The Celtics and Bruins share the same home address. That's about all they have in common when it comes to delivering in the playoffs. The two franchises that call TD Garden home are playoff polar opposites.
The Bruins shrink from the moment. The Celtics rise to the occasion. That much was obvious last night when the Celtics eked out an 87-85 win over the New York Knicks in their playoff opener, executing in what Magic Johnson called "winnin' time" to get the victory on a day when upsets sprang up like weeds across the NBA playoffs.
As Bill Parcells said, "Confidence is only born of demonstrated ability." The Celtics have demonstrated an ability to win the most important games of a season at the most crucial time of the season. The Bruins have demonstrated an ability to collapse under the weight of such games. They blew a 3-0 series lead in the second round last year, and have dug themselves a 2-0 deficit in their playoff series with the Montreal Canadiens, which resumes tonight at the Bell Centre.
Honestly, the Knicks probably outplayed the Celtics for much of Game 1. The Knicks rag-tag bench outscored the Celtics reserves, 21-8. Amar'e Stoudemire was not as easy to guard as Glen "Big Baby" Davis had foolishly claimed. In fact, he was nigh unstoppable with 28 points and 11 rebounds.
But when it really mattered New York was no match for a Celtics team that operated with the efficiency of a Swiss timepiece on a pair of crucial in-bounds, offensive sets, the last of which resulted in Ray Allen's game-winning 3-pointer with 11.6 seconds left. The Celtics also clamped down defensively to hold the Knicks, who shot 54.5 percent to lead 51-39 at the break, to just 32.6 percent shooting in the second half. That included a 1-of-11 second half from Carmelo Anthony.
"Regardless of how bad we were shooting or how bad we were playing defense I thought down the stretch we found a way to win, and that was because of our experience," said Paul Pierce.
Contrast Pierce's confident remarks with Milan Lucic saying the befuddled Bruins are "in trouble right now."
The Bruins are by no means done, but if they want to keep skating this spring they should take a page from the playoff playbook of their Causeway Street comrades. They need to go Green, and I'm not talking about recycling.
Say what you will about their regular season decorum, but the Celtics know when it's time to elevate their game. The Bruins are the inverse. They're a regular-season outfit that can't find a clear path past the second-round and could exit the playoffs before that if they don't display some esprit de corps this evening in Montreal.
The Celtics' best players -- Pierce (18 points and the drawing of an offensive foul on Anthony late), Kevin Garnett (15 points and 13 rebounds), Rajon Rondo (10 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists) and Allen (team-high 24 points) -- all answered the bell when it mattered most. Meanwhile, the Bruins' first line of Lucic, David Krejci, and Nathan Horton has not netted a single, solitary point in two games, and goalie Tim Thomas has been shakier than a three-legged table.
While Bruins coach Claude Julien plods along with his plans and rolled out his fourth line down by a pair of goals late in the third period, Celtics coach Doc Rivers conducted a comeback with his X's and O's acumen. Doc drew up a pair of Picasso plays in the final minute with his team trailing by three (85-82).
The first was an in-bounds alley-oop from Rondo to Kevin Garnett that cut the Knicks lead to 85-84 with 37.8 seconds left, a crucial basket because it took virtually no time off the clock. The second set piece was the game-winner, a pick-and-roll between Pierce and Allen that left Allen in position to do what he has done more times than anyone in NBA history -- drain a 3-pointer.
"You see yourself, man, the last couple of plays that we ran he drew up. They were amazing," said Jeff Green. "He's an amazing coach."
If it's any consolation to the Bruins, they're not alone in looking up to the Green.
The Celtics are the only one of the Big Four professional sports teams in this town that has won a playoff game in the last 10 months. Dating to Game 6 of the NBA Finals last year at Staples Center, New England teams had suffered five straight postseason defeats to bitter rivals -- Lakers, Jets, Canadiens -- before the Celtics came through last night against the Knicks.
The Knicks remain a dangerous first-round opponent for the Celtics because of the presence of Stoudemire and Anthony, who were emboldened by coming so close in Game 1. Those two alone make them a more threatening foe than the Philadelphia 76ers. Stoudemire took the game over in the fourth quarter with 12 points, including a ridiculous 360-degree layup. Anthony was the NBA's third-leading scorer this year.
But the Celtics have something that neither the Knicks nor their Garden-mates, the Bruins, have -- a proven playoff portfolio. And for one night, they also had another attribute their Black and Gold brethren lack -- a No. 1 center. Different sports, different responsibilities, but crucial for both clubs.
Kendrick who? Jermaine O'Neal, last seen in the playoffs shooting 9 for 44 against the Celtics last season while with the Heat, was the paint-patrolling savior last night. The "other O'Neal" scored 12 points on perfect 6 for 6 shooting, adding 4 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. His play helped turn the tide in the third quarter, when the Celtics were down by 12. Rivers said his team won the game because of O'Neal.
No, they won because they know how to win these games. That's a nebulous quality that a team either has or it doesn't.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.