Commentary

Can Celtics maintain momentum?

Updated: May 22, 2010, 1:12 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

After a brutal three-day layoff, the Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic resume play in the Eastern Conference finals Saturday night with Game 3 at the TD Garden (8:30 p.m., ESPN and ESPN3.com). Here are five key areas to watch:

1. Any momentum left for Boston?

The Celtics were overflowing with confidence after Tuesday's Game 2 triumph in Orlando, but how much of that positive energy remains after a three-day break? Over the past two days of practice, the Celtics have sworn they're focused and ready, but recent history suggests they've fizzled coming off these extended breaks. That pattern a bit of a mystery, considering a veteran roster would seem to benefit from the additional rest. But Celtics captain Paul Pierce suggested he's had trouble relaxing just waiting for this game to get here.

"It's tough, we all have trouble sleeping from the anxiety of wanting to play and the whole playoff pressure," said Pierce. "Everything that comes along with it, including the travel, a number of guys can't sleep. You wish you could play every other day, but it's necessary to get rest and get your body and focus back. We're anxious to get back out there."

The Celtics might have learned from a lopsided loss to Cleveland in Game 3 of the conference semifinal that threatened their season. For all their talk about a "sense of urgency," the Celtics will truly need it Saturday given the fact that Orlando is sure to be a desperate team. This series' complexion would look a lot different for Boston with a 3-0 lead instead of a 2-1 advantage.

2. Maintaining the Celtics' 3-point defense

The Magic entered the conference finals averaging a shade more than 11 3-pointers made per game this postseason, but they have connected on just 11 3-pointers over the first two games. The Celtics fully expect those shots to start falling and know they must continue to contest those looks and deny the 3-point shots in general.

"The numbers are going up as far as attempts and we always view that as, if the attempts are going up, the makes will follow," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "So we have to get attempts down again. But overall, it's been very good."

Boston has done a phenomenal job limiting the trifecta damage done by the likes of Rashard Lewis and Mickael Pietrus. Boston proved it can even weather a 30-point output by Dwight Howard and still win -- as the Celtics did in Game 2 -- so long as the C's limit the 3-ball. That means they need more one-on-one success from Kendrick Perkins as he battles with Howard, but the Celtics also must continue to be quick to the ball when it returns to the perimeter.

Despite their success in Games 1 and 2, the Celtics are not satisfied.

"We can be better," said Kevin Garnett, the chief reason Lewis has been so quiet. "As far as being satisfied -- no, we're not satisfied at all. We can do a lot better job."

3. Which bench will step up in Game 3?

Rivers stated the obvious when he noted Boston had shortened its bench considerably during the postseason, operating with essentially a three-man reserve unit of Tony Allen, Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis, while getting some filler minutes (but little production) from Michael Finley.

On paper, Orlando seems to boast a decided advantage off the pine, but it has hardly come through in this series. Pietrus has been invisible, while J.J. Redick and Marcin Gortat are essentially combining to help fill the massive offensive void left by Lewis' struggles.

While Boston is never quite sure which of its bench players is going to have a big night, the Celtics typically get big offense from one of the three regular reserves, and two of the three provide the defensive intensity. For example, in Game 1, Wallace did a fantastic job defensively on Howard, while in Game 2 it was Davis who stepped up and took big charges.

"The only way we're going to win is if somebody on the bench plays well," said Rivers. "It has to be multiple people and we're getting that. We don't know which guy it's going to be, and I wish we could control that, say, 'Hey, it's your night,' but we don't have that luxury."

4. The little things make a big difference

The stats that float below the surface tell the story in this series. Take, for instance, Boston's lopsided advantage in assists. The Celtics have assisted on 41 of 67 field goals (61.2 percent) this series, while the Magic have assisted on a mere 28 of 60 (46.6 percent). For a team that lives by the inside-outside game and swinging the ball for open 3-pointers, that number is far too low for Orlando.

Two other areas to keep an eye on: fast-break points and points off turnovers. Boston is thriving in both categories, averaging 15 fast-break points per game compared to Orlando's 8.5.

Boston is scoring 21.5 points per game off turnovers, compared to only 18.5 per game for Orlando. The Celtics are doing a good job forcing turnovers in general, but their best basketball this postseason has come when they value the basketball on offense. Leads tend to slip away when Boston gets sloppy.

5. What will happen if both teams click?

Rivers wondered aloud what would happen last round if both the Celtics and Cavaliers had played to their ability levels. Which team would find the way to win? It never truly happened. And there's no guarantee that will happen this round either, but it will be interesting to see which team emerges should both teams finally click.

"I think they're going to have a game where they make shots and we're going to have to find a way to win it anyway," said Rivers. "We're going to have to make adjustments and we have to be ready for it."

One thing to keep in mind: While everyone has harped on the Magic's offensive struggles, particularly with Lewis, it should be noted that Boston hasn't exactly been firing on all cylinders yet, either.

Ray Allen endured a quiet Game 2, while Perkins was erased by foul trouble. Garnett, so valuable to the Boston offense last series, is shooting a mere 30 percent and averaging nine points per game this round. What's more, he hasn't made a single free throw, missing the only two freebies he's attempted thus far. His defense has made up for his offensive lapses -- maybe we should say the same for Lewis -- but something has to give in that matchup before this series ends.

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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