BOSTON (CBS) – Don’t get confused listening to the Boston Celtics.
Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden is still Game 5 of their playoffs series against the New York Knicks. You didn’t sleep for a week and miss the C’s storming back to tie the series with three straight wins, putting them on the brink of becoming the first NBA team to come back from a 3-0 deficit.
Nope, they’re still down 3-1 and one loss away from a long, long summer.
But for the Celtics, they know it’s win or go home. And because of that, much like Sunday’s Game 4, Wednesday and any other game they play against New York will be a Game 7 in their minds.
“We have to come out, again, like a Game 7. Every possession, every defensive stop means that much,” guard Jason Terry said on Tuesday. “If we come in with that approach you’re going to put yourself in a position to win.”
The must-win mentality worked on Sunday – barely – as the Celtics overcame their own deficiencies to pull out a 97-90 overtime win. They blew a 20-point third quarter lead, a trend that has haunted them all series, and only hit the 90-point mark for the first time thanks to the extra five minutes.
The odds are once again against the Celtics for Game 5 in New York. J.R. Smith will be back for New York, and anything from Sunday’s first half that made you feel halfway decent about this team – Brandon Bass’ defense on Carmelo Anthony, Jeff Green’s scoring touch, and even Kevin Garnett’s crashing the boards – slowly melted as they let their double-digit lead evaporate. It’s been the same story for three of the four games: Celtics get the lead, Celtics blow the lead. Avery Bradley is still playing like he has a bag of rocks on his back, and Paul Pierce’s jump shot looks flatter than the Bruins power play more times than not. The only difference on Sunday was the Jason Terry that hits shots showed up, and the Celtics didn’t fold, at least not completely, down the stretch.
It’s usually been one bad quarter that has done the Celtics in this series, and they know that trend cannot continue Wednesday night if they hope to keep playing.
“The urgency is to play for four quarters,” said captain Paul Pierce. “The first two games in New York we played well for one half, and then there was that one quarter we had mental lapses and lost focus. We have to be cautious of that knowing they’ll have a sense of urgency to close this out.”
“It’s just staying persistent, staying in the moment and knowing every possession is critical,” said Terry. “We can’t turn the ball over; that’s been a struggle for us this series. If we don’t turn it over, stay persistent and keep defending the way we are, we’re going to have a great shot to win this game.”
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The Knicks have thrown a swarming defense at the Celtics, putting pressure on their non-ball-handlers handling the ball in Rajon Rondo’s absence. While Pierce has done an admirable job as a point-forward throughout his career, his 5.5 turnovers a game are evidence he is rushing plays – along with anyone else who may have ball-handling duties on a given possession.
But it’s not just Pierce. For the series, the Celtics are turning the ball over nearly 16 times a game. Most are caused by the Knicks pressure, but others are caused by their own poor play.
Pressure or not, it’s got to change and fast.
“We can’t allow their ball pressure to get to us,” said Pierce. “I think sometimes we’re rushing. We have to be patient and not have any unforced turnovers. When we drive to the basket, when we get to the paint, we have to be aware of their slap downs.”
All signs are pointing towards the Celtics losing this series, likely on Wednesday. The Knicks would hate to have to return to Boston for a Game 6, and squash any chance of a potential winner-takes-all Game 7 back in New York.
With the Celtics already in a Game 7 state of mind, they’ll be ready for anything that happens Wednesday and going forward. The longer the series goes, the more pressure mounts for the Knicks — a team that hasn’t won a playoff series since Playstation 2 was the coolest game console on the block.
“We have no pressure at this point,” said Kevin Garnett. “It’s an all-out mentality and you should play with a free mind, an aggressive mind. We put ourselves in this position, so we can’t (another word for complain) and moan about it too much.”
They may be 48 short minutes away from elimination, but the Celtics aren’t feeling any of that. They’ll put it all on the line on Wednesday, and if it’s enough, do it again on Friday.
And if they’re lucky enough, the Celtics may get to have that Game 7 mentality in an actual Game 7.