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Celtics Notebook

They couldn’t bear Bruins repeat

Players know next win toughest to get

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / May 24, 2010

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WALTHAM — The Celtics don’t have to go very far to be reminded of what can happen in the playoffs — good and bad — when a team takes a 3-0 lead in a series.

In 2004, the Red Sox made history by rallying from a three-game deficit to defeat the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, four games to three. The Sox then swept the Cardinals for their first World Series title in 86 years.

Just recently, though, there was the Bruins’ epic collapse against the Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals, when they squandered a 3-0 series lead.

Did the Bruins’ playoff demise serve as a cautionary tale for the Celtics after their 94-71 victory in Game 3 Saturday night gave them a three-games-to-none lead over the Magic?

“Well, it should be,’’ said coach Doc Rivers yesterday during practice in preparation for tonight’s Game 4 at the Garden. “I know you guys will make it [a cautionary tale], so I don’t even have to worry about that. The greatest part — and probably the toughest part — about playing sports or coaching sports in Boston is the history. Everyone’s going to remind you of the good history, and everyone’s going to remind you of the bad history.

“So, in some ways, it could be a benefit for us.’’

Though Kevin Garnett acknowledged “closeout games are the hardest, the most difficult’’ games to win, he was quick to point out, “This is not hockey,’’ when asked if he had any concerns about the Celtics suffering the same fate as the Bruins.

“I’m not even looking at that,’’ he said. “The Bruins are not the Celtics and the Celtics are not the Bruins. It’s apples and oranges.’’

The Celtics don’t intend on suffering any letdowns against Orlando, which is on the verge of making NBA history by becoming the first team to get swept after advancing to the conference finals by sweeping in the first two rounds.

“This team is not complacent,’’ said forward Paul Pierce. “I think we’re too close to our goal. You’ve got a team that’s won a championship and we know what it takes and we understand the mental toughness that you’ve got have at this point in the season.

“I don’t see any slippage from us and I think we’re going to close this out [tonight].’’

Right into it
If there has been a common denominator in the Celtics’ victories, it has been their highly-energized first quarters. The Celtics have outscored the Magic, 76-54, in the first quarter, including 27-12 in Game 3.

In all three games, Pierce has set the tone by sticking the first basket of the game.

Asked if he was looking for Pierce to do that again, Garnett said, “Paul’s play has been amazing throughout our whole run. I think people looked at the Cleveland series like he was [depleted] or whatever, but he did so many smart things from attacking and getting guys easy baskets. [So] coming into a series like this, it’s not as physical as the Cleveland series, but you have to anticipate that he was going to come out and have big games.

“He’s been our driving force,’’ Garnett added. “He and [Rajon] Rondo have made it light on everybody around here.’’

Kudos for Garnett
Garnett’s improved health, which has led to his much-improved play in the playoffs, has not been lost on his teammates.

“Well, it’s obvious,’’ Pierce said. “You see the way he’s rebounding the ball, his shooting percentage is up, the way he’s sprinting downcourt. It’s obvious.

“You see it the way he’s catching lobs, going up, and the way he’s finishing.’’

Pierce said that without Garnett the team couldn’t win a championship.

“I mean, a lot of these other guys on the team are replaceable,’’ he said. “I’m replaceable, probably, Ray [Allen’s] probably replaceable, Rondo, but you can’t replace Kevin.

“I mean, you see the difference last year when we didn’t have him to now in this playoff run. His intangibles, he’s smart — the things he does out there on the court are just irreplaceable for a guy his size.’’

This is different
After suffering their worst home playoff loss, 124-95, in Game 3 against the Cavaliers May 7, the Celtics have six consecutive victories, their second-longest winning streak of the season. Boston won 11 in a row from Nov. 22-Dec. 14. “I think we’re hitting our stride,’’ Pierce said. “It just shows you what champions are made of, the heart of a champion. We know when we come out like that, we’re tough to beat.’’

Asked if this playoff run rekindled any memories of the Celtics’ championship run in 2008, Pierce replied, “You know what, ’08 is going to be ’08. I don’t like trying to compare this team to that team. It’s the same type of roll, but I just think this is a different team. What’s happened to this team is totally different to what happened to that ’08 team.

“That ’08 team, that was our first time in the playoffs together. The difference here is that you’ve got a veteran team that’s been in the playoffs and understands what it takes. Before, we had to learn our way in the playoffs, being our first time in it together. Now it’s a different game, so now we know what the playoffs are all about and we’re a little more comfortable, whether we’re playing at home or on the road. It’s a lot different than ’08.

“The goal has never changed, that’s the thing,’’ Pierce added. “A lot of people were surprised when we beat Cleveland or got out of the first round [against Miami]. But, at the end of the day, our goal is to win the championship, and to see that we’re still on that path toward our goal feels great.’’

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com

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