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Four what it's worth

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff May 13, 2008 08:51 AM

Quiz time. What does the following set of numbers represent?

19 18 17 21 12

A. Tonight's guaranteed Mega Millions winner
B. Individual age restrictions for future applicants of Menudo
C. Another set of numbers that have apparently been pushed to the side in plotting "Lost"
D. The Celtics' fourth-quarter point totals in their last five road games

Inexplicably, the answer is "D."

Thanks in large part to a dismal fourth quarter in which they managed to net just 12 points last night in Cleveland, the Celtics find themselves knotted up with the Cavaliers, 2-2, in their best-of-seven playoff series following a fifth straight playoff loss on the road, 88-77.

Before now, no NBA No. 1 seed had ever lost its first five playoff road games. It's been a month since the Celtics won a game away from the friendly confines of the Garden, a 99-92 win over the Knicks on April 14.

But let's not dwell on that. After all, only one team has even managed to win a playoff game on the road this round, that being the Pistons on Saturday in a hard-fought 90-89 win at Orlando. The Lakers, Jazz, Spurs, Hornets, Cavs, and Celtics are all 2-0 at home, 0-2 on the road.

But Saturday's Pistons win is significant in the way they won. Orlando led 63-48 in the third quarter before allowing Detroit to go on a 42-26 run the rest of the way, sealing the one-point victory and a 3-1 series lead. And that without Chauncey Billups in the lineup over the weekend.

This could be your Boston Celtics today if indeed they had any semblance of a late-game playoff mentality that is quite evidently lacking away from the parquet. Heading into the fourth quarter last night, Boston trailed, 68-65. They went on the score 12 in the final frame.

Twelve.

There's no hammer, nobody willing to take over when the game is on the line, a.k.a. a Kobe, Magic, Jordan, or ... Bird. That's not a championship-caliber basketball team. It's one that peaked during the regular season with a magnificent franchise resurgence, but hasn't been up for the challenge of the postseason.

Think Cedric Maxwell wants to keep going on his claim that Kevin Garnett is a better player than Bird? After last night's sizzling 0 for 2 fourth quarter up against Anderson Varejao, he'll sound more the fool for saying so. Paul Pierce's inability to drive to the hoop is a maddening development, as is Boston's game plan when it's behind. Basically, channel Antoine and let 'em fly.
Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen sums it up as such:

To state the obvious: These Boston Celtics are not a championship team. It's a huge surprise after their dominance of the regular season, but under the defensive pressure of the playoffs their three stars have lost all feeling for how to play off one another. They are a numb offensive team that doesn't feed off strengths or mismatches, that doesn't develop a go-to scorer during the game and doesn't exhibit poise when mandatory. Over the closing minutes of tight games the Celtics look as if they have no idea where to go with the ball or which of them should take over. This is why no overhauled team has ever won a title in its first year together: It takes years for a championship team to learn to play together and barring some kind of heavenly revelation the No. 1 seed isn't going to achieve that unity this postseason.

Twice in this series the Celtics have failed to even break 80. You have to go back to go back to Feb. 22 (85-77 loss at Phoenix) and Jan. 12 (85-78 loss at Washington) to find the last two times that occurred. Now, it's happened twice in the span of a week. Perfect timing.

If the Cavs can steal one at the Garden tomorrow night, the series is over. It's only 2-2, you say? Quit ya moanin'? Fine. We'll cancel the APB on LeBron James then and go from there.

Despite Doc Rivers' claims that James is haunting them, the Cavs star was still again just 7 of 20 from the field, another struggling shooting performance that everybody wearing green hopes to continue for another three games. But if he busts out and has a monster game in him tomorrow night, possibly leading the Cavs to victory, the Celtics will indeed face elimination in Game 6. In Cleveland. Know what that means?

For all his athletic prowess, Garnett's offensive limitations have really shown in the playoffs. As great as he is in the role of team leader, he's still not the guy you want to go to when it's all on the line in the fourth. On this team, it probably should be Ray Allen, if Allen weren't 12 for 36 from the floor and just 3 for 15 from beyond the three-point line against Cleveland, that is.

Pierce, meanwhile, is playing like he's hurt, leaving Rivers scratching his head most of the time for an offensive approach. The problem is that the Celtics play with little-to-no urgency on the road, and expect to regroup when things come back home. They can win a title that way, I suppose, but it leaves little room for error, and no room for days off, which can be pivotal, especially to heal nagging injuries that come with the a playoff push.

