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On basketball

Game 5 offshoot four-gone conclusion

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / June 12, 2010

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While the Lakers and Celtics had yesterday off, their minds were undoubtedly locked on the ramifications of Game 5 tomorrow night at TD Garden.

The series is tied, 2-2, and the Celtics guaranteed themselves a trip to Los Angeles next week by taking Game 4, 96-89, Thursday night. Not only does the winner of a tiebreaking Game 5 win the series 83 percent of the time, those odds increase when the Game 5 winner heads home for the rest of the series.

Remove the sparks from Glen Davis and Nate Robinson and the Celtics were a rather listless offensive team in Game 4. Only a stellar defensive effort down the stretch secured playoff survival.

The Celtics have to find a way to get the Big Four producing in the same game. Thursday night, they were a combined 21 for 51 from the field for 54 points, and Doc Rivers rested Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce most of the fourth quarter. But the Celtics cannot rely on their bench in the final three games.

In Boston’s final home game of this emotional and turbulent season, the most heralded Celtics have to deliver their most impressive performances because the Lakers are fully confident they can get their second win at TD Garden. Aside from taking Games 1 and 3, Lakers coach Phil Jackson pointedly said yesterday his club could have won Games 2 and 4 as well.

“Well, I kind of anticipated this was going to be a back-and-forth series like this,’’ he said. “I said this the other day, it’s a lot of teeter-totter here, despair and elation, but we’re going to try and establish the fact that we’re going back to LA with a 3-2 lead. We believe we can do it. We felt we let one get away last night. We didn’t think that the Celtics played well enough for three quarters, and we squandered our opportunities in the third quarter, and that we came out without the kind of energy you have to sustain in the fourth-quarter situation like this.’’

Jackson knows the importance of going home ahead. That allows his team some breathing room, having to win one of two games to close out the series. And that forces the Celtics to have to sweep in LA and win the title by taking three of four games in one of the toughest NBA road venues. That is highly unlikely.

The Celtics needed yesterday’s rest. They were lucky to get away with a poor shooting night in Game 4 that was only saved by a 12-for-19 fourth quarter. Today’s practice has to be precise. The Celtics have had a bad habit of relaxing following playoff victories.

They coasted in Game 4 against Orlando after three straight wins, losing in overtime. They lost by 29 following a Game 2 victory over Cleveland, but had enough guile to take a tough Game 4 win and then the next two.

If the Celtics are indeed a title team, they have to maintain home court and put the pressure on the Lakers.

“Another must-win situation on Sunday,’’ center Kendrick Perkins said. “I think it’s getting close to that time, we’ve got to go all out. There are three games left — however you want to look at it — we’ve got to go all out.’’

A team that struggled at home throughout the regular season needs to capitalize on its home-court advantage one final time. TD Garden has been a haven in the postseason and the Celtics have won every big game there, but they have played uneven in two games against the Lakers.

The issue has been the offense. The Celtics have played splendid defense this series, save a couple of stretches in Game 1 and the Derek Fisher-led fourth quarter in Game 3.

The series could very well be decided tomorrow and the Celtics have to bring that same desperation from the fourth quarter of Game 4 into the next game.

“I think we’ve got to get [this] one,’’ Rondo said. “Whoever is going to win this series is going to have to win two in a row eventually. So last home game of the year, we’ll try to go out with a win.’’

The beauty of this series has been its choppiness. Two evenly matched teams have spent four games exchanging uppercuts and neither team has gained much of an advantage. Jackson views Game 4 as a game the Lakers should have won with a physically capable Andrew Bynum and more energy.

The Celtics felt as if they could have won Game 3 with a few stops and some 3-pointers from Ray Allen. If the Celtics want to head to LA with confidence, they can leave no doubt after Game 5. This has to be their game.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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