NEW YORK — In the Kevin Garnett  era, the Celtics  have won eight playoff series and lost only two, but they have had a strange inability to close out series, especially on the road. The Celtics are 8-11 in elimination games and 1-9 on the road in those situations.
The one win came against Detroit in Game 6 of the 2008 Eastern Conference finals and was hailed at the time as a breakthrough for a team that was still learning how to play with each other in the playoffs. That 1-9 record has cost them twice. In 2009 they lost Game 6 in Orlando and then were knocked out on the TD Garden floor in Game 7. Last season the Celtics had two chances to beat the Lakers in Los Angeles and lost them both.
They have a chance to take care of the Knicks on Sunday and the odds are in their favor, considering point guard Chauncey Billups  is not likely to play and Amar’e Stoudemire is having problems with his back.
But it’s never easy. Take last season’s first round matchup against Miami. The Celtics won a dramatic Game 3 on Paul Pierce ‘s last-second game-winner and the talk in South Florida was about how the Heat didn’t want to get back on a plane and take their beating in Game 5 back in Boston. Instead, they rallied from a 77-71 deficit in the fourth quarter and rode Dwyane Wade ‘s incredible shooting back to Boston.
“Close-out games are difficult because it’s the one game where you tend to let your guard down,” Kevin Garnett said. “[They] make you tend to relax versus remembering the things that got you there and how you put yourself in a position to close out.”
One would think that a veteran team like the Celtics would have an advantage in these situations because of their experience, but their record shows otherwise. Either way the Celtics are confident in their approach.
“It’s not difficult for me by any means,” Ray Allen  said. “I don’t look it as a close-out game. I just look at it as another game we have to play and another game we have to win. Last night we didn’t win anything. We just have to go out and do our jobs and that’s how I look at it.”
One area they want to carryover from Game 3 is their execution offensively. Obviously Pierce and Allen aren’t going to make 25 of 37 shots again, but the shots were just the end result of an offensive that functioned better than it has in months.
“I attribute that to the bigs being in good position and setting great screens and [Rajon] Rondo  playing with great speed,” Allen said. “If my guy has to shift just a little bit the one way and I go the other way then he’s beat already. All those little small things help.”
Still, they pointed to their 20 turnovers and the fact that they were so perimeter oriented.
“We made shots and we’re all really smart when we make shots,” Doc Rivers  said. “Paul and Ray were 14-for-18 from the 3, if they had been 3-for-18 from the 3, you would have been saying, ‘Doc why didn’t you post the ball up more.’”
SHAQ UPDATE: The Celtics didn’t have a full practice on Saturday and there was no opportunity to see if Shaquille O’Neal  was ready to play, so he was ruled out of Game 4. Rivers insisted that they are not holding him out for any strategic purposes because of their 3-0 lead.
“He didn’t feel great, so I’m not taking a chance,” Rivers said. “I’d still like to use him. If he could play I’d play him because I think it would be good for him. The minute he can play he’ll be on the floor.”
THE RAY AND PAUL SHOW: After Game 3, Pierce noted that he was enjoying watching Allen light it up from the outside. Allen had the same reaction.
“I just kept seeing Paul make shots, I was like man, Paul is hot right now, keep giving him the ball,” Allen said. “I felt like I was in the meantime, keep giving Paul the ball.”
Allen was asked if this game was the antidote to all their offensive problems over the last month and a half. “I didn’t question it,” he said. “I know what we need to do and we’ve always known that. It’s just going out and doing it.”