The math is on the Celtics' side. One more win in the final three games of their first-round playoff series against the Hawks, and the Celtics move on to the semifinals against either the Bulls or Sixers.
Holding a 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference playoff series, the Celtics face relatively low stakes in Tuesday's Game 5 in Atlanta. A win and they advance, while a loss leaves them with two more shots to eliminate the Hawks. But Paul Pierce is not taking that approach.
"You don't want to give a team any confidence," Pierce said. "You've got to go down to Atlanta with the right mindset. You don't want to bring it back to Boston, because anything could happen. The NBA is a weird league. One game could give a team confidence. We hope that we can just take them and advance in the series this next game."
At least two factors are working against the Celtics in Game 5. The Celtics lost three or more consecutive games three times this season, and although all three of those streaks came before the All-Star break, they are a reminder that these Celtics are capable of slumps. The Boston players are not approaching their one-day trip to Georgia as a vacation — in the words of Kevin Garnett, "This is a business trip."
The other factor is the Hawks' mindset. The embarrassment at the hands of the Celtics in Game 4 will be fresh in the Hawks' minds, and they will be back at home in the Philips Arena.
"You can't forget," Al Horford said. "We're aware of it, and what we're going to do is we're going to learn from it and get focused for Tuesday. You'd better believe that we're coming. We're bringing it at home. We're looking forward to it."
A Celtics victory on Tuesday could mean several days of rest. That would be beneficial not only to injured players like Pierce and Ray Allen, but also to relatively healthy players like Garnett, who has been pushed to 39 minutes or more in three of the first four games. The San Antonio Spurs, who swept the Utah Jazz by winning Game 4 on Monday night, are the only team to wrap up a series so far.
The Celtics could become the second to move on, although Celtics coach Doc Rivers resisted using rest as a motivator for closing out the series. They first need to win. Then they can rest.
"You never look at the finish line," Rivers said. "You never talk about the finish line. You talk about the next game and just playing well, and your play will take care of that."
The Celtics' play took care of the Hawks three times in the first four games. Now the Celtics only need one more.