Celtics Capture Atlantic Division Crown.

By Stephen Alford
Updated: April 20, 2005

BOSTON, MA.—bout two and a half weeks ago Boston coach Glenn Doc Rivers proclaimed that the Celtics, “just don’t get it,” as they suffered a 97-93 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. The next time they faced the Sixers, which was at Philadelphia, Boston handled them 105-98. That victory began a four-game winning streak, which included key wins over Miami (to clinch the Atlantic Division) and Toronto (to clinch homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs), before falling to the Cavaliers in Cleveland 100-86.

“Guys grinded it out,” is the way the prodigal son Antoine Walker described the 101-99 upset over the Miami Heat on April 15th. “…it was a total team effort. A total team win.”

And that’s exactly what it’s going to take as the Celtics wrap up the 2004-05 NBA season having captured the Atlantic Division crown for the first time since 1992, the year Larry Bird retired: A total team effort. Since the win in Philly, the Green has displayed the team concept that Employee Number 8 was referring to in a variety of ways from a variety of players.

Mark Blount and Ricky Davis showed it against Toronto last Sunday when Blount fed a cutting Ricky D on the baseline for a come-from-the-other-side-of-the-rim-turn-and-slam to make the score 85-73 with 11:17 in the third quarter, as the Celtics went on to record a 103-98 road victory.

CelticNation has to love the way Marcus Banks has been playing as of late as well. Banks has gone from being on the trading block during the preseason to being a valuable backup point guard as the Cs begin playoff play this weekend. In the third quarter against Toronto, Banks had a phenomenal sequence with a little more than 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and the Celtics up 86-77. Banks hit an 18-foot jumper then, during Toronto’s next possession, Banks stuffed Jalen Rose’s shot as Rose came off a give-n-go. The 6’8” Rose was in such disbelief that the 6’2” Banks could block his shot that he earned himself a technical. But CelticsNation has seen this type of athletic ability from Banks more than a couple of times already. Banks seems to have a jones for blocking a tall man’s shot, evident for those who remember him blocking Steven Hunter’s dunk attempt in Phoenix. No doubt, Marcus’ role in the playoffs will be huge as he’ll be called upon to pressure the point guards, and give the 15-year veteran Gary Payton a breather.

Al Jefferson has emerged as a valuable piece of the Celtics puzzle. And never was he more valuable to the Cs than the division clincher against Shaq and them last Friday. As he’s already done so often, the Celtics’ gem showed productivity and veteran-like poise, but this time against the likes of Adonis Haslem, Alonzo Mourning, and Shaquille O’Neal. Jeffeson scored 19 points against the Miami Heat, and was 8-for-10 from the field and 3-for-4 from the charity stripe. More importantly, all of those points came in the second half.

Doc Rivers praised the young Jefferson after the game by saying, “We needed a boost and Al gave us that. We needed Al’s offense.”

Antoine Walker also had a lot of positive things to say about the Celtics’ prize pick of the 2004 NBA draft, “He was huge man. He really grew up a lot. He wasn’t intimidated by Shaq in the middle. He kept going strong to the hole, finishing plays. He’s going to be a great player, man. He just doesn’t realize the potential he has out there. He’s just out there playing on instinct. That’s just the good thing about it right now. All instinct.”

Al Jefferson, on the other hand, seems to take games and compliments like these in stride. “As each week goes by, I feel more comfortable playing against whoever,” said Jefferson. I just look at it like, ‘You’re in the NBA. You’re going to play against the best.’”

Kendrick Perkins had a spirited play and may have saved the game for the Celtics when he disrupted a lay-up by Dwayne Wade. With the Celtics up 100-99 in the closing seconds of regulation Flash Wade had the ball around the top of the key. The guard out of Marquette used his Chi-town quickness to get to the basket, but Perkins was able to come from out of nowhere and alter Wade’s shot. “…there was no blocked shot on it,” Doc explained. “But Wade getting all the way to the basket, Kendrick Perkins came from the other side, and made an incredible effort. And with his presence, Wade had to adjust his shot. And that’s the only reason he misses.”

And to think on April 3rd, Paul Pierce was concurring with Doc Rivers’ sentiments saying, “We’re not acting like a playoff team. We’re acting like we’re ready for the season to be over, and we’re ready to go home for the summer. We got to have a better since of urgency. We got to play like our back is against the wall, like Philadelphia.”

“We’re getting’ it,” Coach Rivers said with a smile after the win against the Heat. “I thought we got it in Philly. I thought we joined the playoff race in Philadelphia and now we’re in.”

The Cs will most likely face Indiana in the first round of the playoffs. Boston got swept by Indiana in the playoffs last year, but Doc is confident about his chances this year, “Indiana swept us last year, we beat them once already,” said Coach Rivers. “We had to beat Philly. We had to get a win against Miami so when (we) face them again, (we) go in with some kind of confidence. We beat all the good teams so now we know we can play with them.”

The Celts lost against the Cavaliers on Tuesday, but that was primarily due to the fact that Cleveland was battling for the eighth and final spot, and the right to play in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. So, while Paul Silas … errr… I mean … Brendan Malone was trying to secure a victory, Doc Rivers decided to give the reserves the fourth quarter burn to show the young ones a taste of playoff intensity.

“We just don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” added the Truth. When we got Antoine, we won 11out of 12, then we lost four straight. So right now we got to catch ourselves and not get ahead of ourselves. And keep playing one at a time.”