Celtics Won’t Suffer Same Fate as Bruins When Up 3-1 in Playoffs

Celtics Won't Suffer Same Fate as Bruins When Up 3-1 in Playoffs Boston let out a collective "Not again!" on Monday at about 11:30 p.m.

Both of my brothers texted me — one to say the Celtics' Game 4 overtime loss to Orlando made Game 5 a must-win; the other simply to curse out Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers for a couple of boneheaded decisions at the end of regulation.

My friend, a Lakers fan, Facebooked me an annoying smiley face that could only mean, "Aren’t you sweating now?" (That person is no longer my friend).

Even my girlfriend, a New Yorker who only recently warmed to the Boys in Green, swore and smashed her hand on the table in frustration.

And my dad? He didn’t write or call at all — the worst sign possible.

All of Beantown (and Orlando and Los Angeles, for that matter) knew Game 4 was a big one. A W would have given the C’s 10 days off before the Finals, with the Lakers still two victories away from dispatching the Suns; their confidence would remain sky-high; L.A. would have cause for concern.

A loss? That was bound to get the hyperactive, beaten-down-by-years-of-disappointment Boston sports fan’s mind racing.

The Bruins, after all, just became the third NHL team in history to blow a 3-0 series lead. And the Celtics squandered a 3-2 edge last year against these Orlando Magic — and they’re just one more loss away from that same count.

That concern is not entirely unfounded. In fact, I spent much of Monday night after 11:30 ranting (mostly to myself) about the reasons why the loss spelled danger:

  • The Celtics didn’t win three straight over the Magic because they’re the better team; they won because they worked harder and stunned a team that was riding far too high after winning eight straight to begin the postseason. It took Orlando longer to get up from that knockout blow than expected, but make no mistake about it: The Magic are up now, and capable of rattling off three more. Remember, this club beat the Celtics three out of four chances before the playoffs and just brutally swept an Atlanta Hawks team that swept the C’s in the regular season.
  • The Magic hit more 3’s on Monday than in any of the previous three games. That forced Boston to stretch its defense, leaving Dwight Howard — who’s post game is finally clicking — to clean up underneath: 32 points, five offensive rebounds and 14 free-throws makes that pretty clear.
  • Matt Barnes shut down Pierce in the second half — well enough that he got the go-ahead over Vince Carter in the waning minutes.
  • Rajon Rondo is suffering leg spasms — particularly worrisome when Jameer Nelson is playing so well, notching 23 points and nine assists over Boston’s hobbled point guard in Game 4.

But all of those points, paradoxically enough, help explain why the Celtics likely won’t suffer a Bruins-like embarrassment. Despite a couple of terrible mistakes and subpar play from a number of their stars, the Green almost pulled out the win.

Rondo, for one, was limited by foul trouble and the aforementioned spasms. Minus the extra frame, he played just 38 minutes, four off his average of 42 for the postseason. In that time, he was largely ineffective, turning the ball over three times and scoring nine points on an uncharacteristic 3-of-10 shooting.

Pierce, for his part, played a second half to forget, ending the game 0-for-6 from 3-point range.

Kevin Garnett? Just 14 points on 5-for-12 shooting and three turnovers; the last of which sealed the loss when he threw the ball over Pierce’s head with 42 seconds left in overtime (after passing up a wide-open 15-foot jumper).

In addition to those lackluster performances, Boston made a couple of game-changing decisions. Doc didn’t call a timeout with 11 seconds left in regulation and the game tied; Pierce then opted not to pass the ball, which led to a double-team and no shot attempt; KG passed up a wide-open jumper from his favorite spot on the floor with 42 seconds left in overtime and instead threw the ball into the fifth row, keeping Orlando’s lead at four; and Rondo, with 9.6 seconds left and the C’s still down four, elected to dribble the ball around for four seconds, effectively ending the game.

And that doesn’t even take into account Nelson’s banked 3 that had every Celtics fan wanting to drive to the Garden to personally punch him for being so lucky.

The point is, the Celtics played badly, made poor decisions and were undeniable victims of the proverbial bounce — and yet almost won.

I’d say that makes the chances of a Bruins-esque meltdown unlikely, to say the least.