Saturday, May 3, 2008

2008 Celtics-Hawks = 1994 Sonics-Nuggets?

For Celtics fans there are several ominous similarities between these two situations:

* The 2008 Celtics won 66 games, were No. 9 in offense and No. 1 in defense, had a point differential of +10.2, won their home games in the series by 23, 19 and 25 points, and they probably feel as though they let both Game 4 and Game 6 in Atlanta slip away.

* The 1994 Sonics won 63 games, were No. 2 in offense and No. 3 in defense, had a point differential of +9.0, won their home games in the series by 24 and 10 points, and they probably feel as though they let Game 4 in Denver slip away.

* The 2008 Hawks and 1994 Nuggets, both No. 8 seeds and huge underdogs, were young teams with very little playoff experience.

Here are some things the Celtics said after last night’s loss, which forced a winner-take-all series finale:

“Our confidence is definitely not shaken. It is what it is. We have a Game 7. And it’s what it is. We’ve got to win.” -- Kevin Garnett

“We put ourselves in this situation. For one of these teams, it’s going to be their last game. Just expect anything and everything.” -- James Posey

“It’s either win or go home. We’ve just got to go out there and get the job done.” -- Rajon Rondo

“We feel good at home all the time. That’s why we fought all year to get home-court advantage. As I said after Game 5, we can’t just hang our hat on being at home.” – Coach Doc Rivers

Here are some things the 1994 Sonics said after the Game 4 loss, which forced a winner-take-all series finale:

“They’re not playing like young fellas now. They’re just going for it. They’re a young team with nothing to lose. They now have confidence in what they’re doing. They feel comfortable with the matchups they have against us.” -- Nate McMillan

“We have our work cut out for us. We knew this would be a tough five-game series. This is just the beginning of a long process. The championship is still our goal. In Game 5, if we play serious basketball, we will find the answers.” -- Coach George Karl

“We did not want a fifth game, but now we have to go get it. A fifth game is always dangerous.” -- Detlef Schrempf

“When you let a team hang around and you are struggling to shoot, anything can happen. But Game 5 is what it’s all about, and it will be on our home court. We fought all season for that. We’ll need to use every edge we can get.” -- Shawn Kemp
Heading into Game 5 in Seattle, Denver’s Bryant Stith summed up what will also be Atlanta’s key against the Celtics:

“The first quarter will be very important for us. They’re going to be playing off a lot of emotion; the crowd’s really going to be into the game. What we have to do is stay within arm’s length, and if we can do that, put ourselves in a position to win the game in the last quarter, I think we have a very good chance to win.”

Just as Stith had hoped, the Nuggets stayed close, trailing 20-19 after the first quarter and 44-41 at halftime. The Sonics ripped off the first eight points of the third quarter to go up 11, but Denver responded and closed to within 62-60 with one quarter to go.

In order to pull off an upset of this magnitude, a team has to get huge contributions, some even from unlikely sources. Denver got them, and then some.

Robert Pack, undrafted and earlier called “turnover” by Sonics assistant coach Bob Kloppenburg, led all scorers with 23 points. He made three 3-pointers after halftime; he was 6-for-29 on 3s during the entire regular season.

Brian Williams, outcast by Orlando after two disappointing seasons, came off the bench for 17 points and 19 rebounds.

After the game, Karl summed it up: “They had a lot of guys who wanted to win the game. They had a lot of guys that wanted to take shots. We were tight and holding the ball. They were loose. They made some big-time shots under a lot of pressure.”

Will the Hawks come out loose with guys wanting to take and make big-time shots? Will the Celtics turn tight and hold the ball? There were some signs of both those things down the stretch in Game 6.

Boston’s best bet is to come hard and fast, hoping to bury Atlanta. If the Hawks stay close, we could witness another monumental upset.