Throwing reality out the window

Throwing reality out the window
April 29, 2013, 1:45 pm
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After the events of this weekend, it takes very little effort or creativity to bury the Boston Celtics. An argument for why Boston might as well pack it in is about as groundbreaking as the idea that Dwight Howard’s an awful teammate, or that Reggie Miller’s a painful broadcaster, or that Steph Curry knows how to shoot a basketball. Oh, you think the Celtics are toast? No kidding.
 
On Friday night, they were embarrassed by double digits at home against the Knicks, and fell into a 3-0 hole from which no NBA team has ever recovered. Then yesterday, with the season on the line and New York without its second best, and potentially most important, player the Celtics blew a 20-point second-half lead and avoided a sweep only by the grace of God (who’s clearly as sick as we are of watching Jason Terry struggle). And now, as the series heads back to New York (with the Knicks up 3-1), history, logic and everything else suggests that this is where it will end — under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, with Boston’s first opening round playoff exit since Kevin Garnett’s arrival in the summer of 2007.
 
Why? Because the Celtics have nothing left. It took everything in their arsenal just to dodge the brooms. Moving forward, they’re out-matched and out-numbered. They have to win three straight games, something they haven’t done since the beginning of March. They have to beat the Knicks twice at MSG, where Carmelo and Co. have only lost two games total since February 22 (and those came against Miami and OKC). And most of all, once again, no team — in nearly 70 years of NBA basketball — has ever come back from a 3-0 playoff hole. Never mind a team that’s without its best player, best rebounder and with two aging Hall of Famers running on whatever comes after fumes.
 
That’s just the reality of the situation.
 
But you know what? Screw reality. As a sports fan, there are times to be realistic, and there are times to hope beyond hope and believe in the unbelievable. And this is no time for reality here in Boston. Believe me, with one more loss, we’ll have plenty of time to be realistic. When the curtain finally closes on this season, reality is all we’ll have and I wouldn’t count on it being pretty. For now, what else is there to lose?
 
The series is already lost. It was lost when they dropped Game 3 on Friday. It was lost when Raymond Felton gave New York its first lead of the game with a minute left on Sunday. From the moment this series started, there have been countless occasions when you shrugged your shoulders, wrote off the season and began making peace with the end of this era of Celtics basketball. But they’re still here. Still hanging around. Even if a series victory is about as likely as Dwight Howard being named LA’s 2013 Man of the Year, there’s still a chance. And it’s all we’ve got.
 
Of course, our familiarity with unprecedented playoff magic helps temporarily keep the sanity at bay. We’ve seen the Bruins lose four straight against the Flyers. We’ve seen the Sox win four straight against the Yankees. We’ve learned how to simplify the dynamics of escaping a 3-0 hole; that it’s not about a four-game win streak but four one-game winning streaks. And while it’s difficult to look at this current match-up and argue that the Celtics are the better team, there’s no doubt that every time they take the floor against the Knicks, Boston will have a chance. They can win on Wednesday. Whether or not it’s likely is another story. But it’s possible. And if they do win, and come back to Boston on Friday, then that chance is vastly improved. If they win on Friday and head back to MSG for a Game 7 Sunday then at that point all bets are off.
 
But first, they have to get there. And for that, the Celtics will have to rely on a lot more than hope.
 
It will take Brandon Bass continuing to antagonize the hell out of Carmelo Anthony. It will take Jason Terry getting caught up in the tailwind of his overtime heroics and finally becoming the player he’s spent the last six months promising to be.
 
It will take Paul Pierce carrying the load, and while he does, it will take Jeff Green remaining focused and aggressive and not saying, “Oh well, you guys don’t need me if you have Paul. I’ll just be over here in the corner.” Yesterday was only the third time all season that Pierce and Green each scored more than 20 points in the same game. It will take more of that for the Celtics to make good on this miracle.
 
It will also take Garnett continuing to grind it out on whatever he has left in that injured foot. KG only took seven shots yesterday, his third lowest total in 82 playoff games as a Celtic. He’s only averaging 11.3 points a game in these playoffs; easily the lowest average of his career. But he’s also the NBA’s leading rebounder in this postseason at 13.5 a night. He’s picked up 17 rebounds in each of the last two games, marking the first time since arriving in Boston that he’s recorded at least 17 boards in consecutive contests. He also had six assists yesterday. He’s finding ways to make an impact. And while some might argue that the longer this series goes, the more worn down Garnett will become. You can also argue that more he plays on his foot, the easier it will be to find a rhythm, and adjust to life under whatever physical limitations he might be faced with.
 
It will take Avery Bradley taking one deep breath and just chilling the hell out. He’s overwhelmed right now. The Celtics are asking him to do too much with the ball on offense. He’s being manhandled by Felton on defense. He has nine turnovers and seven assists through four games this series. He’s gone from the next Joe Dumars to the second coming of a young Tony Allen. The Celtics don’t need Bradley to be an All Star right now. They just need him to be Avery Bradley. Perhaps that’s easier said then done given Boston’s current predicament, but no one said this would be easy.
 
But again, go back through everything I just mentioned, is any of it unreasonable? Impossible? Out of the question? No way. And we haven’t even gotten to the Knicks.
 
As they head home for Wednesday’s Game 5, the pressure is squarely on their shoulders. This series is theirs to lose. And given their history — the last time they won a playoff series, Tom Brady had yet to win his first Super Bowl — and the generally insanity of the New York fan base, it will take very little for the tide to turn.
 
How will Carmelo Anthony respond to his worst performance of the post-season and his first game as the old Carmelo? How will J.R. Smith, always a mental wild card, respond to his suspension? Will he try to do too much? Will Jason Terry get in his head and take him out of his game? And what about Raymond Felton? He did a pretty good J.R. Smith impression on Sunday. He feels very confident in his ability to rough up Avery Bradley and be a major force in the Knicks attack. But now that Smith is back, will Felton just fade into his previous role, or will he try to be that same guy from Sunday? How will that play with J.R. and how will that affect the dynamic that the Knicks utilized in building their 3-0 advantage? And when the pressure mounts, the crowd is getting ornery and emotions are high, which team do you want — the one that lives and dies by the three, or the one that’s built around two Hall of Famers who’ve been there so many times before and are likely playing to extend their careers?
 
And . . . OK.
 
Maybe I’ve gone too far, but what would you prefer, 800 words on how no team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit? Probably not. Anyway, today it’s 3-1. Eight teams in NBA history have come back from that. And for now, no one, not even in the Celtics, can even worry about that 3-1 hole. All that matters is Wednesday. As we all fight to fend off reality for one more day.