PHILADELPHIA -- Following practice at Temple University’s McGonigle Hall on Sunday, the Celtics were in a jovial mood. Shared laughs, jokes being tossed back and forth, and an active training staff tossing around ice packs for player’s knees, cutting away athletic tape, and doing all the little, behind-the-scenes things that they’ve done all season.
That, more than anything else, explains why they didn’t appear any different than they have before any other game. Even though we all know tonight is anything but that.
It's Boston’s first crack at closing out this second-round series against Philadelphia, something few would have envisioned a week ago today. A week ago today the Celtics were getting ready for Game 1 with just one day's rest after a grueling seven-game takedown of Milwaukee in the first round, while the 76ers -- the NBA's hottest team at the end of the regular season, who needed just five games to dispose of the Miami Heat in the first round -- had had plenty of time to rest and prepare.
And yet today we sit with the Celtics holding a 3-0 series lead, and leaving the stunned Sixers with just one goal tonight.,
“Extend the series,” Redick said. “Survive. You can't win all four at once. Our focus has to be on [Game 4] and extending the series to five games.”
Philly’s Ben Simmons added, “We’ve gotta come in [tonight] and really lock in. It's going to be hard. Boston is a great team. They've been there before. They've been in a situation where they're close to the next round. We want to get there, too. Obviously, it's going to take a lot, but we’re up for the challenge.”
It's a challenge for the Celtics, too, winning a clinching game on the road. But if they handle this the way they've handled most of the obstacles placed before them, they'll be returning home to start planning in earnest for theirnext opponent, likely to be the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“We have to prepare to play well,” said coach Brad Stevens, adding that the series could easily be 2-1 in favor of Philadelphia since Games 2 and 3 could have gone either way. “You don’t play what happened in the first three games. You play [tonight’s] game. Our guys are focused.
Stevens added: “I think we know if we don’t play with the right sense of urgency, we’ll get killed. It’s what we saw in the last series (when the C's, with a chance to clinch, were beaten soundly in Game 6). But if you do, it only gives you a chance to win. It’s hard to win one NBA game. We understand that.”
MORE ON TONIGHT'S GAME
With such a commanding lead in the series, the Celtics know their biggest enemy tonight could very well be themselves.
“We just can’t allow ourselves to get complacent,” Marcus Smart told NBC Sports Boston.
While the players do a good job of policing such matters among themselves, Smart was quick to add that Stevens and the rest of the coaching staff have done a great job of making sure all the players are locked in mentally on what they need to do in order to be successful.
“We win a game, we’re not talking about the win,” Smart said. “We’re talking about all the things we can improve as a team. When you have a coach like that and a team like that, that buys into it, that’s what keeps you hungry. That’s what keeps you from getting content and makes you a good team.”