The reality of the series set in Monday night when the Celtics lost Game 2. Leaving Boston with a split, the Sixers have homecourt advantage with the next two games in Philadelphia.
The debate Tuesday will focus on whether or not Philadelphia truly has a chance. It will focus on whether or not the Celtics are too banged up, and whether or not a young Sixers team can string together consecutive wins over a seasoned opponent.
The Celtics won't focus on any of that. Just as they've done after every game, the Celtics went about their business Monday night answering questions about their performance. They gave credit to their opponent and filled reporters' notebooks and iPhone voice-recording apps with cliches. It was hard to distinguish the mood of the locker room after a losing effort from the mood encountered after a winning effort Saturday night.
Paul Pierce gave a general answer about the officials: "You know that’s the name of the game sometime. You know they make a call you got to live with it.”
Rajon Rondo answered a question about the Celtics getting ahead early and giving up the lead: “Basketball is a game of rhythms, a game of runs. We made our runs, and then they made their runs.”
And Doc Rivers gave his canned line about a possible hand injury to Rondo: “There may have been; I never ask. Hell, every time I ask the trainer or doctor it’s a bad answer. I really don’t. I never even ask."
How cliche did the cliches get? At one point, Ray Allen answered a question about the bench by mentioning contributions from two guys who played a total of four seconds in the game.
"Avery [Bradley] was out and I started in the third quarter," said Allen. "That extends the bench. Marquis [Daniels] and Sasha [Pavlovic] get more playing time."
You can see what you want about the Celtics and their approach. You may take issue with their prefabricated answers, or you may want more emotion out of the team after a loss. You'd be justified in holding any of those opinions.
But the fact is, the Celtics have a proven method. They've been through this before, and they know that every game, every moment, can't be a time to vent. Sometimes you just need to put a game behind you. The Sixers seemed downright giddy after keeping it close in Game 1. Philadelphia players were riding high after Game 2. The Celtics did a good job containing their emotions after both.
There are some things the Celtics can put behind them about this game and some things they can't. The players and coach alike did a good job not distinguishing between them. The Celtics focused their postgame banter on offensive execution and stopping players like Sixers forward Lavoy Allen, but they can do something about both of those. They brushed off questions about injuries to Pierce and Bradley, and about foul calls down the stretch, but those are things they can't control.
Before the game, Rivers joked about being more like Patriots head coach Bill Belichick in his answers after using the phrase "It is what it is." After the game, Garnett ended his postgame session with reporters and walked out of the Celtics locker room, stopping to put his hand on the shamrock logo at the locker room's entrance. It's a ritual he completes after preseason games, regular season games, and playoff games. No matter the circumstances, Garnett's routine is the same.
The Celtics may be in trouble here. Or this may just be another bump on the road to a championship run. That will all be sorted out. For now, the Celtics are content to walk through it, step by step, interview by interview, and game by game. The Celtics are nothing if not methodical.
Sixers coach Doug Collins recognizes that his team needs to reach that level. Twice Monday night he called Doc Rivers the best coach in the game.
"We've stepped up in class here," said Collins. "We're playing a team that's got four guys who've been in the NBA championship, who've been in the Finals, who've been around a long while. They're a very poised team."
That poise will go a long way in determining just how long the Celtics stick around this postseason.