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To survive, or to grow

05.10.09 at 7:58 pm ET
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Stephon Marbury sat by himself in the Celtics locker room. At the other end of the room Rajon Rondo was seated in front of the TV watching film of Game 3. Between Marbury and Rondo was about 50 feet of stony silence. There was no time for idle chitchat in the hours before Game 4, and the mood was deadly serious, even for a locker room that is not exactly known for being a barrel of laughs.

During his pregame press conference Doc Rivers was short and to the point. Any defensive adjustments? “We have to stay in front of them,” Rivers said, not that he would have given away the gameplan in any event.

Across the way, Stan Van Gundy was waxing philosophical about the position his team finds itself in. It’s no secret that the Magic have developed a bad reputation for not handling success all that well. With his team just hours away from possibly taking a commanding 3-1 lead in its own building, Van Gundy addressed it.

“I don’t think confidence is, or ever will be, a problem at any point,” he said. “No matter what happens. being able to keep our composure when things get tough. That’s where we keep gaining a playoff maturity. As you go along every win gets tougher and tougher. You’ve got two wins in the second round against the defending champs. That’s great. The third one will be harder and the fourth one will be the hardest of all to get. We have to understand that.”

Van Gundy stopped for a second and continued, “I’ll be interested to see our approach tonight. We have been at our best, as I think Boston has, when things don’t look as good. At some point if you want to grab control of a series, you have to do it in back to back games.”

This is a crucial test for the Magic. Are they mature enough, grown up enough even to handle success? That’s the key question and from Van Gundy’s answer it seems that he’s not even sure about it himself. Across the way Rivers was asked about having a veteran team, but he didn’t agree with the assessment.

“I don’t know if this is considered a veteran team,” Rivers said. “Last year was a veteran team with Kevin (Garnett) playing and (James) Posey and PJ Brown. last year they just knew where to be. You kind of knew who you were going to be every night. Not that you knew that you would play well every night, but you knew what they were going to give you every night.”

And so for the Celtics this too is a crucial test. Can they rally themselves one more time and win a game on the road that while not technically a “must win” is as close as you can get to that distinction. Throughout the playoffs last year, and even the Bulls series, there has not been a point when the Celtics had to go into someone else’s building and win a game.

Those are the stakes as Game 4 tips off.

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