Close ties keep them together
MIAMI - Last year, the Celtics were eliminated in five games by the Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals. But this version of the Celtics is much improved, despite losing several players to injury and medical problems, according to coach Doc Rivers.
“Because I see them every day in practice, every day together,’’ Rivers said Monday of why he has confidence in his team. “Last year’s team would have been out of the playoffs already. It wasn’t the same team. This team is very close, it’s competitive. I think they understand [Rajon] Rondo’s the leader of the team, Kevin [Garnett] is a great player, Paul [Pierce] is a great scorer. They’ve gotten out of the way with each other’s roles. And the new guys have added a competitive energy to the team.
“When we were losing, people got conditioning mixed up with age. They kept looking at the team as too old and I said they were out of shape. As a coach you get a feel for a team and I know it’s a team that can play with anybody.’’
The Celtics have played in several Game 5s with the current Big Three, but Rivers said each one is different.
“Our guys, being together, when things go wrong or good, it helps them to turn it around,’’ he said. “They know it’s a long haul, a long game. And that can help you.
“I see them playing hard and great because they believe they can win.’’
Both Pierce and the Heat’s LeBron James fouled out of Game 4 Sunday night, the first time James had been disqualified in four years.
“It was like chess,’’ Ray Allen said after the contest. “They took our queen, and we took their queen, so to speak.’’
Pierce also fouled out of Game 2, as did two Celtic reserves.
“I think it’s a hard game, a physical series,’’ Rivers said. “We’re physical, Miami is athletic and physical. Honestly, I thought the calls down the stretch in that game could have gone either way or there could have been no calls. Watching it on tape, those were tough calls. I complain as much as anybody but, overall, I do understand it’s a brutal job, this series especially.’’
Rondo has scored 15 of the Celtics’ 16 points in the two overtime periods this series. Marquis Daniels has the other point, converting a free throw in Game 4.
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.