Celtics are focused
Philly to get all of their attention
WALTHAM - The disappointment and regret the Celtics felt after blowing an 18-point lead in Game 4 against the 76ers was apparent at Sunday’s practice. The Celtics now must respond in Game 5 at TD Garden Monday night or face an even more desperate situation.
While losing Friday night ruined the Celtics’ opportunity to take control of the Eastern Conference semifinals and secure potential rest for a matchup with the Heat or Pacers, with the series tied, Boston is now attempting to focus solely on eliminating Philadelphia, which has proved a tough task.
Despite outplaying the 76ers for a majority of this bizarre series, the Celtics have faltered in two fourth quarters and are searching for consistency. They were unable to finish off the 76ers in Game 4, missing their first nine shots of the third quarter in what was a putrid second half offensively.
After taking Saturday off, the Celtics returned to work Sunday, still attempting to digest Friday night’s debacle and fully understanding Philadelphia’s potential to win the series and perhaps end the Big Three Era.
“It sticks with you for a minute, every guy is different, for me it stays with me for a little bit, I like to watch the game and assess myself,’’ Kevin Garnett said when asked what he learned from Game 4. “[Game 5 is] critical. We’re at home. We gotta win.’’
A sense of urgency has been fleeting with these Celtics. So the question that needs to be asked is whether Doc Rivers’s squad has the confidence to maintain a high level of play - as displayed for six quarters in Philadelphia - for the duration of the series. If not, the team could be eliminated by Wednesday.
“I think they’re upset, they clearly understand what happened,’’ Rivers said. “But you also understand this happens. It’s happened every night. You watch both games [Saturday] night and you’re like, ‘Wow.’ It happens and you move on. I keep saying with our team, we don’t ever do it the easy way, but I don’t know if we could sometimes. Not because of the mental, but because we are thin [because of injuries] and there are times that we do break and it’s more for other reasons than basketball.’’
Rivers is hoping the disheartening feeling from Game 4 will encourage his team to execute better down the stretch, especially defensively. The Celtics allowed 61 second-half points on 51.2 percent shooting and when the 76ers weren’t hitting shots, they were getting to the free throw line. Philadelphia attempted 36 free throws, its most since Jan. 5, 2011.
“The film as they say never lies and you can visually see [our breakdown],’’ Rivers said. “They made shots they had to make. They forced turnovers they had to force, but a lot of it was our doing, more on the defensive end than the offensive end. We couldn’t run. We couldn’t get into our stuff because they scored every single time.
“Look, we got a big lead and all of a sudden they started going to the line to allow them to get back into the game. We gotta stop fouling or we gotta get fouled. I don’t know what to do [about the officiating], clearly it didn’t favor us.’’
The Celtics seem to have accepted their difficult assignment after a couple of days of reflection. This is hardly the first time the Big Three have been asked to respond after a demoralizing loss.
“It’s mental. Like I said, doing the little things,’’ said Paul Pierce. “Not turning the ball over. Rebounding the ball. We gave them too many second opportunities, getting to loose balls. It’s going to be the little things that really add up to big things. Those little things can add up to a win if we can do that.’’
Rivers said he may reconsider his lineups down the stretch and go with bigger defenders such as Brandon Bass or Ryan Hollins to help Garnett in the middle. But the players realize regardless of the lineup, Philadelphia requires their full attention. They allowed a late lead to slip away in Game 2, played a strong Game 3, then fell apart again late in Game 4.
The Celtics have been able to survive all season with this personality, but their focus was better in the second half of the regular season following a 15-17 start.
“You use [Game 4] to prepare you forward,’’ Ray Allen said. “You use it to think about what we need to do to get better and prepare. We know what we didn’t do, and that’s close the game out. We have to keep continuing to accentuate the positive.’’