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Can Celtics reward faith?

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  May 1, 2013 06:00 AM

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Bring it back to Boston.

If the Celtics can do that – if they can win Game 5 tonight in New York, in front of the Knicks' raucous, desperate home crowd, with a roster that doesn't match up talent-wise to its opponent's and no true point guard to be found, if they can win with supergunner J.R. Smith returning to the Knicks' lineup and the official end of the New Big 3 Era likely hanging in the balance – well, then I might start to believe the mission is not impossible.


But they have to bring it back to Boston. Win this Game 5. Force the talented, soft Knicks to come back to TD Garden with the momentum against them. Win Game 5 in a fashion that frustrates the Knicks, makes them wonder why they haven't been able to finish off these creaky, outmanned Celtics, and stirs some old ghosts.

It's that warm recollection of that time nearly a decade ago when certain other long-tormenting sports ghosts were exorcised that has some Celtics fans dreaming of a comeback for the ages against the Knicks.

No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series, yet a few friends of mine, and probably a few friends of yours too, have co-opted a familiar refrain in clinging to any shred of faith that the Celtics can win the series:

Why not us?

That, of course, was the 2004 Boston Red Sox' rallying cry after falling behind, 3-0, to the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. Eight wins later, they were World Champions for the first time in 86 years, and amid the celebration and catharsis, we realized that reality had trumped even the most improbable dream.

A Celtics rally against the Knicks wouldn't approach such history or meaning. But it might be more improbable.

I always believed the 2004 Red Sox (and the 2003 Red Sox, for that matter) were the superior ball club to the Yankees, their only disadvantage being the weighty burden of history. The Celtics, in terms of pure talent, are not close to the Knicks at this point.

Kevin Garnett is shooting 44 percent from the field – and that's the best on the team in this series. Paul Pierce is averaging more than five turnovers per game. Avery Bradley is averaging more turnovers (2.25) than assists (2.0), and certain members of the New York media have delighted in calling him Average Bradley. So far, he's provided no reason for rebuttal.

Save for their performance in overtime in Game 4, when old Jason Terry finally became the Jason Terry of old in the season's 86th game, the Celtics have not done a whole lot to inspire faith.

They punted away Game 1, lost by 16 in Game 2, came out with a surprising lack of fire upon their emotional return to their home court in Game 3, and blew a 20-point Game 4 lead (with Raymond Felton outscoring them, 16-14, in the third quarter) before prevailing in overtime.

In Game 5, in the relative comfort of Madison Square Garden, it's hard to imagine that Carmelo Anthony will miss 25 shots again, or that the Knicks will foolishly let the Celtics' mediocre-at-best ballhandlers off the hook from time to time by relenting on the pressure, or that J.R. Smith won't be a factor in his return from a one-game suspension.

Common sense suggests the Knicks should win, and without much suspense.

But if Jeff Green is at his best, and Pierce has a vintage flashback in him, and Brandon Bass continues to frustrate Anthony, and an unexpected contributor arises, and somehow the wily old Celtics steal one ... well, the task ahead will still be daunting. That is a lot of ifs.

But the why-not-us hardwood miracle also becomes plausible.

They'll be bringing it back to Boston on a two-game winning streak.

So beat them tonight, and make the Knicks wonder whether they can beat you once over the next two. Plant those seeds of doubt. Remind them that the franchise hasn't won a playoff series since 1999-2000, when current ancient benchwarmer Marcus Camby was 25 years old and his teammates included Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, and Charlie Ward.

Put a real scare into them. Turn their smart but fickle fans against them. Make them wonder, if only for a fleeting moment, why Kenyon Martin demanded they dress for a funeral that might end up being their own.

Bring it back to Boston. So at the very least, we can salute your never-quit will one more time while discovering whether the Knicks are devoid of such a trait themselves.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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