Yet there seems to be a citywide ban on speaking ill of the coach, as if he were the man to bring them to this promised land, without the help of Danny Ainge or Kevin McHale. For all the protection Rivers seems to get on the local media landscape, the reality is that he's pushing edge pieces into the middle of the puzzle. If you want to defend exactly why Glen Davis was on the floor in pivotal minutes of the fourth quarter, go ahead and defend away. And memo to Matt Walsh: You might be more help if you can find the tape that Sam Cassell must have of the coach in a compromising position. That might finally limit his playing time.

Cassell's been a contributor at home, but who hasn't?

31 20 29 20 23 19

Those are the Celtics' fourth-quarter totals in their last six home playoff games, only one of which was in true doubt heading into the fourth: last Tuesday's series opener against Cleveland, which entered the final quarter with Boston up by just one point.

They pulled that one out in ugly fashion to remain unbeaten at home. On the road, it's been nothing but ugly, particularly in the fourth quarter, and that has the championship mettle of this team rightfully in some serious doubt.

8 comments so far...
  1. Might be time for Doc to go with what brung him. A bench that includes Eddie House & Tony Allen (& more than 6 mins from Powe last night). They need the energy these guys bring.

    Posted by Jeff/Maine May 13, 08 10:25 AM
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  1. those numbers taken into a Lost perspective mean only one thing...they will win the NBA championship. here it goes
    1918 - for so many years, sox fans only heard about 1918, finally we its put to rest with 2 world series in the past 5 years.
    17 - the celts win it this year, it'll be championship number 17
    21 - the amazing gf that got away, only to see her at the hs reunion, fat, ugly and full of STDs. karma is great
    12 - our new golden boy (who may take some hits) but with him on our side, we are sure to head back to the super bowl


    Posted by Numbers and lost May 13, 08 10:41 AM
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  1. Right on Wilbur. How many wide open jump shots did the Celtics miss last night? Answer- way too many. I thought Ainge brought in these verteran players (Allen, Cassell, Garnett) to hit shots when they need them in big games. What a dissapointment. If they should be lucky enough to get past Cleveland (which I doubt), Detroit will clean their clock.

    Posted by RJ May 13, 08 12:51 PM
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  1. I agree Allen and House should be getting more playing time. The chemistry on this team has changed with the addition of Cassell and Doc's insistance on playing a different line up than the one that established the best record in the league.

    Posted by Don May 13, 08 01:44 PM
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  1. Paul Pierce really is playing like he is hurt him and Ray Allen have really done nothing if they could just step it up we would be so dominant but once we go on the road everything gets sucked out of the team. Hopefully we can finally get a road win its hard to believe that the best road team in the regular season can't even win one in the playoffs

    Posted by RED May 13, 08 03:41 PM
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  1. Ray Allen has officially hit "washed up/Allan Houston" status in this series. If Wally is shredding him, it's over. Imagine what Rip Hamilton will do to him.

    Posted by Mac May 13, 08 06:15 PM
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  1. It was obvious this team has not developed a go to guy, that is what Bird always was, a guy willing to take the game over when it mattered most. When he faltered he had great teamates, McHale, Max, Walton, Parrish, DJ and Ainge to pick up slack. Nobody ever assumed the ball was going anywhere but to him, still how many clutch jumpers and drives when the world knew it was going there. Same for all the greats . . .thing is to win it all you gotta have one of those guys. KG is a very good player but he isnt a go to guy. This team does not have a player who can create. Alot of jump shooters.

    This is a good team, but when they asked KG who the MVP was he said Pierce and Pierce said him, you think Bird would of said that? He would of said are you kidding its me, McHale would of laughed and said no it is me bailing you out with 60% shooting from the post.

    Allen is the guy who needs to fill it up right now and the point gaurd play has been so bad he isnt getting the ball in the spots he needs and he is off a little as well. There offense is hard to watch at times. Danny should be given alot of credit for trying and there is a window here of a few years.

    If we get by Cleveland , Detriot is lurking and we will not get by them, eventually this team will lose a home game . . .then what?

    Posted by TPH May 13, 08 10:42 PM
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  1. Wait, you're watching the Celtics now, Wilbur? How can that guy say that overhauled teams don't win Championships when the Heat just won it a couple of years ago with a new roster? It's absolutely incredible that people want to say the Celtics are not a championship team before they've ever even been down in a series. If LeBron breaks out for a huge game in the Garden tomorrow, the C's are done? Why? What makes him more likely to break out for a huge game than the C's winning on the road? I just don't get why you'd say if this one thing that hasn't happened yet happens, there's no shot of this other thing that hasn't happened yet happening. When the Celtics lose, then I'll say they're not a championship team and not until then.

    Posted by J-Bone May 14, 08 11:56 AM
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