By Gethin Coolbaugh
After three rounds of exceeding expectations and tremendous play, it looks like the past is finally catching up to the Celtics.
Boston shocked the basketball world when it rattled off three straight wins to eliminate the Cleveland Cavaliers in five games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
And of course, there was the Celtics surprising performance in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Celtics jumped out to a 3-0 series lead over the Magic before dropping two straight games. Boston would ultimately take care of the Magic in Game 6 at TD Garden, setting the state for a Celtics-Lakers rematch in the NBA Finals.
But something new is happening to the Celtics now that they’ve reached the NBA’s highest stage.
Well, actually, something old.
After shocking the league with their excellent play in the playoffs, the Celtics have finally been hit with the same reality that they were hit with in the regular season.
Like it or not, this roster is full of aging talent that is starting to show its age at the worst time possible.
The Celtics stumbled through the second half of the season, making limited efforts to beat the likes of the Nets and the Bucks.
And after they came clean and said that they were essentially dogging it through the regular season, Celtics fans took acceptance without even thinking twice.
At the time, it seemed too good to be true, but it was unfolding right in front of us.
But now, it seems that it was too good to be true.
Even though the Celtics saved their best for the playoffs, two hard fought series against two of the NBA’s elite teams are finally starting to take their toll on the 15 men in green and white.
Lest we forget, the Celtics are facing their toughest opponent yet in the Los Angeles Lakers.
The rejuvenated Celtics that peered out from their season-long slumber are starting to retreat again.
If you’re looking for specific examples, the final minute of Game 3 is the perfect example of Boston’s return to its old ways.
Remember that play where Derek Fisher blew past three Boston defenders with around 50 seconds remaining? Boston appeared as if it had flat-out given up when they were within single digits in a critical moment of a chapionship game.
That was the play that defined the Celtics in the game, and potentially the series if they can’t salvage their efforts in Game 4.
Plays like that bring back memories of Boston’s roller-coaster regular season in which it didn’t fight hard night in and night out.
That mentality may work for the regular season, and maybe even in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but it is absolutely unacceptable in a situation where there are limited chances to win an NBA title.
It’s truly shocking that we’ve been brought to question the heart and intensity of the Boston Celtics.
The same team that introduced the Boston market to Ubuntu and a roster of selfless superstars is now deciding to take plays off in critical moments.
That’s what makes tonight’s Game 4 at TD Garden (9 p.m., TV/Radio: ABC, TSN/WEEI) an essential must-win game for the Celtics.
If Boston wants to continue to be considered as a contender in this series, it all starts tonight.
Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen will all need a find a way to break free from the Lakers strong defense and have a standout game. At least, two of the three needs to do so on the offensive end.
Optimally, the Celtics need to find a way for all three to be working harmoniously.
If Pierce focuses on getting to the basket and drawing fouls, like he did so well in the first half of his career, and if Ray Allen finds his stroke from the perimeter, Boston will have a sound offensive attack.
As for Garnett, his job is to draw defenders in the post to open up Pierce and Allen. But to do so, he’ll have to prove early on that he is going to be a serious threat in the paint.
Rajon Rondo’s job remains the same: get the ball to the Big Three, or more importantly, the open man. His ability to slash to the basket is an added bonus, but he should not be the main offensive threat.
If Rondo is forced to be the first option in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, the Celtics are in trouble. For once, Boston just needs Rondo to play his position, which involves nothing more than fundamental passing and solid defense.
Should the Celtics fail to put any of these strategies into action, they will most likely be looking at a 3-1 series hole entering Game 5.
If the series reaches that point, it’s a safe bet that the Celtics won’t be bringing home banner number 18.
Gethin Coolbaugh is the Associate Editor of Boston Sports U18. He can be reached at 774-279-1995 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit Gethin Coolbaugh’s official website and follow Gethin Coolbaugh on Twitter.