Monday, May 24, 2010
Celtics looking to close out Magic
By Chris Forsberg
"Elias" is a four-letter word to Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
"The history stuff, all that numbers stuff, we should go jump the Elias Sports Bureau for throwing all that stuff out," Rivers joked, jabbing the world's most prominent tracker of sports statistics.
"Every time a series goes to 2-0, 2-1 or 3-1, you hear all these stats," Rivers said as he dismissed all the overwhelming evidence in favor of his Celtics after they took a commanding 3-0 series advantage over the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference finals. "And I guarantee wherever that coach is, he's cussing at the TV, because there's nothing you can do about that. It is what it is with the numbers. You still gotta play the game."
So Rivers is unimpressed by the statistics, including ones such as the fact that NBA teams up 3-0 in best-of-seven series are 93-0 all time, while the Magic were swept in each of the previous three series in which they trailed 3-0.
"You gotta win a fourth game, and we haven't done that yet," Rivers said. "We have to be prepared."
With that in mind, here are a few key areas to watch in Monday's Game 4 (ESPN & ESPN3.com, 8:30 p.m.):
Brooms and white flags
The Magic are staring at what history tells us is an insurmountable deficit. So how do they respond? Coach Stan Van Gundy and his troops are playing the "let's get this series back to Orlando" card, but honestly, would you expect anything less?
It will be interesting to see the Magic's body language should Boston take control at any point. Will they fight back or simply phone in a tee time for Tuesday afternoon?
"We've got to win one game," Van Gundy said at Sunday's practice. "Then you get back home and you know if you can ever do that, win Game 4 and get back home and get [another] win; you come back up here and the whole mood of everything changes. Now Game 6 is like a pressure game for them.
"But as we know from the first two series, when you're playing from out in front and from a lead the whole time, it's a lot different than if the pressure gets on you. We haven't put any pressure on them. We need to start that by winning a game. We have to win Game 4."
Asked about whether the Magic mentally checked out of Game 3, point guard Jameer Nelson kept the focus on Game 4.
"We can't dwell on things that happened in Games 1, 2 and 3," he said. "It's about us preparing ourselves and coming out in Game 4 and really believing. You just take this thing one game at a time."
Added Vince Carter on Sunday: "I expect us to go out there and fight. If not for anything, fight for what's on the front of your jersey as well as on the back. It's never about who you are as an individual; it's about who you are as a team. Each person has to commit once they step in between those lines tomorrow. It's about business, and nothing else matters."
For their part, the Celtics continue to heed Rivers' words, and his players contend they are focused on winning Monday night.
"It's tough because, right now, we can get the big heads, three up, and just lay down," Celtics power forward Glen Davis said. "Just them being competitive and being a good team, I always feel like they're in it no matter what. Especially if they win two in a row.
So we just got to close it out. Our mentality has to stay the same. We have to understand what we need to accomplish and what we did wrong last game and make sure that we don't do it this game."
It's almost exhausting watching the Celtics play defense lately. Every time the ball moves, Boston's defenders shuffle in unison, all scrambling to contest shots and deny more ball movement.
Now, surely the Magic have hurt their own ability to put points on the scoreboard by simply missing shots. But the statistics tell the story of just how good Boston's defense has been.
The Magic are shooting 39.4 percent overall after shooting 46.7 percent through the first two rounds of the postseason. What's more, their percentages from both inside (50.5 percent in the paint, down from 64.6 percent) and outside (28.6 percent from 3-point range, down from 38.3 percent) have dipped after they won their first eight games of the playoffs.
On Sunday, Rivers said he still needed to analyze the game film more, but he noted that the defensive rotations remain the strongest part of Boston's effort in Game 3.
When asked about Boston's defensive success, Celtics guard Ray Allen didn't even want to discuss it at the risk of jinxing the team.
"I don't question it; I don't even answer it," Allen said. "Just keep doing what we're doing."
Kevin Garnett, whose own defense seems to have been cranked up a notch or two this postseason, continues to stress the importance of that side of the ball.
"Just being consistent with our defense," the power forward said. "Right now I feel like the defense is ahead of our offense. When we're solid like we were [in Game 3], especially on the defensive end, we're able to convert over to fast-break points, easy baskets, stuff like that. So we have to keep that consistent."
A collection of noteworthy numbers or statistical patterns from the postseason, most of which the Magic would like to buck in order to prolong their season:
• Where's Rashard?: Rashard Lewis' offensive disappearance could go down as one of the biggest in NBA history. According to the wizards at ESPN Stats & Information, Lewis' differential between the conference finals and the first two rounds of the postseason ranks among the worst since 1975 (when the playoffs changed to four rounds) in points, field goal percentage and 3-point percentage.
Lewis is averaging 11.4 points fewer (16.4 per game in the first two rounds; five in the conference finals) while shooting 29 percent worse overall (54 to 25) and 38.5 percent worse from 3-point range (46.2 to 7.7). The point and 3-point dips are fifth-worst since 1975, while the field goal percentage is third-worst.
• Double-digit watch : The Celtics are 4-0 this postseason when Rasheed Wallace scores at least 10 points. Boston is 7-1 in the playoffs when Rajon Rondo reaches double digits in assists.
• Tossing dimes: In Game 2, the Celtics registered 23 assists, while the Magic posted 24 field goals. That's a familiar pattern in this series, with Boston having assisted on 64 of 101 field goals (63.4 percent) compared with 38 of 84 field goals (45.2 percent) from the Magic.
• Century mark: The Celtics are 11-0 when allowing fewer than 100 points this postseason but 0-3 when they allow a team to top that mark.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.