NEW YORK - Sunday evening, custodians were cleaning up Madison Square Garden, and for the first time since 1992, the Celtics brought a broom to the playoffs, sweeping the Knicks away in four straight after Sunday's 101-89 win in New York.
Kevin Garnett led the Celtics with 26 points, and Rajon Rondo (21 points, 12 assists) had another strong game for the Celtics. Despite a near letdown for the Celtics in a tense third quarter where a 23-point lead dropped all the way down to four points, the C's righted the ship and took care of business for another satisfying win, this time to end the series. There would be no Easter Sunday resurrection for the Knicks, and the Celtics, who seem to love to do things the hard way, for once, made things easy upon themselves.
That said, as sweeps go, this was a rather competitive series, and despite their 4-0 playoff record, the Celtics endured their share of adversity. Not quite like the ailing Knicks, who lost Chauncey Billups after Game 1 and got little out of Amar'e Stoudemire once his back started acting up. Still, the Celtics could have easily lost either of their first two games at TD Garden, and had that happened, we might be looking at a seven-gamer right now.
Instead, the Celtics granted themselves at least a week off, and for a veteran team that plays much better basketball when it's rested and prepared, the break is an invaluable bonus that could really impact their postseason fortunes moving forward. And perhaps most importantly, the C's are starting to find their playoff identity.
"We didn't play well in the first two games. We were fortunate to win both of them," Doc Rivers said in his postgame presser, noting that his team turned it around when they hit the road. "We did play well in Game 3 and Game 4. We kind of figured out what we needed to do offensively and defensively and we stuck to the game plans.
"What you saw was a microcosm of our season at times. We are playing well, we are playing well and then we go away from it for a while. Fortunately we came back to it," Rivers said.
Paul Pierce, who went for 13 points on 5-for-18 shooting in Game 4 after his 38-point explosion in Game 3, was pretty philosophical after the series-clinching win, noting that the Knicks had definitely earned the Celtics' respect given the fight they put up.
"Sometimes the road can bring you together because we really didn't play well at home. We have been a good road team in the playoffs the last couple of years now," Pierce said. "That might be something we needed and hopefully we can get better at home."
That wasn't the story in the 2008 championship run. The Celtics didn't win a playoff game on the road until the Conference Finals in Detroit that season, as they played seven-game sets against the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers in the first two rounds and struggled mightily away from Boston. So far this time around, the Celtics have impressed on the road and underwhelmed on the TD Garden parquet.
Schizophrenic is probably the best way to describe the 2010-11 Celtics, especially since the trade deadline roster makeover. The Celtics hadn't won four consecutive games since their five-game run from February 26-March 6, and heading into the postseason, they'd been struggling to score and rebound the basketball. But they executed when they needed to at the end of Games 1 and 2, and they appear to be improving their play as the postseason progresses.
Maybe there's still a few kinks to be ironed out, and it won't be smooth sailing every night, but the signs are at least encouraging.
"I don't know. I love our team," Rivers said. "We do some things that are a little nuts but they have a way to play together and they trust each other and as a coach that is all you can ask for."
One thing everyone's been asking for is consistency from Rajon Rondo, and since Game 2, Rondo's controlled the flow of the games and dictated the tempo to his coach's liking, not to mention that of his teammates.
"When he plays with that type of energy we are almost unstoppable. Pushing the ball, setting the pace of the game, rebounding. We ask a lot. He has to carry a lot on his shoulders but we know he is capable of that," Pierce said. "Tonight, you see me and Ray (Allen) didn't shoot the ball particularly well, [but] Rondo was rebounding, scoring and getting assists. That shows you how important he is to our team."
Rondo, for his part, continues to show maturity in leading his team and echoing Rivers on and off the floor. Rivers noted after each of the last two games that Rondo called a great floor game, and it's clear that the Celtics' point guard holds the key to his team's success.
"We did a great job of closing games out, executing down the stretch. When we rebounded, we played well," Rondo said of the series sweep. "Doc shortened the playbook. We really kept it simple. We went to our bread and butter down the stretch, the last four or five minutes of the game."
As the Celtics wait for the winner of the Heat/Sixers series, they'll take a few days off and regroup in Waltham on Wednesday to resume practice. And while they don't yet know who they'll face next round, they seem to know a little bit more about the team they see in the mirror, and that's probably more important in the long run.