Commentary

Celtics confident despite 2-0 deficit

Long odds don't faze Doc Rivers' team heading into Game 3 at the Garden

Updated: June 2, 2012, 1:56 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

MIAMI -- History suggests they are done. Toast. Yet, if we know anything about the 2011-12 Boston Celtics, it's that they are a resilient bunch who tend to defy statistical patterns and certainly won't go down without a fight.

By now Boston fans know the pessimistic news: Teams that have trailed 2-0 in best-of-seven series have gone on to lose 94.3 percent of the time in the NBA playoffs. Only 14 teams have ever rallied back and the Celtics as a franchise haven't accomplished the feat since dropping the first two games of the 1969 Finals against the Lakers.

Doc Rivers
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyDoc Rivers says, "Our guys are very confident going into Game 3."

But given the way the Celtics have overcome adversity this season and saved their best basketball for when their backs are against the wall, you can't help but wonder if they fit the mold of that other 5.7 percent.

"We don't have any surrender or retreat in us," said Keyon Dooling. "You know we're a grind-it-out team. We're going to continue to come back. We're going to fight; we're going to claw; we're going to scratch. We're going to do whatever we've got to do to try and win basketball games."

Let's be realistic. The Celtics spoiled not only a brilliant effort by Rajon Rondo (44 points, 10 assists, 8 rebounds), on Wednesday night, but a chance to steal momentum and home-court advantage in this series. The outlook Thursday would be remarkably different if Boston had found a way to escape AmericanAirlines Arena with a victory in Game 2.

Now a team that has struggled with consistency has even less of a margin for error, needing to win four of the next five games to prolong its season.

And yet there is a never-wavering optimism from the Boston locker room.

"We still know we have to play better, but I think our guys know now that we can play (with Miami)," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said during a conference call Thursday afternoon. "I don't know if they knew it or not after Game 1, it was such a bad loss for us, I think we needed to have that type of game (Wednesday). Obviously, we would have rather won it, but our guys are very confident going into Game 3."

Echoed Celtics captain Paul Pierce: "If we continue to play with that effort and play with that passion, I really like our chances."

Few outside the Celtics' locker room will feel the same way. There's a line of thinking that suggests that Boston will struggle to get beyond what happened in Game 2. But really, the Celtics have no other choice but to put it behind them.

"You don't throw it away. You hold onto it for 24 hours, and then you move on," said Rivers. "We've been really good at that. We have no choice in the matter. We play at home on Friday.

"Listen, it's corny, but they've won two games at home, and now we go to a place that we are very comfortable in and we have to win two games at home. And then we'll see from there."

Dooling is ready for a little "home cooking."

"We're looking forward to going back to our place," he said. "I know our fans will be ready. We'll be received and we need them. We're going to need their energy. We're going to need their emotion. We need some home cooking. We've got to go back and get these two wins."

Here's the hard part: The Celtics did a lot of things exceptionally well in Game 2. They turned the ball over just eight times (leading to nine points); they shot nearly 50 percent from the field (40-of-81); and they finished even in the rebounding battle (42 apiece).

But little things spelled their demise. Miami had 10 offensive rebounds, turning them into 18 second-chance points; Boston leaned too heavily on Rondo as a one-man show and got stagnant with ball movement at times, settling for 15 assists on 40 field goals; and the Celtics allowed Miami to make way too many 3-point looks, particularly by the Heat's supporting cast.

"We've just got to understand what's beating us right now," said Pierce. "We're playing terrific defense in the half-court, but then they get the offensive rebounds, the loose balls, the kickout for 3s. We've got to eliminate those things right there. I mean in the first half, they got a number of offensive rebounds or the loose ball there after we get the stop, (then) kick out to (Mario) Chalmers or Shane Battier for 3, and that's demoralizing when you play hard defense for so long, for them to get those plays. So we've got to be able to make it a one-possession/rebound/get the ball out."

Mario Chalmers
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesThe Celtics can't let the likes of Mario Chalmers beat them.

Veteran shooting guard Ray Allen went so far as to suggest that Boston wasn't overly despondent after the Game 2 loss. He said the team was disappointed and upset, but confident as the series shifts to Boston.

That's a particularly rosy outlook. But even Miami players were trying to convince themselves that the Heat have not accomplished anything quite yet.

"It's two games, and all we did was win two at home," said Dwyane Wade. "That's a very good team over there that we know is going to give us everything -- their all -- come the next four days when they get two at home in Boston. We move on. Everybody is getting treatment, getting therapy, and ... some rest. Because this is a long game, it's a long night, and we have to get right back at it."

Wade was reminded of the difficulty of overcoming a 2-0 hole and the heartbreaking fashion in which Boston lost. Wouldn't it be easier for the Celtics to roll over?

"I think if it is another team, possibly, but not them," he said. "They are not as great as they are as individual players -- and as a team -- without being resilient, without overcoming. So they'll look at it (Thursday); they'll learn from this game and come out of it with a fresh mind knowing they have two in Boston.

"We know we are going to get this team's best shot. (Wednesday) they gave us a great shot and we were able to win on our home floor. If they give us that same effort, can we pull it off and win this kind of game on the road?"

Rivers' message to his team hasn't changed. Despite all the adversity the Celtics have faced this season, they still have an opportunity to get to the NBA Finals. Rivers reminded his team how hard it is to get to this point and the effort they've put in just for the chance to accomplish their ultimate goal.

In that regard, a 2-0 deficit isn't nearly the mountain it seems given what Boston has already scaled to get to this point. And Rivers reminded his team there's no guarantee they can get back to this point.

The Celtics need to play with desperation.

"There is no guarantees for next year," said Rivers. "Every year you have to play like this is the last time this group you're with will ever play together. And most of the time that's going to be true whether you win or lose. So I think we understand that."

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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