Jameer Nelson drives to the hoop in Game 4. (AP Photo)
As Doc Rivers put it in his post-game press conference, the Celtics played a pretty terrible game, by their standards, and still almost pulled out the win. Yesterday morning's backlash and subsequent bandwagon-jumping comes as no surprise. After all, the Cees shouldn't have even made it out of the second round, much less shut down Orlando and Dwight Howard the way they did in the first three games. But to say Orlando will fight back from being down 3-to-1 and advance to the Finals is ludicrous. Now I'm not saying it is impossible. Even in my scant 33 years on this planet, I've learned well enough that nothing is impossible. After all, no Major League baseball team had come back from a 3-game deficit prior to 2004, and I imagine it'll be a long time before it happens again. And while no hockey team had done it in several decades, hockey is its own unique animal, full of eccentricities not prevalent in baseball or basketball. I'm not making excuses for the Bruins; they fucking choked, pardon my French. I'm saying the odds are slightly better in hockey for such a comeback, than in either the NBA or MLB.
It was bound to happen. The Celtics had been en fuego the past six games, going back to when they were down 2-1 to Cleveland. It certainly appeared as though they'd make a clean sweep of the Magic. But, the Magic were the second-best team in the East, and were bound to step it up. Especially in the face of going home so soon after sweeping their first two series. However, I pin as much blame on the Celtics' lack of execution as I give credit to Orlando for finally figuring out how to shoot and rebound, and not turn the ball over. The Cees did not look sharp Monday night, and it was especially evident in the first half. Orlando turned the ball over all of four times in the first 24 minutes. And I can't believe they suddenly learned how to protect the ball. It was the Celtic defense, so claustrophobic in the first three matches, that took the early part of the evening off. Just look at the second half: the Magic committed ten turnovers in the third quarter alone, the result of a focus from the Cees D not seen prior. Too little, too late, as the Celtics shooting troubles kept them from maintaining the lead.
In my mind, it doesn't matter who was at fault. The basis of the Celtics approach is team basketball. This ensures that, no matter which player is struggling on a particular night, there are plenty of bodies to pick up the slack. Unfortunately, when you have Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson finally awake from their respective comas, and Magic bench players finally showing some skill, that slack can be too much to take up. What I envision for Game 5 is a resurgence from Rajon Rondo, and a much tighter defensive scheme. The Celtics just have to make a few key adjustments, and they'll be sitting pretty come the end of the 4th quarter. However, if they allow Nelson to roam out beyond the 3-point line, and Howard to have his way in the paint, they'll only have themselves to blame if they fall. As much as I'd like them to close out at home, the Cees need to continue to be the great road team they were for the better part of the season, and end the Magic's hopes of advancing. The Lakers did the Cees a favor by dropping Game 3 to the Suns, and they shouldn't squander the opportunity to close out tonight and get an extra day of rest before the Finals start.
And to all the neigh-sayers who've already written the Celtics off (due in large part to the Bruins' failure in the NHL Playoffs), I have just one thing to say: Go find another team to root for. If you honestly believe Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Rajon Rondo are done winning games in these playoffs, I have a lovely piece of swampland I'll sell you for a great price.