Posted May 11 2011 11:42AM
MIAMI -- The list of teams that have come back from a 3-1 deficit to win an NBA playoff series is short. But so is the list of teams who have as much big-game experience and championship pride as these Boston Celtics.
This is a special group that has done some special things over the last four years. If they were to somehow win the next three games against the Miami Heat, it wouldn't qualify as the biggest shock of this postseason. But it would probably be the most arduous accomplishment of their time together.
"It's not going to get any easier," Ray Allen said after his team lost Game 4 on Monday, "but that's what makes it that much more special if you can pull it off."
The Celtics believe they can win this series because they believe that their three losses were all entirely avoidable. They had too many defensive breakdowns in Game 1; they didn't keep LeBron James out of the paint in Game 2; and they failed to execute offensively in Game 4.
The Celtics' regrets go much further back than Game 1 of this series. They had a six-game lead on Miami in the loss column as recently as March 9, but lost eight more games than the Heat in the final five weeks of the regular season, giving their rivals home-court advantage in the conference semifinals.
In the Celtics' minds, they're just as good as the Heat. And if they execute the way they believe they can, they can win the series.
They may be right. But the results of the first four games have as much to do with Miami's talent and defensive activity as they do with Boston's mistakes.
"In our minds, there's a lot of basketball to be played," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after Game 4. "It's going to be extremely hard, and if we're not up for that then we'll lose. But if we're up for that, I think we can win three games."
After playing four games of this series, the Celtics' mission for Game 5 on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, TNT) should be pretty clear.
Defensively, the Celtics must slow down either James or Dwyane Wade. The two scored just 38 points, had 14 free-throw attempts and just seven field goals within five feet of the basket in Boston's Game 3 victory. But they've averaged 62 points, 21 free-throw attempts and 10 field goals within five feet of the basket in Miami's three wins.
The Celtics' defense must start with pressure on the ball and on the first pass. Boston was successful in Game 3 because the Celtics forced the Heat to start their offense late in the shot clock and far from the basket. Boston also has to contain the Heat's stars on pick-and-rolls and protect the paint without fouling.
Offensively, the Celtics have to get a big game from either Ray Allen or Kevin Garnett. The two shot just 6-for-22 in Game 3, with Allen unable to free himself from Wade and Garnett making little effort to get near the basket.
"I think he was looking to be a passer more than being an aggressive scorer," Rivers said of Garnett. "And that was that."
Allen and Garnett have each had just one strong game in the series. And with Rajon Rondo playing with an injured elbow, offensive production from the Celtics' other All-Stars becomes more critical. Paul Pierce can't do it all for the Celtics offensively, especially since he's matched up with the best player in the world.
Paramount for the Celtics is to minimize the mistakes which have put them in this 3-1 hole. If they can find a way to win on Wednesday, this series once again gets very interesting, with Game 6 back in Boston on Friday.
"What we're going to face on Wednesday will be our greatest challenge of this season," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after Game 4. "It will be the toughest thing we have to do up to this point is to put away a champion."
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