Following the Miami Heat's stirring 98-90 Game 4 win over the Boston Celtics, NBA analyst Tim Legler said of the resilient Boston Celtics that even with the 3-1 series lead, the Miami Heat should not become complacent or relax, because the Celtics have overcome some tough situations in the postseason over the past three years.
"This is the one team in the NBA that you can't take for granted is ever out of it," said Legler. "You have to put this team to bed yourself, and that's what Miami has in front of them."
Clearly, the Celtics will bring their best effort to Game 5, and when listening to the postgame comments on the Celtics' players, they still appear confident in their chances.
However, do the Celtics have a realistic chance to win three straight games against the Miami Heat?
Especially when you consider the various problems the team is faced with, battling both age and injuries plus the inconsistency of its bench, a large load has been placed on the big four for the Celtics.
To come back in the series against the Heat, several things are going to have to break the Celtics' way:
- They will need an inspired performance on both ends of the floor from Kevin Garnett who, after a brilliant all-around performance in Game 3 when he scored 28 points, added 18 rebounds and completely shut down Chris Bosh, holding him to six points and five rebounds. Garnett struggled in Game 4; while he played a strong defensive game against the Heat, it was obvious that he lacked the energy on the offensive end. Garnett will have to score more for the Celtics to win the series.
- The Celtics' bench needs to step up. In Game 4, the bench only scored 21 points, which would be fine if their starters weren't battling age and injuries by playing their second game in three days. Shaquille O'Neal, who many Celtics fans claimed would be the game changer in the series despite playing limited minutes, has only two points and no rebounds thus far in the series, while picking up four total fouls. Glen Davis has also been completely ineffective in the series as well. That needs to change for the Celtics to rally.
- Speaking of the Celtics' bigs, they cannot beat the Heat if Jermaine O'Neal, Shaq, and Davis only combine for 4-10 shooting and 12 points in a pivotal game as they did in Game 4. They need to be more aggressive when attacking the paint and putting pressure on the Heat's interior defense. It perhaps plays into the Heat's hands when teams assume that the key to beating them is by "looking to exploit their lack of defense inside," since, as I've chronicled at various other junctures before, Miami's post defense is one of the best in the NBA. They led the league in holding post-players to low field goal shooting in the paint and when you watch the Celtics blowing layups in this series, it adds more credence to the Heat's abilities in this area. That non withstanding, the Celtics have to attack the paint with far more aggressiveness than they have shown in three of the four games so far.
- Hope that the Heat already think that this series is over and relaxes. The unspoken truth about 3-1 comebacks is that: They can often come about by what the leading teams don't do rather than what the trailing team does do. When the Knicks were up 3-1 in the series against Miami in 1997, it was the Knicks unwise decision to engage in an altercation that ultimately costs them the series. When the Orlando Magic were up 3-1 on the Pistons in 2003, they were already talking about the second round going into Game 4 of the series. The Pistons played more inspired, while the Magic played just to "put the series away." Consequently, the Magic's collective tightness prevented them from closing the series out. The Celtics would never admit it publicly, but they will need the Heat to give them a chance to win this series. LeBron must turn the ball over constantly in the fourth quarter, Wade must lose Allen on screens for Allen's killer 3-pointers, and "scared" Bosh must resurface in order for Boston to comeback. However, if the Heat don't beat themselves in Game 5, it makes it that much harder for the Celtics to win.
- Begin to outexecute the Heat down the stretch of the games. In Game 2, Boston had comeback to tie the score at 80 with about four minutes left and seemed poised to eke out a win. But then they let the Heat go 14-0 on them to basically put the game out of reach. In Game 4, with the score tied at 86 and the Celtics going for the win, they get very little weak side action and put Pierce in the awkward position of having to take a contested shot over the defense of LeBron James. Obviously, Pierce is the hero if the shot goes in, but the Celtics have been successful in these situations by creating motion and ball movement and going with the best option in the clutch. At these two critical junctures, they lost the fourth quarter execution battle with Miami. That cannot happen again if the Celtics want to extend the series.
Nevertheless, with only a day off before Game 5, and with Rajon Rondo severely banged up, it doesn't appear likely that the Celtics can extend this series without heroic performances from Garnett, Allen, and Pierce.
I can perfectly understand Legler's assertion that the Celtics have the experience and championship pedigree to never be totally out of a series until the fourth win is officially in the books, but barring a monumental breakdown by the Miami Heat, it appears unlikely that the Celtics can still win this series.