Win or go home.
The NBA has used the phrase to market the playoffs in the past, but its meaning is a lot deeper for the Celtics as the prepare for Wednesday night's Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Miami Heat (7 p.m. EDT, on TNT). Down 3-1 after handing over Monday night's Game 4 down the stretch and in overtime, the Celts must win on Wednesday or see their season come to an end.
It's not going to be easy. Boston must win the game in Miami, where the Heat handled things easily in Games 1 and 2. Kevin Garnett, after an all-time performance in the C's Game 3 win on Saturday, had about as extreme a reversal as possible in Game 4, managing just seven points o 1-of-10 shooting while also contributing giant lapses away from the ball (hello, last play of regulation!) and on defense. Garnett isn't the only one who needs to tighten things up if the C's want to see their season continue at least through a Game 6 on Friday. The entire team needs to clean up its act following a whopping 18 turnovers that resulted in 28 Miami points in Game 4.
The Celts will also have to find within themselves the same kind of defensive intensity that got them through Game 3 holding Miami's star trio of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh to just 44 points. The three combined for 83 of the Heat's 98 points on Monday and although the C's played exceptionally well on the defensive end for a majority of the game, they couldn't slow down James, Wade and Bosh enough to prevent all three from providing at least one dagger in the waning minutes of regulation and in OT.
For the Celts, everyone will be available except Shaquille O'Neal, who has played about 12 minutes over the course of the past two games and simply can't go anymore. The Shaq experiment seemed swell over the first three months of the season, but it is clearly over now and probably has been ever since he big man's aborted, five-plus minute stint against the Detroit Pistons on April 3. Rajon Rondo, who was slightly limited by his elbow injury in Game 4 but not overwhelmingly so, said, "I'll be fine, I'm playing," when asked about his status at Tuesday's shootaround. And Delonte West, who shook off his shoulder injury to have another impressive showing in Game 4. West is averaging roughly 10 points and a couple 3-pointers per game in just under 25 minutes per game in the series. His play is as important as ever now, especially if Rondo's elbow renders him at all ineffective.
This is it. Win or go home. The Celtics, proud champions that they are, aren't likely to let that scenario unfold without a fight.