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Monday, April 25, 2011
Series Takeaways: Late-game execution

By Greg Payne

On the heels of the Celtics' four-game sweep of the Knicks in an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, we examine specific areas of Boston's postseason play and how it might affect the team moving forward. In the first installment of Series Takeaways, we break down late-game execution:

Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireRay Allen exults after a late-game 3-pointer against the Knicks.
The Celtics wrapped up their sweep of the New York Knicks on Sunday similar to how they began the series. No, there were not any game-winning shots in the final 15 seconds, but there was commendable fourth-quarter execution when the Celtics needed it most, and that will go down as arguably the biggest positive for Boston as it sets its sights on the second round.

It was fourth-quarter execution that allowed the Celtics to be in a position to sweep the Knicks on Sunday, as back-to-back inconsistent performances in Games 1 and 2 were rectified by how the team held its composure and made the correct plays in the final minute, culminating in a commanding 2-0 series lead.

Game 3 did not call for any fourth-quarter heroics, but Game 4 appeared to be headed for a memorable finish until the Celtics took the reigns with just over seven minutes to play and stamped the life out of the Knicks for good.

The Celtics led by as many 23 in the third quarter of Game 4, but New York rallied late in the that frame, and an Anthony Carter jump shot with 7:35 left in the game brought the Knicks within four at 84-80. The Celtics then embarked on a 17-9 run to close the game, never allowing the Knicks to get closer than five points the rest of the way. Ray Allen buried his second 3-pointer of the game, Paul Pierce drew a critical offensive foul on Shawne Williams, and the Rajon Rondo -- Kevin Garnett pick-and-pop play on the left side drove the Celtics comfortably home over the final four minutes.

"I think we did a great job of closing games out, especially the games we didn't play well, 1 and 2," Rondo said after Sunday's win. "We did a great job of executing down the stretch, so we can away from that as a positive."

Late-game execution will be needed throughout the rest of the playoffs, and it might be one unsung area in which the Celtics have an edge if they are to meet the Miami Heat in the next round (the Heat boast a 3-1 edge in their first-round series over the 76ers). Miami's struggles in the final minute during the regular season were well-documented, and while some have fought to dispute the notion that the Heat are better at winning close games than they've been given credit for, it doesn't appear to be one of their key strengths. Losing in the final minute to the Sixers in Game 4 on Sunday won't do much to dispel the critics who have labeled this as a team that can't seal the deal.

Miami is a very talented team and will serve as a formidable second-round opponent for Boston should it vanquish the Sixers. But based on the way the Celtics held their poise and rose beyond the pressure of the postseason against the Knicks, if games against Miami come down to the wire, there's good reason for Celtics fans to feel confident.

Greg Payne is a student intern for ESPNBoston.com