WALTHAM, Mass. (AP)—Things are already so different for the Indiana Pacers this postseason.
After three consecutive first-round playoff exits, the Pacers have a 3-0 lead over the Boston Celtics with a chance to complete the sweep on Sunday. Still, the Pacers know it’s not yet time to celebrate—or even think about moving on.
“We need another win,” forward Jermaine O’Neal said after an off-day practice on Saturday. “Being up 3-0 is a big thing for us, but nobody spoke about it after the game. We understand why we’re here, and that’s to win four games.
“Maybe after tomorrow’s game we can sit around and talk about it. But the series is still going, and we still have one more game to win.”
The Pacers put themselves in position to sweep Boston with a 108-85 victory on Friday night, getting 19 points apiece from substitutes Al Harrington and Jonathan Bender. It was the worst playoff loss in Celtics history, a span of 261 postseason games since 1948.
A victory in Game 4 would give the Pacers their first postseason series victory since they reached the 2000 NBA Finals.
“We know we’re close to reaching one of our goals for the season, but the hardest thing is to close out a series,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “I think our team understands that, especially having been through it the last three years.”
Desperation is a familiar position for Boston, which went into the final week of the regular season before securing the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. They made it despite a record that was 10 games under .500, a coaching change and a series of trades that overhauled the roster.
“We’ve just got to go out there like a crazed bunch of dogs and find a way to win,” Celtics star Paul Pierce said.
The game could be the last for interim Celtics coach John Carroll, who took over when Jim O’Brien resigned on Jan. 27 over philosophical differences. If the Celtics lose on Sunday, he is expected to be let go on Monday so Danny Ainge can begin searching for a new coach.
Ainge, the former Boston star who is now the team’s basketball boss, isn’t waiting until the season is over to start building next year’s team. He chose not to attend Game 3, instead taking a trip to Europe to scout for next month’s NBA draft.
Carroll said he didn’t feel like his boss had already given up on this year’s team.
“I understand there’s a draft coming up, and there’s a lot of things going on besides these particular games,” Carroll said. “Our team obviously isn’t where it needs to be in terms of our depth and our talent. If Danny being in Europe can help our team get better, that’s a judgment he has to make and he did make.”
Carroll vowed to try something different for Game 4 and hinted that it might be a zone defense. He noted that, on Friday night, the Celtics went to a zone and cut the deficit from 20 points to 13.
“You try to make adjustments, but at some point in time you say, ‘I’m going to go with the guys, and do the things, I believe in,”’ he said. “If that’s not good enough, that’s not good enough.”