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Celtics have some fight left

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By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / May 11, 2011

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MIAMI — If this is the last run for the Celtics in their current state — as they and the NBA face a summer of drastic changes — they are determined to depart with a performance better than their disheartening Game 4 loss to the Heat.

The Celtics are in a 3-1 hole entering tonight’s game, their biggest playoff deficit since putting together the Big Three. While the final play in regulation of Game 4 could be the defining sequence of the crumbling of the Pierce-Garnett-Allen Empire, the Celtics have at least one more chance to redeem themselves.

They have no intention of emulating the Lakers, who completely collapsed in their series loss to Dallas, sealing their unfathomable decline with cheap shots.

The Celtics have an opportunity to at least extend their series, making the fragile Heat more uncomfortable by sending it back to Boston.

The immediate goal is to win one road game, and the Celtics left Boston realizing that they essentially dominated the past two games with the Heat. Despite Rajon Rondo playing less than 48 hours after dislocating his left elbow and Kevin Garnett going a bewildering 1 of 10 from the field for 7 points, the Celtics had two chances to win Game 4 late in the fourth quarter.

Perhaps a younger and healthier Celtics team would not have allowed itself to fall into such a position. But one characteristic of an aging team is that it doesn’t do things the easy way.

For example, the 1988 Lakers, on fumes after their eight-year Showtime run, won their conference semifinal, conference final, and the NBA Finals all in seven games. They were tired, aging, and their chemistry had begun to wear thin. The Celtics appear to be in similar condition. You don’t hear about “Ubuntu’’ as much anymore.

The players are more demonstrative towards each other. Rondo is publicly rebelling against Doc Rivers and the play calling. Ray Allen wants the ball more. Paul Pierce is frustrated with the lack of precision in the offense. Garnett broods because he realizes he is not the player he was four years ago.

Together, however, the Celtics are still capable of greatness. Winning three in a row against what might be the most talented team in the NBA is a daunting task, but the Celtics will not end this run on their knees. They are too proud.

“If we can get this one game down in Miami, we’ll see what happens,’’ said Garnett. “We never lack confidence, and when our backs are against the wall is when we show great resilience. We’ll see what we’re made of.’’

The Heat expect the Celtics to respond like champions, and at practice yesterday, they tried not to show any overconfidence. The Celtics have been a bugaboo for the Heat franchise and LeBron James the past few years, so they are preparing for perhaps more than the Celtics can offer.

“Not against this team, this is not a team you want to let your guard down against,’’ said Dwyane Wade. “We won that game. It was a good win. Tomorrow we’ll be ready to play.

“We understand this team. We understand how close the game was. Rondo missed a layup and they could have went up 2 and the game could have been different. They are going to come in and give us their best shot. It’s going to be one of those games, and I think we’ll prepare for it.’’

Asked what he expected, former Celtic Eddie House said, “Their best. They are going to bring it. We know that. It’s just a matter of us matching their intensity, their effort.

“But they are going to bring it, lay everything on the line. We need to play more desperate, as desperate as they are.’’

In some ways, the Celtics still have an advantage in this series. The Heat are not exactly enthusiastic about the possibility of returning to TD Garden for Game 6; Monday’s win snapped an 11-game losing streak for the franchise in Boston. While James and Wade will say they are motivated by the crowd, neither particularly likes playing there, especially in such a meaningful game.

The Celtics’ best bet is to make things anxious for Miami with one win. They are capable of that, probably more capable than their frustrated fan base believes.

“These are those moments, when you write papers, books, poems, quotes, whatever it is, these are those moments I look forward to it,’’ Allen said. “It’s a challenge I think everyone on this team, we know we have to do.

“We just got to put our best foot forward. It’s not going to get any easier, but that’s what makes it that much more special if you can pull it off. We won’t talk about it, we just go out, we know the effort we put out there tonight, it has to be better.’’

“We’ve had to win on the road in our history together. We’ve had to win in some tough environments. This is no different.’’

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

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