BOSTON — The Boston Celtics are looking across town for inspiration as they attempt to become the first NBA team to rally from an 0-3 deficit to win a playoff series.
Needing to win four straight games to stay alive in the playoffs, Celtics coach Doc Rivers talked to his team about the Red Sox and their comeback against the New York Yankees in the 2004 AL championship series. Celtics guard Jason Terry invoked former Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar and said, “If we win this next game, then anything’s possible.”
“We just know every game for us is a Game 7,” Terry said after beating the New York Knicks 92-86 on Wednesday night to cut their deficit in the best-of-seven series to 3-2. “It’s all about being resilient. Do you pack up your things and go home or do you want to play another day? You got guys like Kevin (Garnett) and Paul (Pierce) who’ve been in a lot of playoff series, and everyone takes a life of its own.
“Obviously being down 3-0 … we could have folded shop,” Terry said. “Nobody in here is going to quit.”
The Red Sox comeback is legendary in Boston, and not only because it came against the hated Yankees. After losing the first three games of the series — including a 19-8, Game 3 loss at Fenway Park — Millar told anyone who would listen, “Don’t let us win today.”
As Millar predicted, Pedro Martinez pitched Game 5 and Curt Schilling won Game 6 and then, “Game 7, anything can happen.” The Red Sox beat the Yankees and went on to sweep St. Louis to win the World Series.
“We’re well aware of what happened” with the Red Sox, said Terry, who has only been with the Celtics one season. “If this happens, it’ll be very similar. I’m very familiar with what they did and the history they made. Is that a motivating factor for us? It helps, but that alone is not going to win the series for us.”
Only three times in NBA history has a team rallied from an 0-3 deficit to even force a seventh game: the Knicks did it in 1951 against the Rochester Royals, the Denver Nuggets came back against Utah in ’94 and Portland did against Dallas in 2003. All of them lost in the seventh game.
If the Celtics can win Game 6 on Friday night in Boston, the decisive seventh game in New York on Sunday. Garnett said there won’t be any consolation in just making it close
“Next game we lose, this is it,” he said. “So I don’t know what everybody is talking about getting comfortable or feeling good. It’s not like we evened it up and we’re going back home. We’re down 3-2. So I don’t know what being comfortable is about.”
The Celtics have won an NBA-record 17 titles, the last in 2008, so they don’t have nearly the baggage of the Red Sox team that was trying to end an 86-year title drought. In fact, it’s the Knicks who are struggling against history: They haven’t won a playoff series since 2000, and their last championship came in 1973.
So most of the pressure would seem to be on them.
“We didn’t get it done last night, and the mood of the team is that ‘Hey, there’s a sense of urgency,'” coach Mike Woodson said. “It’s not going to be easy by any means going to Boston and getting a win there, but again, we still control our own destiny. We have won in Boston, so we’ve got to see what we’re made of now.”