Pregame – Rivers Claims Game Will Dictate Rotation

Only two players came off of Boston’s bench Wednesday night during its 92-86 victory over the Knicks in Game 5. That rotation resulted in four starters playing at least 38 minutes, including Paul Pierce (44 minutes) and Kevin Garnett (39 minutes).

Many people are wondering whether those two Celtics will have the energy to bounce back for tonight’s Game 6 after just one day off. Don’t count Doc Rivers as a member of that group.

“I think our guys are good,” Rivers said during pregame. “I really do.”

That’s good news for the Celtics. No one has a better idea of how his players are feeling than Rivers. The coach did, however, note that he could be wrong with that notion. If he is, he’s prepared to call on someone else to step in and provide quality minutes.

“If they’re not,” he said, “hopefully we have someone on our bench who can give them a spell and help them out.”

The one thing Rivers and everyone else should understand heading into tonight’s Game 6 is that we probably wouldn’t be here if Rivers didn’t play his top dogs for big minutes on Wednesday. The Celtics need to take this one game at a time rather than worrying about the ramifications for the next game. That’s the mindset Rivers took into the tip-off of Game 5.

“The game the other night, we went into the game and I had pretty much made up my mind that we were going to have a really short rotation,” said Rivers.

Interestingly enough, Rivers did admit that he isn’t exactly planning on using the same seven-man rotation tonight. He’d prefer that the game makes the rotational decisions for him.

“Most games, 95 percent of games, the game dictates the rotation,” Rivers claimed. “I’m hoping the game tonight dictates the rotation more than having a set one.”

In other words, keep your eyes our for guys like Jordan Crawford and Courtney Lee, because they may wind up making an impact.

- Marc D'Amico

Pregame – What Doc Tells the C’s Before Game 5

What does a coach say to his team when it is down 3-1 in an NBA playoff series? Doc Rivers informed all of us prior to tonight’s Game 5, and his message was short and simple: “Win.”

Rivers isn’t the kind of coach who is going to give his players a win-one-for-the-Gipper speech. He isn’t fond of digging deeper into things than he needs to. He’ll tell his team the truth about what it faces, and he’ll hope that his players respond. That’s what he’s doing regarding tonight’s contest.

“I don’t think you need to get deep when you’re down. You just want to make sure everybody wants to win,” Rivers said. “Like I said before the last game, seventh games are easy – everybody wants to win Game 7. Not everyone wants to win when you’re down 3-0 or 3-1. You just want the right guys to want to win, and that’s what we have to be. We’ll be ready.”

Rivers was also posed with an interesting question. A New York reporter asked him if it would be fitting for the Celtics to be the first team in NBA history to come back from a three-game hole in a playoff series. Rivers processed that question and responded just as you’d expect.

“I think so,” he said. “I think that would be wonderful.”

He continued answering that question by making a bold statement about history being rewritten (at some point).

“Someone’s going to do it, and I want it to be us, obviously, since that’s the situation we’re in,” Rivers claimed, before hammering home the point once more. “Someone will do it, and I really want to be a part of that.”

So do we, Doc. One down. Three to go.

- Marc D'Amico

Pregame – Doc Shakes up Starting Lineup Again

Jason Terry’s stint as a starter in the playoffs was short, wasn’t it?

One game after inserting Terry into Boston’s starting lineup, Doc Rivers has chosen to put Terry back on the bench. That decision will lead to the Celtics sending out their regular starting unit of Avery Bradley, Paul Pierce, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett for Game 4.

The decision is somewhat of a shocker considering that just one day ago, Rivers told the media that Boston’s smaller lineup is actually better numbers-wise. Rivers did also state that sometimes you have to go with your gut over the numbers, and that’s clearly what he’s doing. His gut tells him that the C’s are a better defensive team with Bass on the floor.

“I just like Brandon on Melo (Carmelo Anthony) more,” Rivers said. “The smaller lineup, the numbers actually say it’s better, but I like our defense better the other way.”

With Bass starting, the Celtics will again have three players who can defend Anthony. Jeff Green will handle those duties more often than not, but Paul Pierce and Bass will also help in that department.

- Marc D'Amico

Pregame – Celtics To Honor Marathon Heroes Tonight

The Boston Celtics are back in TD Garden for the first time since the Boston Marathon bombings took place on April 15. Eleven days of passed since that tragic moment, but the Celtics are still making it a point to honor those who were affected by the attacks.

All members of the Celtics organization are donning commemorative pins tonight. Most of the breaks during the first quarter of the game will be dedicated to the attacks, but more importantly to those who were injured and those who acted as heroes.

Many of those heroes are on hand tonight and will be honored immediately after the first quarter of the game. A group of law enforcement officials, medical personnel and first-responders will stand at half court as tonight’s Heroes Among Us.

“It will be nice,” Rivers said. “They’ve been through a lot, and I think they can’t get enough support. They can’t get enough love. So I think it will be absolutely wonderful for them and for the fans as well.”

