Commentary

Havlicek offers inspiration for Celtics

Current squad is reminiscent of 1969 team that overcame 2-0 playoff series deficit

Updated: May 6, 2011, 3:32 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

WALTHAM, Mass. -- If you believe Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, it wasn't a planned visit. Celtics legend John Havlicek, he of eight world title victories, simply happened to be in the neighborhood near Boston's practice facility at the Sports Authority Training Center at HealthPoint on Thursday and decided to drop in after his favorite team dropped its first two games of an Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Miami Heat.

The fact that Havlicek was part of the 1969 championship squad, the only Boston team to ever rally out of an 2-0 hole, was merely coincidence. Yet, he didn't mind imparting some friendly advice to those who asked about how the Celtics rallied to top the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games that season.

"When things aren't working out, you can get all messed up," said Celtics reserve forward/center Glen Davis. "But I was talking to Havlicek -- you know, 'Havilcek stole the ball!' -- and I said, 'Which one of these banners [means the most]?' He said the one that stood out to him was 1969, when they were down 0-2 and came back to win it in Game 7 against the Lakers.

"He was just saying, it's going to take everything in you to fight and claw back to get back to 2-2, to even, and then it's going to take something special to finish them off."

[+] EnlargeJohn Havlicek
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesJohn Havlicek has been in the Celtics' shoes and his advice could help the team out of its series hole.

As the Celtics started preparations for Saturday's must-win Game 3 at TD Garden, Rivers and his players stressed that, while the task in front of them is more daunting than anyone might prefer, Boston believes it can dig itself out of this two-game hole.

Even if, as Havlicek stressed, it's going to take everything in them.

"Collectively, I think we're still the best team in this league," reserve forward Jeff Green said. "I think that's the reason that we're playing right now, and like I said, looking at film, we see our effort that we put out and we know that we can do better. And we're still in the game. That's the best part about it."

Film study, which consumed much of Thursday's practice session, confirmed what Boston players believed. Much of the Celtics' troubles were self-inflicted in the first two games and Boston knows it has yet to put together 48 minutes of consistent basketball.

"I agree [the Celtics haven't played their best basketball], but we're still down two games, so we have to go out there and play," said guard Ray Allen. "Like I said, you give [the Heat] the credit for doing what they did, but now we have to assert ourselves."

Asserting themselves is a start. River said, beyond all the X's and O's, Boston simply needs to work harder in order to reverse its fortunes. He noted how Miami has willed itself to every loose ball and fought for every available rebound, essentially winning the hustle category that the Celtics so often dominate when they play their best ball.

To Rivers, it's not just about playing better basketball; it's about wanting it more.

"You can't rest on [the fact that Boston hasn't played its best ball]," Rivers said. "I told our guys that. I stopped the [Game 2] tape [Thursday] and ... we had gone over 50 clips in which we just didn't get to where we should have gotten to, offensive or defensively, and I stopped the tape and the score was 80-80. I said, 'If I hadn't have put a score on it, and you watched this, you would have thought we had to be down by 30 at that point.' And the score was still tied.

"Having said all that, it doesn't mean Game 3 is easy if you do it right. You can't just hope that because you haven't played well and now you play well, that things will work out for you. You have to deal with them now. And they have great confidence, and we gave that to them."

Just like the 1969 Celtics gave the Lakers great confidence by dropping the first two games on the road. Boston rebounded with a 111-105 triumph in Game 3, sparked by the heroics of Havlicek, who poured in 34 points despite playing through a swollen eye (and a banged-up Celtics squad has plenty of dinged-up superstars to fill that role Saturday; including captain Paul Pierce and his ailing left Achilles).

What's more, the similarities between that Lakers squad and this Heat team are scary. Before the 1969 season, the Lakers acquired superstar Wilt Chamberlain, pairing him with Elgin Baylor and Jerry West to form Los Angeles' own superstar trio.

Meanwhile, the Celtics and star player/coach Bill Russell were battling Father Time as 1969 proved to be the final season for both Russell and Sam Jones. While the team leaned heavy on Havlicek, it was clear Russell and Jones were not going to end their careers by rolling over to the Lakers.

No one knows for sure what the future holds for the Celtics and their own aging Big Three. But Havlicek offered an in-the-flesh reminder that this series isn't over despite the long odds.

And that's something that resonated with a Boston team cognizant of both the franchise's history and its potential place in that lore.

"John shows when he thinks we need him," Rivers said with a smile. "I love all [the former stars] coming around. I wish they came to every practice. They've got more stories and the history is above them."

Someday another Celtics squad with championship-or-bust aspirations will fall behind in a series and maybe it'll be Pierce dropping by practice to regale them with tales of Boston fending off the vaunted Miami Thrice after dropping Games 1 and 2.

But first the Celtics have to pen the fairy tale portion of that story. Otherwise the 2011 squad will fade into the sort of obscurity the eight other Boston teams whose seasons ended after falling behind 0-2.

Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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