WALTHAM, Mass. (AP) -The Boston Celtics have won just three playoff series in the 15 seasons since Larry Bird retired. If they win three this year, they'll be in the NBA finals.
With Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, there's a good chance that will happen.
``That's why we were brought here, to help win games to get us to this point,'' Allen said Thursday.
The Celtics reached it by dominating opponents night after night. They won 45 games by at least 10 points. They finished 66-16 after going 24-58 last season - a 42-game improvement that shattered the old record of 36 set by the San Antonio Spurs in 1997-98.
They did it with Garnett, Allen and Paul Pierce forming a brilliant Big Three and with a very productive bench. And they won their last four games in the regular season.
Next up are the Atlanta Hawks in the opener of the best-of-seven first round on Sunday night. With the NBA's best record, the Celtics have home-court advantage throughout their first playoff appearance in three years.
Expectations soared when the Celtics traded for Allen and then Garnett in the offseason, but that doesn't mean much now.
``Our expectations haven't started. I guess you can put it that way,'' coach Doc Rivers said after a light workout to prepare for the team he played with for eight seasons. ``We never talked about numbers. Numbers are insignificant for us and they've been all year. We didn't say 40 wins at the start of the year or 60 or 50. We didn't have a number because it's not what we were thinking about.
``This is the part that we're playing for.''
Garnett missed practice to tend to family issues but is expected back Friday to lend his intensity and to the workout.
``It's more peaceful, not a lot of yelling,'' Rivers joked about Thursday's atmosphere. ``It's actually strange.''
He had given his starters extra rest down the stretch after Boston clinched the No. 1 seed. He even held Garnett, Pierce and Allen out of the next to last game and the Celtics won that, 99-93 over the New York Knicks.
The starters have three days of practice to make sure they're sharp before facing the Hawks, who were 0-3 against the Celtics and 37-45 overall.
``I think it's good for us, especially guys who didn't get a chance to play the last couple of days,'' Pierce said. ``You've got to stay sharp this time of the year so being that we didn't play a lot at the end, it's good for us to get in here today.''
Rivers plans to hold his toughest practice on Friday then taper off on Saturday. If the players had their way, they wouldn't have to wait until Sunday at 8:30 p.m. EDT to start the series.
``By the time Sunday comes around, I probably will be anxious to get on the court and play,'' said Rajon Rondo the second-year point guard who has been on Celtics teams with the second worst and third best records in franchise history.
Forward P.J. Brown, signed as a free agent on Feb. 27, didn't need much time to be convinced of his new team's ability.
``I can see why they've won,'' he said. ``They're very unselfish. They play real hard every game.''
Boston had seven more wins than the next best team, the Detroit Pistons, and eight more than the Los Angeles Lakers, who were the best in the West.
There's already anticipation of a possible Celtics-Lakers final just like in 1984, when Boston won, and 1985 and 1987 when Los Angeles was the champion.
Those were the years when Boston was led by its original Big Three - Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.
``I always heard stories about Larry Bird and McHale and Parish and how they always wondered who their playoff opponent was in the beginning of the year because they play for this time of year,'' Allen said. ``They knew once the playoffs came, that was their time.
``We know that this is the part of the year when history is made.''
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