Commentary

Digging out of hole won't be easy

History not in Celtics' favor as they try to erase 2-0 series deficit against Heat

Updated: May 5, 2011, 12:16 AM ET
By Peter May | ESPNBoston.com

"

Affliction is a good man's shining time.

" -- Abigail Adams, quoting English poet Edward Young in a 1777 letter to husband John Adams
"

I have learned that over the course of my career, the adversity that you face makes you who you are, and that is why we are here.

" -- Ray Allen, May 3, 2011













We are about to see what the 2010-11 Boston Celtics are really made of. In the face of adversity, NBA-style, will they make this their "shining time" and get back in their playoff series with the Miami Heat?

Or will they go down in what may well be this group's last time together?

The Celtics put themselves in this 2-0 hole with some truly underwhelming and, at times, head-scratching play in Miami. It is a hole previous Celtics teams have found themselves in on eight previous occasions in a best-of-seven series. The 1969 Celtics rallied to win the NBA title. The other seven teams that fell behind 2-0 did what most teams do when trailing 2-0: go down quietly.

Back in the heyday of the Bird-McHale-Parish Celtics, being down 2-0 in a best-of-seven series was pretty much of a death sentence. From 1969, when the Los Angeles Lakers became the first to do it (against the San Francisco Warriors), through 2003, only seven times has a team escaped from a 2-0 hole.

But once the NBA went to a seven-game format in all rounds in 2003, the 2-0 deficits became less daunting. Since then, starting with the 2004 Lakers, seven teams have done what seven teams did over the previous 35 years: successfully extricate themselves from a 2-0 hole.

[+] EnlargeLeBron James and Ray Allen
AP Photo/Alan DiazLeBron James knows what it's like to come back from a 2-0 playoff series deficit, but can the Celtics do it against him and the Heat?

No one need tell Dwyane Wade or LeBron James what it's like to be where the Celtics are now. They are a part of this recent run.

Wade's Heat did it to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2006 NBA Finals, winning four straight after getting pummeled in the first two games. The following season, James' Cavs' did it against the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals, with James' epic performance in Game 5 (48 points, including his team's final 25 and 29 of its final 30) turning the series. The Cavs would win in six with Boobie Gibson being the Game 6 hero.

The last time the Celtics were in a 2-0 hole in a best-of-seven affair was in 2004, when they were a totally fraudulent playoff team and were duly and rightfully swept by top-seeded Indiana. The last time they were down 2-0 in a playoff series they thought they should win? Could be 2003, had not the new owners decided that the morning before Game 3 was a good time for a team picture. Boston lost that game 94-76 game and was swept by the New York Nets. You probably have to go back to the 1987 NBA Finals, although with Kevin McHale playing on a broken foot, the Celtics' chances looked bleak.

"Being down two games to zero does not scare any of us, or make us nervous,'' Ray Allen said.

Well, it should. The Celtics indisputably have some work ahead of them. James and Wade have had their way in the first two games, with Wade now having scored 25 or more points seven straight times against the Celtics in the playoffs. The last guy to do that to Boston was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and he needed 10 years and two teams to do it. Wade has done it in a little more than one year.

The Celtics have to start playing Celtics-style defense. Boston led the NBA in fewest points per game allowed (91.1) and is allowing Miami to score more than 100 points a game. The Celtics also were No. 5 in 3-point shooting defense at 34 percent; the Heat are at 45.7 percent in the first two games. Allen went from Game 1 scoring machine (25 points on 9-of-13 shooting) to Game 2 decoy, taking only seven shots and scoring only seven points.

Would someone please reintroduce Kevin Garnett to the free throw line? Garnett has played 74 minutes in this series and has as many free throw attempts as I do. We all know how deferential he is, but no free throws in two games?

It would be nice if Paul Pierce, 2008, showed up as well. Fouls and a strained Achilles have slowed him in the first two games, not to mention his spectacularly stupid ejection in Game 1.

Rajon Rondo has been alternately brilliant and maddening which, come to think of it, is pretty much the status quo for him.

The Celtics could finish off quarters better, a trend that has emerged in these first two games. Wade and James each orchestrated rallies in Game 2 that enabled Miami to take a five-point lead at the half and at the end of the third. The killing 14-0 run in the fourth wasn't at the end, but it effectively ended competition for the evening.

Yes, the Celtics could have made things easier on themselves by winning at least one in Miami, something this current group has always managed to do in series in which it opened on the road. Not this time, however. Meanwhile, Miami has never lost a playoff series in which it went up 2-0. The one inescapable truth is that the Celtics cannot lose Saturday and expect to be seriously in this thing, predictable stirring thoughts aside. History tells us the harsh truth: No team in NBA history has ever recovered from a 3-0 deficit. That's why Glen Davis, who has been mostly maddening and not so brilliant in this series (and against New York, as well), is correct when he says, "it's do or die."

Game 4 is pretty much the same; only eight teams have recovered from a 3-1 deficit and won. The Celtics have done that twice: 1968 and 1981, both against the Philadelphia 76ers. Doc Rivers has had it done to him (2003, Orlando Magic losing to Detroit).

The last team to emerge from a 2-0 hole and live to tell about it was the 2009 San Antonio Spurs, who did it against the Hornets in the Western Conference Semifinals. They then fell to the eventual champion Lakers in the conference finals.

Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a contributor to ESPNBoston.com.

Peter May

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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