BOSTON — Amnesia got the Celtics into trouble last night and amnesia will have to get them out of it.
Paul Pierce forgot that it was team basketball which got the Celtics to the brink of a sweep of the Orlando Magic and a spot in the NBA finals. He reverted to the pre-Big 3 days and shot, shot and shot some more.
The trigger-happy Pierce (11 of 25 shooting, 5 of 17 after the first half) killed the C's ball movement and the Green lost to the gritty Orlando Magic 96-92 in OT.
Boston leads the Eastern Conference final series 3-1 and will try to close it out tomorrow (8:30 p.m., ESPN) in Orlando.
The lack of ball movement gave the Magic life. To wipe out the newfound bounce in their step, the C's will have to forget about this one and play like they had been.
When asked if Boston was moving the ball crisply, Celtic swingman Michael Finley said, "Not at the end. We got a little stagnant. We got away from the game plan as far as sharing the ball.''
With Rajon Rondo reportedly a bit sub-par from either fatigue or a back spasm and at least playing sub-par (9 points, 8 assists), and Kevin Garnett seemingly playing scared (he passed up two wide-open shots in OT then fired the ball into Gucci row), maybe Pierce felt he was the only option.
But it looked like the bad old days of Pierce and Antoine Walker and three other guys afraid and/or unable to shoot.
Pierce missed a late shot then had a killer turnover in the final seconds of regulation. It got only worse in OT. He was 0 for 4 in the extra session including 0 for 3 from behind the arc.
Ray Allen hit two monster threes in OT, but Jameer Nelson matched him with two threes (one a banker!) and a Dwight Howard (32 points, 16 rebounds, 4 blocks) putback with 53 seconds left sealed it.
"I thought we really pressed too much,'' said Pierce, who played a game-high 46:39 of a possible 53 minutes. "Each of us wanted to do it. We weren't doing the things that got us the 3-0 lead.''
While the Celtics are still very much in control, Orlando picked itself up from the Game 3 bludgeoning. There was every indication that they'd mail it in, but Howard, Nelson and Co. apparently aren't giving up without a fight.
No NBA team has ever blown a 3-0 series lead, but as Bruins and Red Sox fans know, it can happen.
"Now you're going home with some confidence,'' said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, whose all-black wardrobe didn't seem quite so appropriate after all. "At some point, somebody is going to come from 3-0 down and
win a series. The only thing I knew for sure was it would start by winning Game 4.''
Celtic forward Glen Davis said, "They don't want to leave. We're going to have to throw them out."
That won't be quite as easy with their confidence bolstered and the Amway Arena crowd behind them.
But if the Celtics play their game (the New Big 3-era game, not the Pierce-Walker game), they are confident they can end it in five.
E-mail Michael Muldoon at email@example.com
MAGIC 96, CELTICS 92 (OT)
Not what Doc ordered: "It was amazing how bad we were execution-wise and still had a chance to win,'' said Doc Rivers.
Heroic Howard: Dwight Howard went for 32 points (13-19 shooting), 16 rebounds, 4 blocks.
Doughnut: The C's struggled in the middle with Kendrick Perkins scoring 3 points in 27 minutes and Orlando rarely paying any attention to him.
Mighty mites: 6-0 Jameer Nelson (23 points, 9 assists, 2 huge 3s in OT) got the best of Rajon Rondo.
Up next: Game 5 tomorrow (8:30 p.m.) in Orlando