On May 12, 2009, the Celtics beat the visiting Orlando Magic 92-88 in a pivotal Game 5 of their second-round Eastern Conference playoff series. They took a 3-2 lead, pushing Dwight Howard and the Magic to the brink of elimination.
That series started out for the Celtics just like this one, a year later against Cleveland. Loss, win, loss, win, win, and they're up 3-2.
Last year, they choked and gave away the last two.
But last year, they didn't have Kevin Garnett.
"Totally different team," Kendrick Perkins said on Wednesday. "We didn't have KG last year. We were on the road up 3-2, and I just think that when you get toward Game 5, Game 6, Game 7, those games are important, but you've just got to embrace the moment and take it one game at a time. Last year we didn't have KG, but I know the spirit is going to be there this year."
The Celtics came out unfocused and maddeningly careless in Game 6 last year, turning the ball over and letting the Magic steal Game 6 in Orlando. Then they came back to Boston, where they'd historically been unbeatable in home Game 7s, and got blown out by 19 with everything on the line. Garnett, nursing a sprained right knee, watched in street clothes.
Not this year, the Celtics said.
"It's a different team," echoed Glen Davis, who took Garnett's spot in the starting lineup last spring. "We got KG. We didn't have Rasheed Wallace [last year], and we were kind of shorthanded. Even though we were up 3-2, we lost two in a row, and it was tough. You know, we lost a close game in Orlando, and we came home and we lost at home. But we just learned from our mistakes is what we did. It's a different ballgame when you've got one of your star players back in there."
Having Garnett this time around will not only provide an anchor for the Celtics defensively — which can't be understated when you're staring down LeBron James — but it will also give the Celtics an emotional and mental leader to keep the ship afloat at this critical juncture. For everything Paul Pierce does for this team as a captain, he doesn't rally his troops the same way KG does.
"Just having him for the focus in the locker room," Perkins said. "You know, once he gets to the game, it's quiet, there's a great focus. Everybody's going to get focused because he's focused. One thing about KG, he just leads by example. So guys got to kind of follow. Whether it's Paul following, or Rasheed following, whatever, he leads by example. So that's cool."
"When he wasn't there, we had leadership from Paul and Ray [Allen] and [Rajon] Rondo," Davis added. "But you know, it's a whole different experience when you've got [No.] 5 in there. When 5's there, he makes sure everything runs right. When something's lacking, he says something, and then he can carry a team, you know? He can carry a team with his actions and things like that. So having him there is going to help us a lot."
It says a lot about this Celtics team that it is focused on the things that really matter. It is worried about personnel, about X's and O's, about playing basketball. Not so much about ancient history.
"All that stuff doesn’t matter," said head coach Doc Rivers. "It really doesn’t. At the end of the day, you have to come out and focus on the process of playing basketball. You can’t focus on anything that’s happened before or anything that happens after. I don’t even like hearing guys talking about closing out. That doesn’t do anything. You have to play the game and you have to focus on the game of basketball."
This year's Celtics are one win away from the Eastern Conference finals. They've now got to earn that one win. And to them, that's all that matters.
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