WALTHAM -- Forward Paul Pierce said he plans on playing in Saturday night’s Game 1 of the Boston Celtics' Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Philadelphia 76ers, even as his coach said he was “concerned” about both Pierce and Ray Allen.
Pierce is nursing a left knee sprain suffered prior to Game 4 of the Atlanta series. He was hobbling down the stretch of Game 6 on Thursday night but said at Friday’s practice, “I expect to play. I feel I can play tomorrow.”
Pierce said the knee is “probably not going to heal until the season is over” and added, “I’m confident with the way it feels that I’m capable of going out there.” He described his limitations on the floor: “It really doesn’t bother me when I walk around a lot or jump straight up. It’s more if I turn the knee in a certain position. I re-aggravate it. I don’t have a problem getting up and down the court, just in certain parts of the game -- where you get into the lane, the physicality of the game, turning the knee. That’s why I’m wearing two knee braces just to kind of prevent that. That’s the only pain I feel.”
Allen was much less direct than Pierce. He said his right ankle (bone spurs) bothered him a lot in Game 6 on Thursday and that the pain is back to where it was a couple weeks ago, when he was unable to play.
“This whole last week and a half I’ve been day-to-day. I’ve had some great days and now I’m back to where I was two weeks ago. I’m just working through that,’’ he said.
Allen said he won’t know until game time whether he’ll be able to go. He missed the first two games of the Atlanta series (and the final nine games of the regular season) with the ankle injury. He averaged 28 minutes a game in the last four games of the Hawks’ series, coming off the bench in each game.
Coach Doc Rivers said he couldn’t give a prediction on either Pierce or Allen. “I don’t want to give a percentage.”
Kevin Garnett, his chiding of Atlanta owner Michael Gearon Jr., over and done with, said he expects a very difficult series against the Sixers.
“They’re a tough team,’’ Garnett said. “They have five to seven guys that average double figures. They play very, very hard. They play together. We got our work cut out for us . . . They know who they are. They’re not talkin’ a lot. They’re coming out and showing up to play. They’re a young team. They’re playing with a lot of confidence and confidence is one thing you need in this league.”
Rivers, by the way, said he didn’t think Garnett’s brilliant performance in Game 6 against Atlanta (28 points, 14 rebounds, 5 blocks) had anything to do with Gearon saying Garnett was the dirtiest player in the league. Garnett shot right back at Gearon after the game.
“I don’t think Mike’s statement had anything to do with that outburst from Kevin,’’ Rivers said. “I think Kevin wanted to win the game. Then after the game, he can say something.”
Rivers pretty much dismissed the significance of the Sixers' two blowout wins over the Celtics in the regular season. One was a 32-point drubbing and the other a 13-point victory. Rivers noted both games were on the second end of back-to-backs for Boston and, in the second game, Allen didn’t play and both Mickael Pietrus and Avery Bradley were injured. The Celtics easily won the only matchup in Boston this season on Easter Sunday.
Allen, for one, said he is glad the Celtics did not dominate the Sixers during the regular season, “because beating them 3-0, if we did, you come into it a little cocky and arrogant. But since they beat us the two out of three, we know this team is capable and they’ve had our number, so we have got to zone in and focus on beating them and taking care of all those things we didn’t do well.”
It would be wrong to characterize Friday’s Celtics assemblage it as a practice. Rivers’ to-do list started with watching a lot of film and ended with the implementation of the defensive game plan.
“We won’t do anything offensively,’’ he said. “There just isn’t enough time.”
It should be a low-scoring series, especially if the Celtics can keep the faster, younger Sixers out of transition.
“When they are in the halfcourt, it’s tougher for them,’’ Rivers said. “That’s going to be our chore. We're not going to outrun them. They’re faster than us. They’re going to win the track meet, there’s no doubt about that. We got to find a way of getting them to play halfcourt.”
The Sixers’ leading scorer during the regular season was Lou Williams, who doesn’t start.
“They have scoring coming off their bench. Our bench is more defensive minded and energy,’’ Rivers said. “We do have Ray, which gives us scoring. Their bench comes in to change the tempo of the game offensively. Pour bench comes in to change the tempo of the game defensively.”
Rivers said he spoke late Thursday night with former top assistant Tom Thibodeau, head coach of the Bulls. He said the two spent time lamenting their teams’ late-game performances in Game 6. The Bulls blew a three-point lead and Omer Asik missed two free throws in the closing seconds. The Celtics had to rally from a three-point hole in the final minutes.
“We did everything we could do to lose that game as well,’’ Rivers said of the Celtics. “It wasn’t funny, but we (Rivers and Thibodeau) were both laughing at our teams. We didn’t do real well down the stretch. We got out of our offense, we milked the clock, we didn’t execute. Chicago did the same thing. That’s the playoffs. Bad things happen.”
Rivers said it was revealing to see the reactions of the two victorious teams on Thursday night.
“They (the Sixers) were excited and they should be. Looking at the tape, they were excited and we were relieved. When the clock went off for us, the guys were like, ‘let’s go to bed.’ They (the Sixers) have the emotional advantage because of their win. We have to match that.”