Monday, May 24, 2010
TD Garden, 8:30 p.m.
RADIO: WEEI 850 AM
The Boston sports scene is overly familiar with the fact that a 3-0 series lead is far from a guarantee toward advancing to the next round -- just ask the Red Sox and Bruins.
But before Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals tips off tonight at 8:30 p.m., be sure to realize something: this ain't baseball or hockey.
Media members at Sunday afternoon's practice crushed the Celtics with questions comparing their 3-0 lead to that of the Bruins, who shockingly blew their series earlier this month against the Philadelphia Flyers. But none of the C's were having it; nearly every player or coach who was asked the question made it clear that their current situation is unique compared to any other.
Kevin Garnett's reaction was probably the most telling... and entertaining. When asked if the Bruins' collapse serves as a "cautionary tale" to he and his teammates, Garnett stared forward with a perplexed look on his face for a few moments, then chirped the following:
"It's not hockey. The Bruins are not the Celts. The Celts are not the Bruins."
It's as simple as that.
The perplexed look then returned to his face once again, he shook his head, laughed and moved on to the next question.
That will tell you where the Celtics' minds are right now. Boston's mental toughness is proving its strength right now; there is no inkling of a collapse creeping into the team's psyche right now.
So on comes Game 4, where the C's will have an opportunity to close out an impeccable series against the Magic. Boston is coming off of what must be its most impressive win of the season, a 23-point blowout of Orlando where the C's limited the Magic to only 71 points and 36.9 percent shooting.
Orlando has been unable to crack Boston's defense at any point in this series and it enters tonight's game averaging only 83.7 PPG. Despite those numbers, though, two of the Celtics' wins in this series came in nail biters, and Doc Rivers continues to remind his team of that.
"It hasn't been easy," says Rivers. "Game 1 and Game 2 [were] hard. We had leads and we got out to good starts, but it came down to single-possession games. When a ball bounces one way or another, all of a sudden it's different. We know that."
With that being said, the team also knows that the close-out game of a series is the toughest win of them all, and to finish off a sweep tonight, the C's will need to bring the same type of intensity and execution to the parquet that they did Saturday night in Game 3.
Will Orlando show up?
Prior to Game 1 of this series, the Orlando Magic may have been the most feared team in the NBA. They were coming off back-to-back sweeps of Charlotte and Atlanta and were clicking on all cylinders at both ends of the court.
As noted earlier, the Magic have failed to score the basketball effectively in any of the three games in this series and have not had a single player dominate the Celtics in any way, shape or form. Dwight Howard scored 30 points in Game 2, but the C's were essentially inviting him to do so (he also grabbed only eight rebounds in that game).
After Game 3, every Magic player who spoke to the media, as well as Stan Van Gundy, seemed completely dejected. It would be easy to fold the tent after falling behind 0-3 in blowout fashion, so it will be interesting to see if the Magic can battle through that adversity and come out with their A-game tonight, or if they fail to show up for the second time in as many games.
Slow down 'Shard one more time
It's no secret that Rashard Lewis has been missing in action during this series, and Kevin Garnett is the reason why.
Our most interesting stat of the series thus far is that Glen Davis, a reserve for the Celtics, scored more points in Game 3 (17) than Lewis has scored in the first three games combined (15). That alone will tell you how badly Orlando's former All-Star is struggling.
Garnett has completely taken Lewis out of his game by limiting him to only one made 3-pointer in the entire series. Lewis usually makes his living from long distance, as he ranked No. 1 in the NBA in 3-pointers made (168) and attempted (423) during the regular season.
If Garnett and his teammates can prevent Lewis from going off again tonight, the Magic's chances of salvaging this series are relatively slim. Lewis is a focal point of his team's offense, and when he is missing, Orlando looks lost at that end of the court.
The first quarter
If the Celtics put together another first quarter like they did in Game 3, this series might be over after the first quarter tonight. Boston has the opportunity to break Orlando's will and close the door early on, possibly resulting in a second half that rivals Game 3's, where Stan Van Gundy began pulling his starters about halfway through the fourth quarter.
However, if the Magic can come out with a burst of energy and stick with the C's in the first quarter, look for this one to go down to the wire. Orlando has the talent to play with anyone, and they certainly competed in Games 1 and 2 despite struggling offensively. If they play well in the first quarter, the chances are that they will continue that through the rest of the game.
The issue with Orlando, though, is that it is an experienced team with numerous veterans who seem to play up when things are good and down when things are bad. That's not a good thing when the team is down 0-3 in the series, and it will be even worse if it falls behind early in the first quarter.