2010 NBA Finals: Cs Grab Momentum, but History Says Series Far From Over
One of the most overly used phrases in sports is the "must-win game." That's because 90 percent of the time when fans and pundits use the phrase, it's used inappropriately.
You could make a strong case that the Celtics headed into Sunday night's Game 2 knowing that it was a must-win game. Teams that have gone down 0-2 in the NBA Finals have lost the series 93 percent of the time.
So the Celtics approached the game knowing that if they went down 2-0, they would have to win four out of five games against a Lakers team that had only lost four total games throughout the playoffs.
What the Celtics proved in their Game 2 victory was that when their backs are against the wall they are nearly impossible to beat.
At the same time, when the Celtics have had their opponents' backs against the walls they've been less than unimpressive in showing a killer instinct to close teams out.
This particular Celtics nucleus has been together for three seasons. If you go all the way back to their 2008 championship run you'll see a pattern of lackadaisical play in series-clinching games.
In the Celtics first two rounds against the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers they had opportunities to close out their series in Game 6, and in both instances lost Game 6 and were forced to win the series in Game 7.
In the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals they were able to beat the Detroit Pistons in Game 6, but in the Finals they lost Game 5 when they were up 3-1 on the Los Angeles Lakers before winning the series in six games...
In the 2009 playoffs, the Celtics had a chance to close out the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. Instead, they went three overtimes with the Bulls and ultimately lost before winning Game 7 back in Boston, 109-99.
In the following series, the Celtics had a chance to close out their series in Orlando against the Magic. Up 3-2 in the seven-game series, the Celtics failed to close the deal and wound up losing 83-75 before getting killed by the Magic at home in Game 7 by a score of 101-82.
This is usually where Celtics fans like to remind us that the team played without Kevin Garnett. And while that is true, those same Celtics fans are usually the ones who like to remind us about how deep the Celtics are and how many future Hall of Famers they have.
So while it definitely made a difference in having to play without the league's reigning Defensive Player of the Year, there is no excuse for losing by 19 points at home in a Game 7 with the talent they had.
That takes us to the 2009-10 season. There is no clearer indication of the Celtics inability to win games that they should win (as opposed to games they must win) than the fact that the 2009-10 Celtics had a better road record than home record (26-15 vs. 24-17).
The Celtics had a chance to lock up the three-seed and avoid a second-round match-up with the Cavaliers, and responded by losing seven of their last 11 games of the season — including losses to non-playoff teams Houston and Washington (at home) and at New York.
Since the Celtics had all ready clinched the division title and were assured of finishing no lower than fourth, you couldn't really call those games must-win.
So far in these playoffs, the Celtics have had six chances to close out a series, and have succeeded in doing so in their first attempt just once.
Against the Miami Heat in the first round, the Celtics had a 3-0 lead and allowed the Heat to force a Game 5.
In their second-round series against the Cavs, the Celtics did manage to put their opponent away by winning three straight games, after trailing 2-1.
Against Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics held a 3-0 lead in the series but allowed the Magic to force both a Game 5 and a Game 6 — in which the Celtics ultimately clinched the series.
If you're scoring at home, that would make the Celtics an unimpressive 8-9 with a chance to clinch a series over the past three seasons.
On the flip side, the Celtics are a very impressive 3-1 in Game 7s.
What does this all mean? It means that the Celtics have a tendency to let their guard down and allow teams back into the series, rather than step on their throats and put teams away.
Compare that 8-9 record with what the Lakers have done over the same stretch.
In 2008, the Lakers swept the Nuggets, beat the Utah Jazz in six games (after the series was tied at 2-2), defeated the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in five games (after being up 2-1), and lost to the Celtics in the Finals.
During their 2009 title run, the Lakers defeated the Jazz in five games (after being up 2-1), beat the Houston Rockets in seven games (losing a potential series-clinching Game 6), defeated the Denver Nuggets in six games (after being up 3-2) and beat the Orlando Magic in five games (after being up 2-1).
So far in these playoffs the Lakers swept the Utah Jazz and sandwiched that series by winning Game 6s on the road at Oklahoma City and at Phoenix.
So the Lakers' record over the last three seasons in potential series-clinching games is 10-1 — and 1-0 in their lone Game 7.
So while it's obvious that the Celtics have seized home-court in this year's Finals, there are a number of things that all fans of the NBA need to remember before the Celtics start commissioning jewelry designs.
For starters, the Lakers road record this season (23-18) was just one game worse than the Celtics home record. The Lakers also haven't lost a game in Boston since the Celtics clinched their championship in Game 6 of the 2008 Finals.
Only two home teams in NBA history have won all three of the middle games since the NBA went to the 2-3-2 format back in 1985 - the 2004 Detroit Pistons and the 2006 Miami Heat.
Since acquiring Pau Gasol, the Lakers have only lost three games in a row once. It happened March 4-7 when the Lakers went 0-3 on a road trip. They lost to the Miami Heat in overtime and had to play in Charlotte the next night against the Bobcats. The third game was a two-point loss to the Orlando Magic — the team with the second-best overall record in the NBA.
For the Celtics to clinch the NBA title in Boston they would have to win four straight games against the Lakers.
So while there's no question that the Celtics have to feel good about what they did on Sunday night, there's a far better chance that this series is going to end in Los Angeles - regardless of which team ends up holding the Larry O'Brien trophy.
Andrew Ungvari is co-lead blogger for basketball website, SirCharlesInCharge.com .
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