Celtics’ goals involve title

April 6, 2008


— For Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics, their tremendous turnaround is not enough.

With 37 more victories than last season, the Celtics surpassed the 1997-98 Spurs for the most single-season progress in NBA history. San Antonio, though, made it only to the second round of the playoffs.

Boston has a bigger goal - winning its first NBA title in 22 years.

"Everything we are doing is all great and dandy," Pierce said, "but this team is tremendously focused.

"I think I am at the point in my career where any rest I can get is good," Pierce said. "We have probably earned it."

When the Celtics added Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen before the season, perhaps no one was happier than Pierce.

For much of his other nine seasons with Boston, he was a one-man show. He drew double and triple coverage. He forced shots. He was unhappy with the consistent mediocrity and worse - just three winning seasons and a combined 57 victories the past two seasons.

Then the Celtics made their move, sending five players and two first-round picks to Minnesota for Garnett. He was lured, in part, by Boston's acquisition of Allen one month earlier.

Suddenly, a team that had the NBA's second-worst record at 24-58 had hope. With a core of Garnett, Pierce and Allen, Boston became an attractive destination, and solid backups James Posey and Eddie House signed as free agents.

The Celtics on Saturdaypassed the Spurs for the best turnaround. San Antonio went from 20-62 to 56-26 in Tim Duncan's first season.

"I'm just fortunate to be in this position, coming from a year ago, and thankful that we have the players around to do that," Pierce said.

The Celtics clinched the No. 1 seed in the East and a first-round matchup with Atlanta. They have no interest in coasting into the playoffs. And they know the biggest turnaround in league history doesn't guarantee a long postseason run.

"We try to keep a focus and a certain level of play," Garnett said. "and we have to do that going into these last couple games and, hopefully, flow right into the playoffs with the same intensity, if not higher."

That intensity is most evident on defense. The Celtics have allowed the fewest points per game and the lowest field-goal percentage in the league under the guidance of assistant coach Tom Thibodeau, a defensive specialist. Only three teams have forced more turnovers.

"Defense wins championships, offense sells tickets, so we want to keep playing defense," second-year point guard Rajon Rondo said.

Most of Boston's victories have been blowouts - 40 of their 60 were by 10 points or more. Last season, they had just seven victories by that margin.

"You still have to work to get the leads. You still have to work to get the blowouts," Garnett said. "Any time you get a chance to rest three or four guys (during a game) is always good. Not only do guys rest, but other guys get flow, other guys get to play."


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