Some might say it is an overstatement to label a Game Three on the home court of a team that is leading in the series 2-0 as a “must win”.
Most times, they would be right.
But right now, in this series, in these playoffs, and for these Boston Celtics, Game Three is exactly that.
Here are some numbers why.
768: The number of minutes played by Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen over the last five games.
34, 34, 32: The ages of Allen, Garnett, and Pierce, respectively.
8: The total number of minutes Rondo has sat on the bench in four of the last five games (discounting the blowout win in Cleveland in Game Five).
3: The total number of field goals made by Pierce, Allen, and Garnett in the fourth quarters of Games One and Two against Orlando.
24: Boston has outscored the Magic in Games One and Two by 24 points over the first three quarters combined.
17: Orlando has outscored the Celtics in Games One and Two by 17 points in the fourth quarters combined.
16.5: The average margin of victory by the Los Angeles Lakers thus far in their conference finals series against the Phoenix Suns, meaning that chances are L.A. will be moving on, and they will do so after what may turn out to be not a particularly taxing series.
Starting to make some sense? The Celtics are playing great basketball, having won five consecutive playoff games and leading the Magic 2-0.
But, they have also had trouble holding on to double-digit leads in the fourth quarters of both Games One and Two. That is not exactly a new problem for this Celtics team, but I believe part of the problem could be a new development: fatigue.
In order for Boston to have flipped the switch in the playoffs, Doc Rivers has shortened his rotation and is leaning heavily on the Big Three and Rondo. The results have been great so far, but my fear is that all the playing time is starting to wear down those four players, in particular the three in their 30s.
Come fourth quarter time of the first two games of this series, it has not been the usual suspects making shots. Pierce has not made a field goal in the fourth quarter of either game, Garnett has just one, and Allen two.
Glen Davis, on the other hand, has three.
Even the young Rondo, who appears to have endless energy, has shown signs of wearing down during games. Likely due to his youth, a timeout may allow him to quickly refuel, but nevertheless, all of the minutes have to take a toll on him.
Rondo is averaging over 42 minutes a game in the postseason and over 44 minutes during the last five games. Pierce and Allen are both routinely playing over 40 minutes a game in the playoffs, and Garnett is not far behind.
There was a sequence in the fourth quarter of Game Two, where the Celtics had several turnovers, allowed a few offensive rebounds, and could not get to a couple of loose balls. From re-watching the game, each time one of those things happened, I thought it looked like any Celtic player involved was a step slow.
All of this makes Game Three so important. Instead of Game Three being played Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, Game 3 is scheduled for Saturday. The extra rest, and the home crowd, should allow Boston to shake off any sense of wear and tear that might have been setting in after going through six games in 12 days.
If Boston can take advantage of the rest, win the game, and take a 3-0 series lead, their chances to not only win the series, but do so in the least amount of games, obviously increases dramatically.
Winning is so important, not because a loss will mean that the Magic will definitely come back and win the series, though that is possible. But at the very least, a loss will likely mean that this series is going to be an extended one.
The Celtics do not need that.
Also, this is not about getting ahead of myself or being cocky. It is about what will put the Celtics in the best chance to first win the series against the Magic and then, if they move on, win a championship.
For a team with a short bench, no backup point guard, and three starters in their 30s, the longer this series goes, the better chances the Magic have to win.
Then, even if Boston was to survive a six or seven game series against the Magic, I believe the Celtics chances of knocking off a Lakers team in the Finals, will be diminished, especially against a L.A. team that will likely be rested.
The goal for any Celtics team is to win the championship. That is a scenario that just two weeks ago did not appear very likely. A lot has changed since then.
But if the Celtics want to keep everything moving in a positive direction, and continue to increase the odds of banner number 18 being raised to the rafters, their best course of action will be to treat Game Three on Saturday night like it was a Game Seven.
I know I will be.