Celtics

Finishing off the Hawks won't be easy for Celts

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Finishing off the Hawks won't be easy for Celts

BOSTON The Boston-Atlanta playoff series is over.

The Hawks are done.

Doc Rivers understands how easily this mindset can be adopted -- at least outside of his locker room -- following the Boston Celtics' 101-79 romp of the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday in a game that gave the C's a 3-1 edge in the best-of-seven series.

But as slim as Atlanta's chances are at a comeback in the series, closing out the Hawks -- at home or at Atlanta's Philips Arena on Tuesday -- won't be easy for the Celtics.

"You better believe that we're coming," said Hawks center Al Horford, who made his playoff debut this year on Sunday in scoring 12 points to go with five rebounds. "We're bringing it at home. We're looking forward to it."

Only eight teams in NBA history have led a playoff series three games to one, and failed to move on to the next round. The last team to do so was Phoenix, which rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in 2006.

One of those eight teams was coached by Rivers, whose Orlando Magic squad in 2003 -- led by current Atlanta forward Tracy McGrady -- had a 3-1 series lead over Detroit and wound up losing the final three games and the series.

So as much as the Celtics relish the opportunity to close out the Hawks on Tuesday, Rivers and his players speak more about the need to have a great sense of urgency on the C's part heading into Game 5 which is expected to be the toughest game of the series thus far.

"You don't want to give a team any confidence," said Celtics forward Paul Pierce. "You got to go down to Atlanta with the right mindset. You don't want to bring it back to Boston because anything could happen. The NBA is a weird league; one game could give a team confidence."

Said Rivers: "You've got to take them one at a time."

Rivers saw first-hand how going away from that, can blow up in your face.

After that 2003 Orlando team beat Detroit in Game 4 to take a commanding 3-1 series lead, McGrady started talking about what it would be like playing in the second round shortly after the Game 4 victory.

Word quickly got back to the Pistons, who used it as a rallying cry of sorts that was part of their surge towards advancing in that series and ultimately moving on to the Eastern Conference finals.

These Boston Celtics are a veteran, battle-tested group that understands as well as anybody, the power of words and how they can quickly be transformed into motivation.

"We definitely want to try and finish the series out in Atlanta," said C's guard Rajon Rondo. "We don't want to come back here and play because obviously we need our rest. It's gonna be a good fight. But at the end of the day we want to try and get a win."

And while Rondo is always confident that the C's can emerge victorious, he by no means is taking a Boston win in Game 5 as a given.

"They are NBA players so there is a chance we could lose Game 5," Rondo admitted. "But it's not in our mind. We're gonna go down there and try to take care of business. If we do play the right way like we did (in Game 4), I think we have a great chance of winning the game."

Approaching Game 5 as nothing more than another chance to win, has to be the Celtics' approach going in.

As Rivers can attest, anything deviating from that has the potential for a horrific slump of the likes that this proud franchise has never experienced.

"Go out and play your best, and if you win it, then you move on," Rivers said. "But never look at the finish line; never even talk about the finish line. You talk about the next game, and just playing well."

WATCH: Celtics vs. Heat

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Heat

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Heat in Miami. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: Will Celtics be drained by emotional comeback win Monday in Dallas?

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

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Celtics-Heat preview: Will Celts be drained by emotional win in Dallas?

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Celtics-Heat preview: Will Celts be drained by emotional win in Dallas?

The Boston Celtics remain a team whose collective talents are far more valuable than their individual abilities.

But there are going to be nights when someone has to shoulder a larger burden of the team in order to win. More often than not, that “one” will likely be No. 11, Kyrie Irving. 

We saw in Dallas what can happen when Irving feels he has little choice but to put the team on his back and carry them to victory. 

The Celtics were desperate for a spark against the Mavericks and found it in Irving, who scored 47 points in leading the Celtics to a come-from-behind 110-102 overtime win. 

It remains to be seen if the Celtics will require a similar Herculean effort tonight when they take the Miami Heat with a chance to extend their winning streak to 17 straight. 

This team isn’t one to dwell on success in the past, even if the past was just 24 hours ago. But there’s no getting around how what happened on Monday night might impact what we see against the Heat. 

Boston expended a tremendous amount of energy in rallying from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter at Dallas, the kind of effort that may be difficult to replicate against a Miami team that you can count on to play hard from the opening tip to the final horn. 

Irving’s performance was one of the rare instances this season when Boston clearly could not have won without their top scorer having a big game. 

“When we needed it most, he made big shot after big shot,” said Al Horford. “He had such good rhythm, I was thinking, ‘just let him keep it going.’ He just kept being aggressive, taking really good shots. He recognized he needed to be extra aggressive, especially at the end and score the ball for us.”

Scoring could potentially be at a premium against Miami which allows 102.5 points per game which ranks ninth in the league in fewest points allowed. Also, the Heat will test Boston’s perimeter defenders. Miami comes into tonight’s game averaging 11.1 made 3-pointers per game which ranks ninth in the NBA. 

The Heat are led by Goran Dragic who is averaging team highs in scoring (18.3 points) and assists (4.7) this season. 

These two squared off earlier this season in Miami with the Celtics coming away with a 96-90 win as Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum led the way with 24 and 20 points, respectively. In that game, the Heat were without starting center Hassan Whiteside, who will be in the lineup tonight as the Heat try to bounce back after losing three of its last four games.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE