Dan Shaughnessy

Idea of a choke is hard to swallow

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / May 28, 2010

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It defies all logic and laws of probability.

It . . . cannot . . . possibly . . . happen . . . again.

But there is doubt. There is a lingering sense of dread. The Orlando Magic are Glenn Close, lifeless and submerged in the bathtub, but we are afraid she may yet rise out of the water and try to cut out our heart. One more time.

Let’s try some numbers, shall we? Big league baseball, basketball, and hockey have been playing best-of-seven series for more than 100 years, and in that time, 287 teams have taken leads of three games to none (thank you, Elias Sports Bureau). Only four teams have recovered from 3-0 to win the series. And now it’s going to happen twice within a span of 16 days? In the same city?

Still, we fret. We are damaged because of the Bruins. We are like the proverbial dog that has been kicked too many times. Every motion made in our direction causes us to recoil.

Do I have to remind anyone? The Bruins led the Flyers, 3-0. They let it get away in overtime in Game 4. Then the Bruins let the Flyers get some confidence. Then it got to Game 7, at home, and the Bruins led, 3-0. Then the Bruins lost and fans threw black-and-gold towels on the ice and spilled onto Causeway Street full of angst and anger.

It was simply impossible. In the words of Globe scribe Mike Vega, it was, “3-0, 3-0, uh-oh.’’

Now the Celtics. They led, 3-0. They let it get away, losing Game 4 in overtime. In Game 5 Wednesday in Orlando, they were spanked. When the game was finished, they had two guys with concussions, one who was ejected, and a few others hurting.

We wonder if this might be the sports god taking revenge for what the Red Sox did to the Yankees in 2004 — the 3-0 comeback to end all 3-0 comebacks. Is this Garden gag of 2010 some kind of macabre payback for the Biblical revival of the Idiotic gang, who shucked 86 years of hard-luck hardball?

Don’t go to that dark place, people. Not yet. The Celtics are going to win tonight. They have a healthy Big Three. They have Rajon Rondo ready to answer Jameer Nelson. They have Kendrick Perkins, granted a stay by the NBA’s behavior police.

The league yesterday ruled that Perkins did not deserve a technical foul when he was T’d up for the second time by Eddie F. Rush in the second quarter of Game 5. This means Perk gets to play tonight in Game 6 at the Garden.

It also means that the league has a problem. Trust me when I tell you I loathe postgame talk about officiating. It’s boring and fruitless. The Celtics did not lose Game 5 because of the refs. They lost because they allowed Orlando to make 13 of 25 threes. They gave up 31, 26, 27, and 29 points in the four quarters. They let the Magic shoot over 50 percent in every quarter.

But what Rush did with Perkins should not go without punishment. The ref took the Celtics center out of the game in the second quarter. And the league has admitted it was a mistake. Rush should be fined or suspended. And the punishment should be announced.

Enough about the zebras. Let’s go back to the numbers. There have been zero 3-0 comebacks in NBA history. Zero. And that covers 93 series since 1947. The Celtics have never come close. They have gone ahead, 3-0, and swept. They have gone ahead, 3-0, lost Game 4, then won the series. But they have never been forced to play a Game 6 after taking a 3-0 lead.

Which is another reason we are nervous. And we are already fast-forwarding with our panic.

What if they lose tonight? Can they be expected to win a Game 7 on the road after losing three straight? Are the young legs of the Magic running ahead of the old bones of Boston now that the teams are playing games every other day? Are the Celtics healthy? Where’s KG? What happened to Rondo? Can they win without Big Baby? Can they win with Rasheed Wallace and his creaky back? Have they morphed into the team that went 27-27 over the last 54 games, losing all those double-digit leads?

Worst of all . . .

Are the Celtics (gulp) choking?


Keep your heads. The Celtics failed to close this out in Game 4 at home. They were predictably beaten at Amway Arena in Game 5. But now they are home. And they are better. And they will end this tonight.

Or they have a Sunday date with history and humiliation.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

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