For Rivers in particular, this is personal. He grew up in a family that revolved around law enforcement, and he enjoys any moment where the public can honor those officials.

“You don’t get a chance a lot of times to say thank you to firemen and police – my dad was a cop – so it’s nice that people have a chance and want to thank them,” he said.

The coach also made it clear that this is nothing new for him. He will thank these extraordinary heroes today, just as he does every other day of his life.

“I haven’t spoken to any of them here today, but I make a point of it, honestly, every day. Even before this. I’ve always done that,” Rivers said. “Again, I had the dad who was the cop, so I know how it is. No one wants you around or likes you until they need you. So I’ve always done that.”

These brave men and women were needed dearly 11 days ago. They responded like heroes and they saved lives. Now all of us in TD Garden have an opportunity to show them how much we appreciate them. It’s more than deserved, and it will be a phenomenal moment.

- Marc D'Amico

Pregame – Prigioni Changes Game for Both Teams

Pablo Prigioni is expected to return to the starting lineup tonight for the New York Knicks. Judging by the praise Doc Rivers gave the 35-year-old rookie, that’s not a good thing for the Boston Celtics.

Prigioni, who missed Game 1 with a sprained right ankle, has been the most impactful 3.5 points per game, 3.0 assists per game starter the league has seen in quite some time. The Knicks went 16-2 in games that he started this season.

How is New York successful with him as a starter despite his minimal statistical contributions? Well, Rivers explained before tonight’s game.

“I mean, he’s brilliant. He’s another Jason Kidd-ish type guy,” Rivers said. “So it just gives them another smart player on the floor and another guy that can create plays. That makes them really good. It’s no coincidence that when he’s in the lineup, they’ve played better. Because they have a lot of IQ on the floor.”

That’s right – Rivers compared Prigioni to future Hall of Famer, former MVP, and Knicks teammate Jason Kidd. That’s pretty high praise.

Still, Prigioni does lack some things in addition to his mediocre raw stats. He isn’t very big, which means the Knicks start two small point guards in he and Raymond Felton. I asked Rivers if he plans to attack that lack of size with his combination of Paul Pierce and Jeff Green, who will split time at shooting guard. His response was a bit unexpected.

“Well we’re going to attack whoever guards Paul,” said Rivers. “I’m sure Woody (Mike Woodson) is thinking the same thing. It doesn’t matter who guards Paul. Paul is going to get the ball, he’s going to get it in the post, they’re going to come trap. So I don’t think – hopefully there’s an advantage there – but I don’t think there really is.”

Let me tell you – there is an advantage there. It’s all about whether Pierce can burn the Knicks in the post against Prigioni or Felton, or if the Celtics can burn the Knicks’ defense with great ball movement that starts from Pierce’s post up attempts.

- Marc D'Amico

Pregame – No Limitations on KG’s Minutes

Kevin Garnett, you’ve been let loose.

Doc Rivers declared before Saturday’s game at Madison Square Garden that Garnett no longer has a minute restriction. That fact means that the five minutes in, five minutes out plan has officially been scratched.

“We still want to limit his minutes, but maybe limit them to 40 or 35, in that area,” Rivers said. “No set rotational minutes for him. And that makes it so much more difficult to game plan against our second unit.”

That game planning aspect is more important than you might imagine. As Rivers explained, opposing teams have set their rotations to take advantage of the minutes KG has been off of the floor during the regular season.

“The five-minute rotation thing with Kevin – you do it because you have to get through the season, but it’s horrendous,” said Rivers. “Teams were game planning against it. It got to a silly point at times where you’d take Kevin out and they’d bring their big back in, and you knew you couldn’t bring [Garnett] back in.”

With that possibility now out the window, Rivers is pretty excited to take the floor with his new rotation. He made it clear that he has no issues with changing his rotation from what it was in the regular season.

“When you can play the better player more minutes, that’s not hard,” he said. “I don’t have any problem playing Kevin more minutes. I think that’s easy. And I’ll have no problem playing someone else less if Kevin can play more.”

- Marc D'Amico

Pregame – Doc Says Joseph’s Issues are Between Ears

Kris Joseph has gone through a lot since the Boston Celtics selected him with the 51st overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.

Joseph went with the team to Turkey and Milan.

He jumped back and forth between the Celtics and Maine Red Claws throughout the first two-plus months of the season, appearing in two games with the C’s.

He was waived by the Celtics on Jan. 6.

He signed as a free agent with the Red Claws in early February, only to be traded to the Springfield Armor a few days later.

Needless to say, this guy has gone through a lot. Now he’s back in the NBA with the Nets and playing in TD Garden as a visitor for the first time.

Doc Rivers was asked about Joseph during his pregame media availability. Boston’s coach made it clear that he’s a fan of the youngster’s skills, and that the only thing holding Joseph back is his own mind.

“Well I think he has ability,” Rivers said. “I think his (issue) will be between the ears. I really do. I think he has NBA ability. I just think he’s going to have to get to a point where he can do it every night and have the toughness and the focus to do it every night.”

