Celtics-Knicks Game 4 preview: Out of options

Celtics-Knicks Game 4 preview: Out of options
April 28, 2013, 10:15 am

BOSTON -- Following Boston's Game 3 loss to New York on Friday, Doc Rivers took a pass when asked if he thought his team came out too fired up.

"I don't know," he said. "I can't get in their heads."

And when you look at what separates this Celtics team from those of the past, that might be one of the biggest differences.

During the C's title-contending run which began with the 2008 title team, Rivers has been able to push the right buttons to get his team to respond when needed, to connect with them in a way that only they understood.

Not this year.

While this was one of Rivers' better teams on paper, it never manifested itself in their play. Far too often, they would play well for stretches and then struggle, and then play well only to struggle some more. He has tried just about everything imaginable to get the most out of them.

Rivers has played the supportive card, speaking in positive terms even when their play suggested otherwise.

He has called them soft only for them to prove him wrong for a game or two. Instead of responding with a long stretch of strong play, they'd revert back to doing all the things that led Rivers to call them out in the first place.

And when this season ends, which may very well happen this afternoon, there will be plenty of ideas floated about as to why things went wrong.

Injuries will certainly be the preferred excuse, and there's certainly some legitimacy to going that route.

But the intangibles of the game also have to be accounted for. And when you talk about this Celtics team -- scratch that, this Celtics franchise -- one of the biggest intangibles they have had for years has been Rivers' ability to tap into the team's assembled pool of talent, and pull more from it than most expected.

It didn't happen this year.

No matter what he tried, Rivers never seemed to reach them in a way that brought out their best and in turn, created what has been a season full of disappointment.

That inability of both the players and Rivers to get on the same accord has been a factor all season, and it will likely play a part in today's Game 4 matchup against the New York Knicks who lead the best-of-seven series 3-0.

Here are some other factors to consider heading into today's Game 4 matchup.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR:  The NBA suspended New York's J.R. Smith for today's game after he elbowed Jason Terry in the chin during New York's Game 3 win. Without Smith, this will be Boston's best shot at winning a game in this series. It'll be worth keeping an eye on how both teams respond to Smith's absence.

MATCHUP TO WATCH:  Paul Pierce vs player TBD. Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert, Jason Kidd, it hasn't really mattered. Paul Pierce has had trouble in this series against whoever New York put in his way. Pierce hasn't had this steady a diet of dealing with smaller defenders all season. And to their credit, they have forced Pierce into making lots of
mistakes, the most notable being turnovers; Pierce has racked up at least five in each of the three games thus far.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Kevin Garnett will be the center of attention, but for more than his ability. This may very well be his last game as a Celtic, with the C's season potentially over after tonight and Garnett as expected, will ponder retirement. You can bet on Garnett leaving all that he has left on the floor today. If the same could be said about his teammates, we might have a completely different-looking series right now.

STAT TO TRACK: The Knicks have gotten better in so many areas throughout this series, particularly when it comes to shooting. In 12 quarters of play, New York has shot 50 percent or better six times. That includes them connecting on 50 percent or more of their shots in four of the last five quarters of play, and each of the last three quarters of Game 3.
Boston has to find a way to cool their hot shooters off if they are to have any shot at a victory today.