BOSTON (CBS) – The Boston Celtics had a relaxing Monday, with just a trip to Atlanta on their agenda.
If they enjoyed that rest, they can assure themselves some more by closing out their series with the Hawks Tuesday night.
For an aging and injured group, doing so will pay big dividends down the road.
The Celtics can get themselves a little bit of a breather prior to the second round if they take advantage of their 3-1 series lead Tuesday night. Dragging things outs against the gritty and aggressive Hawks team will just wear down the Celtics, with each game dimming their chances of a deep playoff run.
The grand prize for a Game 5 victory: up to three days of rest and some time to hit the practice floor. With Paul Pierce (knee), Ray Allen (ankle) and Avery Bradley (shoulder) all nursing bumps and bruises — not to mention everything else that went into getting through a 66-game regular season crammed into four months — getting a couple days to relax and heal will be key down the road.
“Obviously, any time you can get out of the series quicker, it’s beneficial to the team moving forward,” said Ray Allen, who returned from an ankle injury in Game 3 to play 37 minutes followed by a 19-minute effort on Sunday. “Any time you have injuries where you keep guys off their feet, you can really work on chemistry, timing. You know some things you want to do better offensively, it’s always a benefit.”
“We definitely want to try to finish the series out in Atlanta, we don’t want to come back here and play because, obviously, we need our rest,” Rajon Rondo said Sunday after Boston’s 101-79 Game 4 win. “But we know they aren’t going to lay down, so we are gonna go out there, it’s gonna be a good fight. At the end of the day, we want to try to get a win.”
However, the Celtics are not looking too far into the future. They know if a Game 5 victory is not in the cards, there is a quick turnaround for Thursday’s Game 6 at the Garden.
Stats: Celtics-Hawks Game 5 Preview
“You go out and play your best and if you win it, you move on,” head coach Doc Rivers said. “But never look at the finish line. Never even talk about the finish line. You talk about the next game and playing well.”
Rivers should know from first-hand experience. He was head coach of the 2003 Orlando Magic team that blew a 3-1 lead to the Detroit Pistons.
Although the Hawks put up a less than genuine effort Sunday night in Boston, teams that are facing elimination tend to play well, especially at home. There is the “nothing to lose” mentality teams use when their backs are against the wall, and the Celtics have struggled in Philips Arena at times in recent history.
But the Celtics do have a bit of history on their side, with only eight teams in NBA history coming back from a 3-1 playoffs hole.Even teams with a 3-2 series lead have still closed things out 86-percent of the time.
Still, Boston doesn’t want to let the Hawks build any kind of momentum going forward.
“You don’t want to give a team any confidence. You’ve got to go down to Atlanta with the right mindset. You don’t want to bring it back to Boston, because anything could happen,” said captain Paul Pierce. “The NBA is a weird league; one game could give a team confidence. We hope that we can just take them and advance in the series this next game.”
“This is not going to be a vacation trip. This is definitely a business trip,” Kevin Garnett said Sunday night. “After a win like this you have to anticipate these guys having some pride, coming back full-throttle ready. That atmosphere down there has changed since the playoffs have started so we know what we’re walking into. We’ll be ready.”
Walk away with a win, and the Celtics will be rewarded with some much needed rest. Give the Hawks another chance, and it will likely require some extra, and un-needed, effort from the C’s, which could come back to haunt them further down the road.