The Celtics clearly didn’t see Joseph bring it every night while he was in Boston. As Rivers pointed out, Joseph didn’t bring it every night at Syracuse, either. Still, that doesn’t mean that Rivers isn’t rooting for his former player.

“That’s a mental thing, and you either get there or not,” Rivers said. “And I hope he does.”

- Marc D'Amico

Pregame – KG, Pierce, Bradley All Will Play

The Celtics will finally have their full starting lineup – albeit a new starting lineup – on the court when they take on the Wizards in just less than an hour. Kevin Garnett, who missed Boston’s last eight games with inflammation in his left foot, and Paul Pierce, who missed two of the last three games with ankle injuries, will both be back in the starting lineup.

Those two players participated in Saturday’s practice and did not feel any ill-effects when they woke up this morning.

“They said they felt pretty good today,” Doc Rivers said, “and that’s a good sign because we went pretty hard yesterday and neither one felt like he was sore.”

Pierce is likely to play his regular30-plus minutes tonight but don’t expect the same from Garnett. Rivers indicated that he is going to ease KG back into the lineup and limit his playing time tonight.

“I doubt if he plays his normal 30 minutes,” said Rivers. “I’ll watch him, but there’s no limitations by any of the doctors.”

Rivers also indicated that there were no limitations to Garnett’s basketball abilities during Saturday’s practice. The coach said that the KG he saw during practice was the one he’s come to know over the past six seasons.

“He looked good,” Rivers said. “He looked normal, really. His wind was absent, but other than that basketball-wise he looked great.”

With Garnett and Pierce back in tow, the Celtics will rekindle their new starting five. Thanks to the fact that Avery Bradley (collarbone) is available, the C’s will trot out a starting lineup that consists of Bradley, Jeff Green, Pierce, Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett. Believe it or not, that group has only played 13 minutes together this season. Thanks to that fact, expect to see a few hiccups throughout the game.

As Rivers said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re a little rusty because of it.”

- Marc D'Amico

Pregame – Pierce is out, So Green is the Man

To the surprise of many, Paul Pierce (ankle) will not play in tonight’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Truth be told, no one should be surprised, seeing as the playoffs are right around the corner.

This is the time of the season in which everything that has to do with the Celtics revolves around health. This team wants to be at full strength when Game 1 of the first round opens up. Sometimes they need to take the precautionary route in order to make that happen.

Pierce did not practice on Thursday because his left ankle, which he tweaked during Monday’s win over Detroit, was too sore. He said that if the Celtics had a game yesterday he would not have played unless it was a playoff game. That statement probably holds true tonight, and we all know this isn’t a playoff game.

Boston will start the same fivesome that opened up Monday night’s game in Minnesota. Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee will hold down the back court, while Jeff Green, Brandon Bass and Chris Wilcox will start in the front court.

With Pierce and Kevin Garnett both out of the lineup, it’s clear that someone is going to need to step up tonight on offense. Common sense would indicate that Green is the man to handle that role. He has averaged 20.0 points per game over his last six contests and is likely to be the go-to guy tonight at the offensive end.

With that being a well-known fact, I asked Doc Rivers if he might demand 20 shots out of Green. His answer was interesting.

“I think if I have to tell Jeff Green that then we all have problems,” Rivers said. “Jeff has to be aggressive, but that doesn’t mean shots necessarily for Jeff. You tell a post player that more than a perimeter player. A perimeter player is going to have the ball in his hands enough to decide if he wants 20 shots.”

On a Friday night in TD Garden, Pierce will get some rest and Green will get another chance to be the man. We’ll see if he decides to give himself 20 shots.

- Marc D'Amico

Pregame – Lee is Back for C’s, Horford out for Hawks

The Celtics will receive a boost tonight, while the Hawks will take a hit.

Courtney Lee, who has missed Boston’s last three games with a sprained left ankle, will return to the lineup tonight. His return, however, comes with a caveat.

“I’m not going to start him, but I’m going to play him,” Doc Rivers told the media. “I’m just going to see the minutes and see how he feels.”

Lee was with the Celtics as they prepared for tonight’s game against Atlanta, but that was his first basketball activity since going down a week ago in Dallas. That fact worries Rivers.

“He looked OK today in shootaround but then again, he didn’t have a practice to fall back on. So we’ll see (how he looks).”

Regardless of how Lee looks, the fact of the matter is that he’s back in the lineup and available to play. That should bring a big boost to Boston, which had been playing its past few games with very limited options.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, Atlanta’s lineup took a huge hit today. Al Horford, an All-Star caliber big man, is not with the team at TD Garden. Horford did not join the team today due to flu-like symptoms.

With Horford out of the lineup, the Hawks literally have only one true interior presence on their roster, and his name is Johan Petro. Petro is a seldom used big man, having played in only 26 games this season.

That fact tells us that we’re likely in for yet another game of small ball here in TD Garden. Boston is already without Kevin Garnett so almost a necessity that the C’s go small. Now, with Horford falling ill, the Hawks will need to go small as well.

- Marc D'Amico