boston.com Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe

Celtics know their position -- unenviable

WALTHAM -- Doc Rivers worries when the Celtics become too comfortable. Well, thank God for small favors. The Celtics could not be more uncomfortable as they face possible elimination from the playoffs tonight in Indianapolis.

With a win-or-go-home scenario looming, Paul Pierce likes to say the Celtics have their backs against the wall. And he should know just how uncomfortable that can be considering he regularly addresses the media standing flush against the one empty wall in the Celtics' locker room. Before yesterday's practice Pierce found himself predictably pinned against the far wall at the team's training facility. From his vantage point, it doesn't matter where the Celtics find themselves, but what they bring to the floor in Game 6.

"It comes down to heart right now," said Pierce. "It has to come from within. We have to dig deep, find it somewhere, and bring it out [tonight]. At this point, down 3-2, it doesn't really matter where we play. We can go out to courts outside [in Indianapolis], [Pacer forward] Jermaine O'Neal's backyard. It doesn't really matter right now."

For fans holding tickets to tonight's game, don't fret. Game 6 will tip off as scheduled at 7 p.m. inside Conseco Fieldhouse. That is the one certainty Boston can count on. Anything beyond is subject to change. The Celtics have been frustratingly inconsistent throughout the first round. Blowout win. Three-point loss. Blowout loss. Blowout win. Five-point loss. In addition to the final results, ball movement and ball pressure have disappeared and reappeared with equal unpredictability. One minute the Celtics seem destined for the Eastern Conference finals. (Remember Game 1.) The next minute they seem ready for a first-round exit. (Remember Games 2, 3, and 5.)

It all starts with the Celtics' first-quarter play. More often than not in this series, they have started slow and never recovered. If Boston can't get out to an early lead tonight, the pressure will be compounded quarter after quarter. And down the stretch in Games 2 and 5, the Celtics showed a disturbing tendency to lose composure as the pressure mounted.

"If you look at our two wins compared to our three losses, the beginning of the game is huge," said Walker. "It seems like the team that gets out to that lead, that little 10-point lead is the one that prevails.

"This is not about X's and O's. It's not about who's the man. It's about who wants it. I still feel like we're the better team. We just have to show it."

To get back to Boston, the Celtics must rediscover the team ethic and trust that helped them win Games 1 and 4. Rivers yesterday had the unenviable task of trying to instill a spirit of cooperation. Too often the Celtics are a team of individual scorers, not individuals committed to making the right pass. The Green finished Game 5 with 15 assists and 22 turnovers. To change that ratio, Boston must do a better job of finding better matchups.

"When you watch [the Game 5 film], it's not that anyone was trying to be selfish, it's not that anyone didn't come focused," said Rivers.

"They all did. It was a bunch of guys trying to win the game for their team, and by doing that they lost the game. They didn't play together. That was what I saw. We were all trying to make sensational passes and plays, instead of trying to keep it simple. That is a clear sign of guys trying to make things happen instead of letting things happen."

With a true must-win game before them, the Celtics will have a difficult time exercising that kind of patience.

But to force a Game 7, they must balance a sense of urgency with sound judgment.

IN TODAY'S GLOBE
online extras
SEARCH THE ARCHIVES
 
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives