Danny Ainge claims Doc Rivers told him privately that Celtics would turn it around, fears Joe Johnson in first round matchup


The Boston Celtics were 15-17 after 32 games. Boston then bounced back to win the Atlantic Division clinching the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs where they will take on the 5th seeded Atlanta Hawks.There was some talk halfway through the season and into the NBA trade deadline that Danny Ainge should strongly consider breaking up the Celtics “Big 3″ of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Ainge stuck with his guys and listened to the words of his head coach Doc Rivers. The Celtics President of Basketball Operations discusses how impressed he was with the finish the Celtics had at the end of the regular season.Danny Ainge joined WEEI in Boston with The Big Show to discuss the Boston Celtics finishing up the regular season on a strong note, his expectations for the Celtics going into a lockout shortened season, Doc Rivers telling him privately that he expected the Celtics to turn it around and the issues the Atlanta Hawks present to the Celtics in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

How do you feel about the Celtics now at the end of the regular season?

“I feel very impressed with my coach and my players, who really stepped up. There was a lot of question in everyone’s mind during the first part of the season and we got off to a miserable start with a favorable schedule and we ended with a great finish with a very difficult schedule. I’ve been happy with how our guys responded and I just hope we can get healthy and give it a real shot.”Did you expect the Celtics to end where they are now? You won the division and are in contention for home court. Did you expect that at the beginning of the season?“I was probably hoping for a few more wins, but at the start it looked like it could be a disaster this season. We finished very strong and to win our division was a great accomplishment based on the really poor start we got onto, so Doc [Rivers] has done a great job like I said. I doubt if he will win coach of the year. I always think Doc does a great job, so that’s nothing new. I’m sure Gregg Popovich has done an amazing job with all the injuries they have had to win 50 games in this schedule, [which] is pretty remarkable.”

Doc Rivers almost expected this team to turn it around after a rough start. What did you think of that?

“Well I think that is the beauty of Doc in that when we got off to the bad start this year we were really struggling. He maintained to me privately not just publicly like you sort of have to do to have the players believe, but privately to me he said, ‘I like these guys. I like this team. We are going to get there. They have been working hard. We’re not in great shape. We’re not executing. The new guys are struggling a little bit with their stuff and Paul [Pierce] was hurt.’ I think he was convinced and he convinced me that he likes this group of guys and we are going to be alright.”

What issues do the Atlanta Hawks present to you guys in the first round of the playoffs?

“Well they have size. Joe Johnson of course is the first thing that comes to mind. Joe is the guy that has given us trouble in the past. He’s a strong, terrific player shooting the ball well from the three lately and seems to have really picked up his game and Josh Smith has had a fantastic season this year with Al Horford out he’s had to carry more of a load and had his best year as a pro. Jeff Teague has come into his own a little bit like our Avery Bradley. He’s got about a year earlier head start in minutes and production. He’s got great speed and athleticism and is a weapon they haven’t had in the past at that point guard position, so they are a good team. They’ve played all year without Horford and done a magnificent job. I think they are a team that surprised a lot of people to not only be able to hold down the fort and make the playoffs without Horford, but to really thrive.”

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