Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NBA Playoffs 2010 [Print without images]

Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Celtics facing two must-win games

By Chris Sheridan
ESPN.com

Boston Celtics
The Celtics must regroup in a hurry. Otherwise, they might not return to L.A., as Paul Pierce predicted.

BOSTON -- Drop by drop, ever so slowly, blood dripped down from Tony Allen's fat upper lip -- so fat it looked like he'd had an acorn surgically implanted right smack in the middle of it.

The wound was the result of an elbow to the mouth that the Celtics guard had taken from someone -- he wasn't sure who, but he suspected the offending sharp appendage belonged to teammate Kevin Garnett.

Standing in front of his locker in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, some 30-40 minutes after the Boston Celtics had dropped a 91-84 decision to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, Allen was the bloodied but unbowed face of defiance for Boston on a night of squandered opportunity.

"It's the NBA Finals, man -- we got, what, a week-and-a-half of this left?" Allen said. "We've got to lay everything on the line at this point. It's all about moving forward."

A week-and-a-half, eh?

Ladies and gentlemen, perhaps we have an encore to the now-infamous Paul Pierce quote from the end of Game 2, when he shouted to the fans in the Staples Center that the series would not be returning to L.A.

"What we did today is fixable," Boston big man Glen Davis said. "We know the chemistry of what it takes to win, and we just have to go out there and do it. Now with our backs against the wall, it's 2-1 and we're at home, I like the feeling that we're at home, but at the same time we can't get comfortable."

No, they can't. The well of comfort for this postseason has run bone-dry.

Recent history is on the Celtics' side -- they trailed the Cavs 2-1 in the second round but came back to win the next three games -- but a broader historical outlook does not bode well for them.

Since the Finals went to a 2-3-2 format in 1985, there have been 10 previous instances of a series being tied 1-1. In all 10 cases, the Game 3 winner went on to win the title. If you go back even deeper into the history books, the Game 3 winner of a series that was tied 1-1 has gone on to win the Finals 28 of 32 times.

But if anything in those two preceding paragraphs was referenced by Doc Rivers when he addressed his team after Game 3, it was not the long-term history.

"What really stuck in my head?" Allen said of Rivers' postgame speech. "Stay together, staying together and knowing we can beat this team. Just pretty much confidence, and staying together."

And even before Rivers spoke, the players spoke among themselves and voiced much of the same.

L.A. has won three straight games in this building since its epic failure in Game 6 of the 2008 Finals, when the Celtics clinched their 17th NBA title. The Lakers have taken control of this series not only because they have Bryant, but also because they have superb players around him in Pau Gasol (Game 1) and Derek Fisher (Game 3) who have risen to the occasion even stronger than Ray Allen did in Game 2, when he set an NBA Finals record with eight 3-pointers.

If the Celtics are going to turn this thing around, they can't have Pierce shooting 36 percent. They can't have Ray Allen going from one polar extreme to the other. They can't withstand Rajon Rondo being a 31 percent free throw shooter. They can't have Rivers subbing out Garnett when he is the only one connecting. They can't keep having one of their key players in foul trouble. And they can't fail to capitalize on nights, like Tuesday, when Gasol and Bryant are not in peak form.

The Celtics had been 12-0 this postseason when holding their opponent to 95 or fewer points, but that unblemished number was about as intact at the end of the night as Tony Allen's upper lip, which was sutured shut with eight stitches.

"Let me tell you this," Allen said. "This team is in the present right now; we're not worrying about what went on previously, not worried about the stats about who wins the third game and all that. We're worried about the next game, and that's our focus."

Allen had done a commendable job defending Bryant, and he was still seething over a kick to the side of his neck that Bryant delivered. (Allen went to great lengths to explain to those assembled at his locker that the bloody lip was not caused by Bryant -- although that kick to the neck was something "I ain't too happy about.")

That statement was a fitting blanket description of how all the fans at TD Garden (save the few brave souls who attended wearing gold and purple) were feeling when the night came to an end, knowing the home team will be hard-pressed to have any kind of a fighting chance unless it can take Game 4 on Thursday and Game 5 on Sunday to head back to Los Angeles needing one win for the title, not two.

The trick for the Celtics will be putting this one in their rearview mirror the same way they did when they lost Game 3 to Cleveland by 29 points.

That loss, you may recall, was the worst home playoff loss in Celtics history.

But, as Tony Allen said, this Celtics team is about living in the present, not the past.

And in the near future, if they can bounce back from this loss the same way they did against the Cavs, the new Garden could be as loud and as raucous at the end of Game 4 as it was at the start of Game 3.

If not, Pierce may have been correct. This series may not even return to L.A.