downplayed his team's lack of rest, saying it's just like the regular season.

In fact, Pierce said he prefers not waiting around for the next round.

"I like it," said Pierce. "We continue to play instead of sit around. I don't like to sit around three, four, five days anyway.

"We are playing. We got a rhythm going. Hopefully, we can take it into Game 1 of the Cleveland series. I think the guys will be fine. We got a bunch of old guys. We don't need to sit around too much."

The same went for the not-so-old guys, like Rondo, who was showing no ill effects, other than a slightly sore tailbone, from the flagrant foul he absorbed courtesy of Atlanta's Marvin Williams in Game 7.

"We got one day to rest," said Rondo. "We've had games where we had back-to-backs, so it's not a big deal to me. I'm not tired. I'm ready to go."

The always-intense Kevin Garnett already seemed to be in game mode after practice. Garnett said the Celtics had nothing to celebrate after eliminating Atlanta.

"We prepared to win that game and move on, and that's what it was," Garnett said. "It wasn't time to celebrate. We're not celebrating anything."

Well, actually, the Celtics can celebrate one thing: The fact that they do have a game tonight, no matter how much time they have to prepare for it. That's good enough for Rivers, who is making his first foray into the second round of the playoffs as a head coach.

"I'll take a week or I'll take a day," said Rivers. "The fact is that we're playing the next round and that's what you want to do."

Marc J. Spears of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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