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Celtics ready to bring in the closer

4/23/2011

NEW YORK -- Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers didn't even bother reminding his troops about the necessity of closing out a series during Saturday's offday film session. Boasting a 3-0 lead over the New York Knicks in an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, Rivers knew his troops would be bombarded with those type of questions from the media in advance of Sunday's Game 4 at Madison Square Garden.

No, he didn't need to remind his team that the Celtics are a mere 8-11 in closeout games during the Big Three era, including a mere 1-9 on the road. No need to rehash how Boston has only polished off two series on its first try during that span (2008 vs. Detroit and 2010 vs. Cleveland). No sense in hammering home how a quick finish would provide plenty of rest for an aging team before the conference semifinals arrive.

"I can't control it," said Rivers. "I can talk about it, do all that stuff, but I'm just hoping [the media does its] job and keep asking them about it, so [the Celtics] won't [let up]. I'm using that as my secret weapon."

Rivers does worry about complacency and hopes his team keeps its foot on the gas, something it's struggled to do during individual games this season. He doesn't want them lulled by the fact that a team leading 3-0 in a best-of-seven series has never fumbled away the series in NBA history, with those teams posting a 94-0 mark.

In fact, only three teams behind 3-0 have ever rallied to even force a Game 7: Blazers vs. Mavericks, 2003 conference quarterfinals; Nuggets vs. Jazz, 1994 conference semifinals; and Knicks vs. Royals, 1951 NBA Finals. None of them could complete the comeback.

Regardless, the Celtics are prepared for the injury-ravaged Knicks' best punch with their season on the line Sunday.

"Well, you get a team that's down 3-0, their back is against the wall, it's human nature to come out swinging, giving it all you've got," said center Jermaine O'Neal, who was a member of the Miami Heat team that stole a win versus Boston in the conference quarterfinals last year, forcing a Game 5 back in Boston.

"Because, one, you're very prideful, and, two, you're professional. We know that they're a little beat down emotionally right now, but I'm sure that, knowing some of the guys in that locker room, they're going to come out and they're going to really give us all they have. Again, just like Game 3, we have to be able to absorb whatever they throw at us, especially in this building where they can get really electric and energized. And then, slow the pace down. Make them play our style, make them play our pace. If we can get to play the defense we played in Game 3 then it'll be tough for anybody."

Added Kevin Garnett: "The mentality is to take it a game at a time, to understand that this is the game you have to play, and no more, no less than that."

If the Celtics needed a reminder, they got one when they flipped on their televisions after Saturday's walkthrough as the Indiana Pacers held off the Chicago Bulls to force a Game 5 and extend their season. Rivers noted how hard it is to win a single game in the NBA, let alone four in a row.

The Celtics seemed particularly locked in before Friday's Game 3 and Rivers wouldn't mind that focus spilling over to Sunday. Captain Paul Pierce stressed the benefit of extended rest after Boston's lopsided win on Friday.

"It's very important [to close out]," said Pierce. "For one, if we get the job done Sunday, it gives a veteran team like us some rest going into the second round, which is always great. Hopefully some of the nicks and knacks on some of the other guys' bodies can heal, because you always come across some type of injuries when you play tough playoff series. I think this team really has a sense of urgency going into Sunday to try and put it away."

For their part, the Knicks know the dire situation they are facing, but have already subscribed to the "one-game-at-a-time" philosophy that every team down 3-0 quickly becomes fans of.

“It is a big challenge for us," said Carmelo Anthony. "We are in a steep hole right now. My main thing is just to stay positive through this whole thing. Being down 3-0, losing a game on our home court makes it that much more challenging. We have to take it one game at a time and go from there.”