Conventional wisdom dictates that a team with its back against the wall is a dangerous one, but the Celtics may simply not have enough weapons to pose a threat to a Knicks team that appears to have its Atlantic Division rivals figured out.
Can the wily vets dig deep and postpone what seems like an inevitable fate or will the Knicks break out the brooms for a four-game sweep?
Time: Sunday, April 28, 1 p.m. ET
Where: TD Garden, Boston
Series Record: Knicks 3, Celtics 0
Key Storyline: Can the Celtics Break 90?
Boston hasn't broken the 80-point mark in any of its three losses during this series so it's a little ambitious to ask the Celtics to find a way to amass a point total that reaches into the 90s. This is do-or-die time, however, so the Celtics might as well aim high.
The fact is that Boston simply hasn't been able to score, which is a shame because its defense has been good enough to hold New York to an average of just 87 points per game. The Celtics don't need to turn into the Denver Nuggets or Houston Rockets to win, they just need to score at a respectable rate.
Strategically, Boston has to find a way to initiate its offense—one that doesn't involve Pierce catching the ball in the mid-post area with the shot clock already into the low teens. The Knicks have been eating Pierce up inside, bothering the entry pass and collapsing on the veteran small forward whenever he touches it.
The Celtics haven't found a reliable perimeter shooter to serve as a bailout option so far, but they'll need someone among the trio of Jason Terry, Avery Bradley and Jeff Green to knock down a shot or two if head coach Doc Rivers is really going to continue to predictably dump the ball in to Pierce.
Garnett is clearly hobbled and has never been a particularly aggressive offensive player anyway, so the vast majority of the scoring load is going to fall to Pierce and the supporting Celtics.
With no capable penetrators and a decided lack of low-post options, Boston is going to have to rely on unlikely sources to get the job done. If a few outside shots start to fall and their point total starts to approach 90, it's possible that the Celtics can notch a Game 4 win.
Injury Report (via CBSSports.com)
Knicks: Amar'e Stoudemire (knee, doubtful for Game 4), J.R. Smith (suspension, out for Game 4)
Celtics: Rajon Rondo (knee, out for season), Jared Sullinger (back, out for season)
Projected Starting Lineups
Knicks: Raymond Felton (PG), Pablo Prigioni (SG), Iman Shumpert (SF), Carmelo Anthony (PF), Tyson Chandler (C)
Celtics: Avery Bradley (PG), Paul Pierce (SG), Jeff Green (SF), Brandon Bass (PF), Kevin Garnett (C)
The Knicks Will Win If...
They replace J.R. Smith's scoring.
Smith is suspended for Game 4 following a pretty solid elbow he threw to the face of Terry in Game 3. As the Knicks' next-best scoring option behind Anthony, Smith provided a reliable (I can't believe I just used the word "reliable" to describe Smith) source of reserve scoring.
His ability to penetrate, get looks as the shot clock winds down and generally create havoc on the offensive end is going to be impossible for any one Knicks' player to replace.
That means Felton and Chandler are going to have to get back to some of the useful pick-and-roll sets they employed earlier in the season, Shumpert is going to have to chip in an extra bucket or two and Anthony is going to need to shoulder an even heavier load.
The Knicks' defense is going to be fine, thanks largely to the total lack of offensive creativity the Celtics have been employing in the series.
To win this game, New York is going to have to compensate for Smith's 16.3 points per game in the series via a collective effort.
The Celtics Will Win If...
Those banners in the rafters mean anything.
Boston seemingly cannot win this series. No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in a playoff series and nothing we've seen so far indicates that there's anything extraordinary enough about the Celtics to make us believe they'll be the first.
This game, however, is about pride.
The Knicks and Celtics hate one another and Boston is going to be supremely motivated to avoid the humiliation of a sweep on their home floor.
Sure, you could point to an increase in offensive efficiency, a better approach to double-teaming Anthony or even a big game from Green as keys to a Boston win. Really though, this game is going to be about a veteran team refusing to go out quietly.
If Pierce and Garnett can get the rest of the Celtics to play with the intensity that they've shown throughout their whole careers, there's a chance that Boston can find a way to postpone the inevitable.
Fairy tales are nice and all, but logically, there's just no reason to believe that the Celtics are going to be able to dig into some reservoir of resolve to overcome the undeniable superiority of the Knicks.
Boston is what it is right now—an aging team without enough offensive options to do battle with a New York club that has so many of its own.
The Knicks have the best player in this series in Anthony, a more reliable cast of reserves and three games of clear evidence that say they're the better team.
I've picked the Celtics too many times to get burned again. This one's over.
Prediction: Knicks 94, Celtics 81