By A. Sherrod Blakely
NEW YORK Even with the New York Knicks on the edge of playoff elimination, the Boston Celtics are doing what most teams do in their position.
They're showing respect for their opponent, saying all the right things about how this series isn't over, and about how tough Sunday's close-out game will be for them.
"We know that Game 4 is as big as Game 1, 2 and 3 was," Celtics center Jermaine O'Neal told CSNNE.com. "Teams can gain confidence. You don't want to give a team confidence. We know they're going to come and play with a lot of pride, backs to the wall."
Pride is a good thing to have.
Players who can play, even better.
New York's Amar'e Stoudemire has a bad back that's only getting worse. Chauncey Billups' left knee injury suffered near the end of Game 1, probably won't heal in time for him to play Sunday. And Carmelo Anthony has already had his put-the-team-on-my-back moment, and that still wasn't enough to get a win.
In arguably the most popular NBA arena of them all, the stage is set for the Celtics to finish off the Knicks and get plenty of days off before they have to play again.
If the Celtics win, a second-round series against what will likely be Miami, isn't expected to begin until Sunday at the earliest.
While Boston understands their focus has to be on the Knicks now, not recognizing the fact that a victory would be the first series sweep during the Big Three era, is too hard to completely ignore.
It would also be the first postseason sweep for the C's since the 1991-1992 season when they eliminated Indiana, 3-0, in the best-of-five first round playoff series. It would also be their first sweep in a best-of-seven series since eliminating the Milwaukee Bucks, 4-0, in 1986.
But for this group, this is a familiar position to be in.
This is the second straight postseason that the C's have held a 3-0 series lead.
In the two previous instances - last year vs Miami in the first round and Orlando in the Conference finals - the C's lost the close-out game before eventually going on to win the series.
"It'd be great to do it," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "We can't focus on the history and the past. We have to focus on this, one game."
Having had two opportunities to do so a year ago - and failing to get it done in both instances - is reason enough for the Celtics to not look ahead to the second round too soon.
"There's a lot at stake," said Celtics forward Kevin Garnett. "We're playing not for just this game, but preparing and try to get better."
Part of that improvement that Garnett speaks of, is showing more consistency when it comes to putting a team away as quickly as possible.
Not only does it help in terms of building confidence, but for a team with as many miles logged as they have, the sooner they can rest up before the next round, the better their chances are of having some success.
But that, they say, isn't being thought about now.
Players were consistent in trying to keep the focus on Game 4 and the preparation that has to go into that in order for the C's to be successful.
"It's one of the hardest things to do; that close-out game, regardless of when it is, it's one of the hardest games," said Celtics Paul Pierce. "Everybody you can expect a team to give you their best, play their hardest. It's like when you're backs against the wall, you try and do anything. It's probably going to be the hardest game of the season. We have to expect them to throw the kitchen sink at us pretty much. Hard fouls. Aggressive play. We have to expect everything tomorrow."