As we look forward to a potential Finals rematch with the Lakers, there has been a lot of talk about this series being over. No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit, meaning that it's very unlikely that the Magic will win four straight. Still, here in Boston we know that "improbable" doesn't mean impossible. The Red Sox came back from a 3-0 hole against the Yankees, and the Bruins choked away a 3-0 advantage just a couple of weeks ago.
Should we be worried, then? Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel invoked the Bruins in trying to fire up Magic fans before Game 3:
You want to know why this series isn't over?
Because it's headed back to Boston, that's why.
And, don't kid yourself. In Boston sports right now there is something in the air that smells more rancid than curdled clam chowder.
It is the civic scent of uncertainty; the atmosphere of asphyxiation; the helpless feeling, that any minute, the local sports team might start choking and gagging like a Boston terrier with a splintered pork chop bone lodged in its throat.
The Boston Celtics lead the Orlando Magic 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals and the general consensus is this series is over. Of course, that's what the Boston Bruins thought a couple of weeks ago when they were up 3-0 on the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup playoffs and proceeded to pull off the biggest choke job we've seen in sports since Latrell Sprewell tried to strangle P.J. Carlesimo.
Bianchi might be a bit over the top, but he taps into the only argument that can keep the hope of Magic faithful alive: "If the Bruins can choke, so can the Celtics". It's easy to put together a narrative where the pressure in Boston is so crushing that a choke is always possible, and I can see why Magic fans might feel that way.
However, as KG reminds us, the Celtics and Bruins are two very different teams:
Though Kevin Garnett acknowledged "closeout games are the hardest, the most difficult’’ games to win, he was quick to point out, "This is not hockey,’’ when asked if he had any concerns about the Celtics suffering the same fate as the Bruins.
"I’m not even looking at that,’’ he said. "The Bruins are not the Celtics and the Celtics are not the Bruins. It’s apples and oranges.’’
Injuries killed the Bruins. Yes, the Bruins were up three games to zero, but the Bruins playing in Game 4 weren't the same team playing in Game 1. The Bruins were a thin team made thinner by injuries. They lost Marco Sturm in Game 1, and David Krejci in Game 3. At the same time, the Flyers were getting healthier, as Simon Gagne made his return to the lineup. Basically, it would be the equivalent of the Celtics losing two of their rotation players, while the Magic added a starter to their lineup. Knock on wood, but right now the Celtics are playing at full strength, and so are the Magic. Things can always change, but I don't see the Celtics becoming injury-riddled overnight, and there's no white knight who will come riding in to save the Magic.
The Bruins just weren't that good. Losing a 3-0 series lead is never a good thing, but it's important to remember that the Bruins overachieved in the playoffs. They were a flawed squad in the regular season that struggled to score goals all year long. They weren't guaranteed a spot in the playoffs until the last week of the regular season. Unlike the Celtics, this wasn't the case of an old team sleep-walking through much of the regular season. Rather, the Bruins simply weren't that talented. The fact that they made it past the Sabres at all was cause for celebration, and was due in large part to Tuuka Rask standing on his head. When injuries struck and Rask returned to earth, it was no surprise that the team started to lose games.
This Celtics team, on the other hand, doesn't lack for talent. It has the same starting lineup that won a title just two seasons ago. KG, Paul, Rondo, and Ray have all been all-stars within the past two seasons. The Celtics mediocre regular season record was due to injuries, chemistry issue, and fatigue (both mental and physical); when the Celtics "flipped the switch", it became very clear that this playoff team was different in kind from the team that was so lackadaisical for much of the regular season.
This team knows how to win in the playoffs. Every player in the Celtics rotation has a championship ring. More importantly, this team has won together; among rotation players, only Rasheed and Finley weren't part of the 2008 title team. Experience matters. When the Bruins started to lose, it's arguable whether they had the leadership necessary to step up and get everybody focused. On the Celtics, everyone from KG to Rondo to Doc has been through playoff wars. They well know that you can never take a playoff opponent for granted, as even relatively weak teams can surprise you (case in point, the #8 seed Hawks taking us to seven games in 2008.)
In no way do I want to disparage the Bruins; they're a great franchise, and had a great run. I'm psyched to see them come back healthier next year, with an infusion of talent from either Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin. However, they're simply a different franchise from the Celtics, and I see no reason at present to be overly concerned that the two teams will share similar fates.