BOSTON — The Celtics have the Sixers backed up against the wall. Again.
The last time the Celtics had the Sixers in a compromised position, the Celtics let an 18-point lead slip away in Philadelphia. Now the Eastern Conference semifinal series returns to that city, and the Celtics' 101-85 win in Game 5 on Monday gives them the opportunity to close out the series on Wednesday.
If the Celtics are tempted to view Game 6 as anything more than the next game on the schedule, they were not willing to voice that after Monday's win.
"I don't think we've ever looked at it like, 'Win this game and move on,' because you have a tendency to look past this team," Ray Allen said. "We have to go into Philly and start the same way we started [Game 4], only continue to push through and run through the finish line. They aren't going to quit or give up, so we have to continue to do our job."
Momentum has not been much of a factor from game to game in this series, if it ever is in any playoff series. The teams alternated wins in the first five games, with both teams winning once on the road. There have been no true indicators of which teams will be successful from one game to the next.
"No, not on either side," Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said. "It's just been one of those series. It would be nice to win two in a row. That would be terrific."
The Sixers were supposedly finished after their one-point loss in Game 3 and their ho-hum first half in Game 4. Yet they surged back to win that game, and again find themselves coming off a game that should shatter their confidence.
No team has ever allowed Brandon Bass to score more than 19 points in a playoff game, after all. The Sixers almost allowed Bass to do so in 12 minutes during his 18-point third quarter.
The Celtics would not have won Monday's game without Bass' third-quarter explosion, but their defensive intensity was the story behind the story. The Celtics held the Sixers to 16 points and forced six turnovers in the frame, as Boston's perimeter defenders routinely extended their pressure several steps beyond the 3-point line.
"Once they step up their intensity, we have to recognize it and get into our sets and execute, which we didn't do," Elton Brand said. "We know what we have to do. We watched it on tape, we went through it in shootaround, but we didn't do it. Hopefully, it can be corrected."
As the series goes on, the Celtics' respect for the Sixers has gradually grown. Paul Pierce and the rest of the Celtics' veterans marveled at Philadelphia's resilience, calling them one of the toughest teams they have played in years. That team will be down to its last shot on Wednesday.
"We know they're not going to go away, so we've got to have our hard hats on for the next game," Pierce said. "Game 6, try to put them away."
The Celtics' intend to close out the series on Wednesday, but the Sixers have managed to escape before.