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Panic time?

Posted by Bob Ryan, Globe Staff  April 30, 2008 10:48 AM

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Have we no institutional memory?

People are beginning to act as if something odd is going on in the Celtics-Hawks series, as if we've never seen this before. I've even seen one columnist I think is pretty smart actually employ the dreaded "C-word" in reference to the Celtics' performance against the talented, energized Hawks.

This is the 25th time in Celtics history they are 2-2 coming back home in a best-of-7 series. If you have Game 5 at home in anything other than the post-1984 Finals (David Stern foolishly insisting on a needless 2-3-2 format for the Finals), it means, by definition, you are the higher seed. You have the home court advantage. That's why you slog through the Big 82 in the first place.

What is going on in this Atlanta series is nothing new. We have seen it all before. Everyone really does start off 0-0 in the playoffs. The regular season does not matter.

The home team wins Games 1 and 2 at home, often in rousing fashion. The home crowd starts thinking sweep. You get to the other guys' place for Game 3 and it's all different. The crowd is maniacal. The other guys are all pumped up. You simply don't take them seriously enough in Game 3. You claim you've learned your lesson, but Game 4 comes and what you're really thinking is "They can't play that well again, can they?" But they do, and now you're coming back home 2-2 and the series officially begins.

I repeat: The regular season records no longer matter at that point. Want some examples?

1972 -- 56-26 Celtics tied at 2-2 with the 36-46 Hawks.
1973 -- 68-14 Celtics tied at 2-2 with the 46-36 Hawks.
1974 -- 56-26 Celtics tied at 2-2 with the 42-40 (Buffalo) Braves
1976 -- 54-28 Celtics tied at 2-2 with the 46-36 Braves
1976 -- 54-28 Celtics tied at 2-2 with the 49-33 Cavs
1976 -- 54-28 Celtics tied at 2-2 with the 42-40 Suns
1981 -- 62-20 Celtics tied at 2-2 with the 40-42 Rockets
1984 -- 62-20 Celtics tied at 2-2 with the 47-35 Knicks

OK? It happens.

In all the above cases the Celtics won Game 5 at the Boston Garden and went on to win the series, and all but the 1984 Knicks series ended in 6.

Game 5s when it's 2-2 are fun. They are mini-7s, which is why their absence in the Finals for the last 23 years is so sad. Yeah, there are Game 5s, but they should be in the court of the team with the home court advantage. The finals are far less suspenseful as a result.

The Phoenix Triple OT was a Game 5. The famed "Heat Game" in 1984 was a Game 5. The Bird Steal against Isiah was a Game 5. Cedric Maxwell's great 29-point game in the 1981 Finals was a Game 5.

You've seen Atlanta the past two games. Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford, and Marvin Williams have a lot of talent. They're obviously better than their 37-45 record would indicate. They're figuring it out at the right time. Give them credit.

But they're just the latest example of a Celtics opponent finding it and feeling it in the playoffs, not the first.

You need to know that.

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About bob ryan's blog Opinions, observations and anecdotes from Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan.
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Bob is an award-winning columnist for the Globe and the host of "Globe 10.0" on Boston.com.

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