Quiz time. What does the following set of numbers represent?
19 18 17 21 12
A. Tonight's guaranteed Mega Millions winner
B. Individual age restrictions for future applicants of Menudo
C. Another set of numbers that have apparently been pushed to the side in plotting "Lost"
D. The Celtics' fourth-quarter point totals in their last five road games
Inexplicably, the answer is "D."
Thanks in large part to a dismal fourth quarter in which they managed to net just 12 points last night in Cleveland, the Celtics find themselves knotted up with the Cavaliers, 2-2, in their best-of-seven playoff series following a fifth straight playoff loss on the road, 88-77.
Before now, no NBA No. 1 seed had ever lost its first five playoff road games. It's been a month since the Celtics won a game away from the friendly confines of the Garden, a 99-92 win over the Knicks on April 14.
But let's not dwell on that. After all, only one team has even managed to win a playoff game on the road this round, that being the Pistons on Saturday in a hard-fought 90-89 win at Orlando. The Lakers, Jazz, Spurs, Hornets, Cavs, and Celtics are all 2-0 at home, 0-2 on the road.
But Saturday's Pistons win is significant in the way they won. Orlando led 63-48 in the third quarter before allowing Detroit to go on a 42-26 run the rest of the way, sealing the one-point victory and a 3-1 series lead. And that without Chauncey Billups in the lineup over the weekend.
This could be your Boston Celtics today if indeed they had any semblance of a late-game playoff mentality that is quite evidently lacking away from the parquet. Heading into the fourth quarter last night, Boston trailed, 68-65. They went on the score 12 in the final frame.
There's no hammer, nobody willing to take over when the game is on the line, a.k.a. a Kobe, Magic, Jordan, or ... Bird. That's not a championship-caliber basketball team. It's one that peaked during the regular season with a magnificent franchise resurgence, but hasn't been up for the challenge of the postseason.
Think Cedric Maxwell wants to keep going on his claim that Kevin Garnett is a better player than Bird? After last night's sizzling 0 for 2 fourth quarter up against Anderson Varejao, he'll sound more the fool for saying so. Paul Pierce's inability to drive to the hoop is a maddening development, as is Boston's game plan when it's behind. Basically, channel Antoine and let 'em fly.
Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen sums it up as such:
To state the obvious: These Boston Celtics are not a championship team. It's a huge surprise after their dominance of the regular season, but under the defensive pressure of the playoffs their three stars have lost all feeling for how to play off one another. They are a numb offensive team that doesn't feed off strengths or mismatches, that doesn't develop a go-to scorer during the game and doesn't exhibit poise when mandatory. Over the closing minutes of tight games the Celtics look as if they have no idea where to go with the ball or which of them should take over. This is why no overhauled team has ever won a title in its first year together: It takes years for a championship team to learn to play together and barring some kind of heavenly revelation the No. 1 seed isn't going to achieve that unity this postseason.
Twice in this series the Celtics have failed to even break 80. You have to go back to go back to Feb. 22 (85-77 loss at Phoenix) and Jan. 12 (85-78 loss at Washington) to find the last two times that occurred. Now, it's happened twice in the span of a week. Perfect timing.
If the Cavs can steal one at the Garden tomorrow night, the series is over. It's only 2-2, you say? Quit ya moanin'? Fine. We'll cancel the APB on LeBron James then and go from there.
Despite Doc Rivers' claims that James is haunting them, the Cavs star was still again just 7 of 20 from the field, another struggling shooting performance that everybody wearing green hopes to continue for another three games. But if he busts out and has a monster game in him tomorrow night, possibly leading the Cavs to victory, the Celtics will indeed face elimination in Game 6. In Cleveland. Know what that means?
For all his athletic prowess, Garnett's offensive limitations have really shown in the playoffs. As great as he is in the role of team leader, he's still not the guy you want to go to when it's all on the line in the fourth. On this team, it probably should be Ray Allen, if Allen weren't 12 for 36 from the floor and just 3 for 15 from beyond the three-point line against Cleveland, that is.
Pierce, meanwhile, is playing like he's hurt, leaving Rivers scratching his head most of the time for an offensive approach. The problem is that the Celtics play with little-to-no urgency on the road, and expect to regroup when things come back home. They can win a title that way, I suppose, but it leaves little room for error, and no room for days off, which can be pivotal, especially to heal nagging injuries that come with the a playoff push.
Yet there seems to be a citywide ban on speaking ill of the coach, as if he were the man to bring them to this promised land, without the help of Danny Ainge or Kevin McHale. For all the protection Rivers seems to get on the local media landscape, the reality is that he's pushing edge pieces into the middle of the puzzle. If you want to defend exactly why Glen Davis was on the floor in pivotal minutes of the fourth quarter, go ahead and defend away. And memo to Matt Walsh: You might be more help if you can find the tape that Sam Cassell must have of the coach in a compromising position. That might finally limit his playing time.
Cassell's been a contributor at home, but who hasn't?
31 20 29 20 23 19
Those are the Celtics' fourth-quarter totals in their last six home playoff games, only one of which was in true doubt heading into the fourth: last Tuesday's series opener against Cleveland, which entered the final quarter with Boston up by just one point.
They pulled that one out in ugly fashion to remain unbeaten at home. On the road, it's been nothing but ugly, particularly in the fourth quarter, and that has the championship mettle of this team rightfully in some serious doubt.