By Charlie Widdoes (Twitter)
For both teams, the focus in Game 4 will be on getting back to basics.
No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit (although it has happened in baseball, as Boston fans know), but even with the ultimate outcome seemingly in hand, both teams have plenty to play for tomorrow. The Celtics, a proud franchise with "champions in that locker room," as Tyson Chandler said after Game 3, don't want to go out playing like they have thus far, while the Knicks, only beginning what they hope will be a long and fruitful playoff journey, know they are far from playing their best basketball.
For Boston, the obvious problem is execution of the fundamentals. You wouldn't think that passing, protecting the ball and converting layups would be issues for a veteran playoff team at this point in the year, but they most certainly have been. They blew three point blank looks on the opening possession and the trend continued throughout the game. The numbers say the Knicks were around league average defensively this season, and while they might be better than that, the Celts' futility in Game 3 (and the second halves of Games 1 and 2) made them look like an all-time great unit.
Boston shot 40 percent from the floor on the night and committed 17 turnovers. It appeared as though the Knicks' depth and balance had overpowered the home team, and Doc Rivers suggested after the game that his team had lost its spirit. Such a suggestion would indicate that the missed opportunities and sloppy ball-handling are secondary issues to Boston's lack of mental fortitude. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are nearing the end of Hall-of-Fame careers, and being embarrassed like this cannot be an acceptable option. Win or lose, they have to put up a better fight in front of their loyal fans.
For the Knicks, getting back to basics entails working together and thinking ahead. Should they face the Pacers in the next round, they can expect a team that is stingy on D (like Boston), but not nearly as likely to go cold for such prolonged stretches on offense. To advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, New York needs to continue to strive for efficiency in the halfcourt.
Right now, they are finding success in turning offense into defense, and that could continue to work for them against Indy, who was 27th in turnover rate in the regular season. But at some point, the pace will slow and they will have to execute. Contiuing to perfect the spread pick-and-roll attack will be crucial to maximizing their potential.
Should they sweep this series, the habits they continue to develop tomorrow could carry over into the next.
Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images