Tim O’Sullivan: Celtics hope to repeat glorious Boston history
Boston Celtics center Kevin Garnett (5) pounds his chest in the first half of Game 5 of their first-round NBA basketball playoff series at Madison Square Garden in New York, Wednesday, May 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Admit it, most of us were thinking it: The Celtics are dead. The Knicks were just the ones who decided to say it by wearing funeral black to what they thought would be the final game of this series, and Boston’s season, on Wednesday night.
We all should have known better. These Celtics have proven their resiliency before, and they’ve shown it again this week by trimming a 3-0 hole into a 3-2 margin that barely feels like a deficit at all. So now we’re all sucked back in for tonight’s Game 6, once again believing in the old guys in green. We’re thinking of their run to the Finals in 2010 and the conference finals last year. And we’re thinking about the Red Sox coming back from 3-0 down against a team from New York in 2004.
In most cases, it would be absurd to compare teams from different sports. But things aren’t normal in Boston these days. The camaraderie and community the city and region have felt since the Boston Marathon bombings is very real. The tragedy brought people together,
a sense of connection that has extended beyond borders, including time and sport.
Like the ’04 Red Sox, the Celtics are trying to “Cowboy Up” and do what no one in their league has ever done. Before this year, there have been 103 teams in NBA history that have gone down 3-0, and all of them have lost the series. The Celtics are just the 11th of those teams to extend the series to a Game 6. Only three have forced a Game 7.
In many ways, the comparison should end there. The Celtics aren’t trying to erase 86 years of misery along with the 3-0 hole. And the Knicks, who haven’t won a playoff series since 2000, are hardly the ’04 Yankees, who had won four of the previous eight World Series and been to two others.
But the Celtics themselves have admitted the 2004 Boston comeback has been a topic of conversation in their locker room. Besides, it’s pretty fun to compare the two, right?
Maybe J.R. Smith’s flagrant elbow in Game 3 and suspension in Game 4 was the Dave Roberts’s stolen base that switched momentum. Jason Terry not only took that elbow, but his nine points in overtime of Game 4 could be one of David Ortiz’s game-winning hits, and the other could be Kevin Garnett’s performance in Game 5 – 16 points, 18 rebounds, five assists.
The comparison question now, however, is who will wear the bloody sock? Curt Schilling’s emergency surgery and blood-soaked footwear led the Sox in Game 6 of that ’04 series, and there’s no doubt the Celtics will need some inspirational efforts if they want to tie things up tonight and force a Game 7 on Sunday in New York.
Maybe one player will rise up and don the sock. Maybe Paul Pierce scores 40, or Garnett comes up with another vintage performance, or Terry unfurls his wings to drop even more 3s on the Knicks. But the truth is, Boston will need about 10 of those bloody things.
The biggest difference between the first three games of this series and the last two, Game 5 in particular, is the Celtics willingness and ability to play as a team. That starts with making the extra pass in the face of New York’s pressure, trapping defense. In the first three games, and for parts of the fourth, Boston tried to bull through the defense and the result was a parade of turnovers. On Wednesday, the Celtics shared the ball and had their most productive and efficient offensive game.
“I thought this was the first game we had complete trust, moved the ball and found the open guy,” Boston Coach Doc Rivers said after Game 5.
With the ball movement came balanced scoring. Brandon Bass (17 points) carried the team early. Garnett and Terry (17 points) led the way in the second quarter, Pierce (16 points) came alive in the third, and Jeff Green (18 points) made a pair of huge fourth-quarter 3s before Garnett hit two huge late-game buckets.
For the Celtics to win tonight, and have any chance in a potential Game 7, they will need that kind of team effort. And not just offensively, but on the other end as well.
As usual, Boston has played good defense in this series. The Knicks averaged 100 points per game during the regular season, but the Celtics have held them to 85, 87, 90, 90 and 86 points in the five games, and they’ve done it, again as usual, with their team defensive scheme. If they want to get back to New York and see who plays Johnny Damon and his second-inning, Game 7 grand slam, they’ll have to keep it up.
(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)