The Celtics have been through a lot of ups and a lot of downs over the four years since Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen came together in Boston in the summer of 2007. This might be the furthest down they've ever been.
They've faced a lot of adversity during their time together, but never before have they faced a 3-1 series deficit in the postseason. This is uncharted territory. They've been knocked out of the playoffs early before, in 2009 against the Magic, and they've lost at the bitter end before, against the Lakers last spring. But they've always been a tough out. Every series they've played, they've always either won or forced a deciding Game 7.
That might not be the case this time. The Celtics suffered a crushing loss in Game 4 against the Miami Heat on Monday night, collapsing in overtime and losing 98-90. They're now within one game of elimination. They're in trouble, and it's trouble they've never encountered before.
Here are seven thoughts on a Celtic team that's facing dire straits.
1. Monday night's win for the Heat was a historic one for many reasons. One of them? It was the franchise's first win in Boston in 12 tries, regular season and postseason included, dating back to 2007. To be exact, it was April 6, 2007, when the Heat snuck past the Celtics, 88-85, in a virtually meaningless late-season contest. Only three players from this year's playoff series were active in that game — Rajon Rondo, Udonis Haslem and Shaquille O'Neal. Shaq was the starting center for the Heat. Paul Pierce, Delonte West and Dwyane Wade were all with their respective teams, but all injured and unable to suit up that night. Oh, memories.
2. Years from now, we may look back on the endless Shaquille O'Neal injury saga as one of the most anticlimactic stories in the history of Boston sports. We spent months wondering about Shaq — whether he was healthy, whether he was motivated, whether he had any chance of aiding the Celtics in their bid for Banner 18. Now he's finally back, only not really. His total stat line so far in this series: two points, zero rebounds, one assist, four personal fouls. In Game 4, he played less than four minutes. We may never see the real Shaq again, but we had quite a time speculating about it.
3. What an eventful weekend for Rajon Rondo. On Saturday, he instantly etched his name into Celtic lore with an unforgettable comeback from a dislocated elbow, playing a one-armed fourth quarter. On Monday? He reached a significant career milestone, scoring his 1,000th career playoff point at the tender age of 25. This postseason may look bleak, but C's fans can take solace that in Rondo, they have a cornerstone player for years to come.
4. It's been a painful swing of events for Kevin Garnett, who's had both the best of times and the worst of times in this series against Chris Bosh. In Game 3, he had an epic performance, throwing down 28 points and 18 rebounds and prompting Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to compare him to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He manhandled Bosh to boot. But then in Game 4? He was a virtual no-show. He shot 1-of-10. Bosh outscored him 20 to seven. KG came up lame in a hugely important game, and Kareem never would have done that.
5. The Big Ticket has been bad, but the Ticket Stub has been even worse. Where has Glen Davis been in this postseason? Davis was held completely scoreless in Game 3 on Saturday night, attempting only one shot in 11 minutes. He was barely any better in Game 4, scoring only once. He now has a total of 38 points in eight playoff games. He's obviously frustrated about it — his postgame quotes lately have consisted of a lot of mumbling one-word answers, uncharacteristic of the jovial youngster. Will he snap out of this in time? Who knows?
6. LeBron James had a masterful game on Monday night, but he actually spoke at great length at the podium after Game 4 about the lesser-known role players on the Heat. He's right to do so. Joel Anthony has been absolutely huge for the Heat in this series, giving them a defensive presence down low and a solid pick-setter on offense, while James Jones has been a spot-up shooter and a charge taker. This Heat team has obviously been accused this season of being a three-man unit, but they're determined to prove otherwise. Looks like they're doing well in that department.
7. Are you college-aged or younger? There's a good chance you've never witnessed a Celtic 3-1 deficit. The last time the Celtics were down three games to one in a seven-game series was June 9, 1987, when they lost Game 4 of the NBA Finals to the Lakers. They responded with a blowout win, 123-108 two nights later at the Boston Garden, but the series then shifted back to Los Angeles for Game 6. The C's lost 106-93 on a fateful Sunday at the Forum.
We'll see if history unfolds differently this time around. Against this Heat team, you probably shouldn't hold your breath.