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On Brink Of Sweep, Celtics Only Focused On Finishing 76ers

By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- The Celtics will look to break out the brooms on Monday night, and it has nothing to do with any premature confetti in Philadelphia.

Boston looks to complete a four-game sweep of the 76ers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, a spot very few thought they'd be in when the series tipped off a week ago. But after a Game 1 blowout, an epic comeback in Game 2, and an exciting overtime win in enemy territory in Game 3, the Celtics are one win away from heading to the Eastern Conference Finals for a second straight season.

"That would be a Cinderella story for us," said Celtics guard Marcus Smart. "But we're not focused on that."

Even if it means the first Celtics team to go to back-to-back conference finals in 30 years?

"Obviously it would be a big, big, big deal, obviously with the history and just that we're doing this with all young guys and minimal experience in the playoffs and without, what people say, are our two best players. But right now we're focused on Philly and the next game," Smart continued.

"We gotta finish the drill," added second-year guard Jaylen Brown. "I'm not one that was ever taught to play with our food, so when it comes down to it, we gotta finish it. It's first to four, so we gotta take care of business."

Those statements fit in perfectly with the "we not me" Celtics. The opening night loss of Gordon Hayward followed by Kyrie Irving late in the regular season would have sunk most teams, but Boston is on the brink of the NBA's final four because of their team-first attitude. No one player is bigger than the other, and they all follow the lead of their level-headed general in head coach Brad Stevens. His demeanor keeps the team on an even keel whether they're down by 20, looking to pull off an overtime win, or on the verge of something no one thought was possible. Players trust his overall game plan and have faith in everything he draws up on the white board, as we've seen throughout the series. The Celtics have let Philadelphia big man Joel Embiid do just about anything he wants, keeping the other 76ers at bay. Embiid has lived up to his end of the bargain by posting some monster numbers over the first three games, and posterizing Aron Baynes on several occasions, but he's had very little support elsewhere thanks to Boston's suffocating defensive plan. The Celtics and Baynes don't mind those big games from Embiid; they just care about the final score.

While the Celtics have conquered just about every challenge they've faced this season, their toughest test is in front of them on Monday night: Closing out an opponent on the road. They were unable to do so last round against the Bucks when they went to Milwaukee for Game 6, setting up a winner-takes-all Game 7 in Boston. The stakes aren't as high on Monday night thanks to their comfortable 3-0 series lead, but they know the 76ers are going to play like a team whose season is on the line, and they'll need to match that intensity right from the jump.

"You don't play what happened in the first three games. You play [tonight's] game. Our guys are focused," Stevens said of Monday night's Game 4. "I think we know if we don't play with the right sense of urgency, we'll get killed. It's what we saw in the last series. But if you do, it only gives you a chance to win. It's hard to win one NBA game. We understand that."

For the Celtics, their best plan of attack is to stick with what's worked. Let Embiid do his thing while making life difficult for Ben Simmons to facilitate. Keep Philadelphia sharpshooters J.J. Redick, Robert Covington and Marco Belinelli from heating up. And whatever they're feeding Jayson Tatum (24.5 points per game this series), Terry Rozier (19 ppg, 6.5 assists per game this postseason) and Brown, well keep those meals coming. That young trio has led the way, along with the leadership from veterans Al Horford (Saturday night's hero) and Smart (the longest-tenured Celtic at a whopping four seasons), plus some tough-nosed play by Philly native Marcus Morris.

This undermanned squad will eventually hit their ceiling. At least we think they will. They've squared up with every trial over the last sevens months and won just about all of them. Another daunting task awaits in their near-future, likely another Conference Finals matchup with LeBron James, who is playing out of his mind this postseason. But those future plans only exist for Boston because of their willingness to keep their cross hairs on the present. Monday night will be no different.

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