Home woes need to end for Celtics to advance
AP Sports Writer
WALTHAM, Mass. (AP) – The original Boston Garden is long gone, and so is the fear in opponents’ eyes when they play the Celtics on their home floor.
So don’t expect the Orlando Magic to be too intimidated when they arrive for Games 3 and 4 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.
“We’ve won there before, and there’s no reason we can’t do it again,” forward Rashard Lewis said Friday as the Magic prepared for Game 3. “Boston came to us and beat us twice on our home court, so it’s happened before. Why can’t we do it? Why can’t it happen again?”
The Celtics took the first two games in Orlando, stealing the home-court advantage and earning a chance to advance without having to leave town again. A victory at the new Boston Garden on Saturday night would give them a chance to complete the sweep on Monday.
But home-court advantage doesn’t mean what it used to for Boston.
The Celtics were 24-17 at home this year – tied for the worst of all the playoff teams. It’s the first time the Celtics have had a better record on the road (26-15) than at home since 1974, and just the second time since 1955. Boston was one of just two NBA teams this season that was better on the road than at home.
For coach Doc Rivers, it’s more reason to forget about a regular season in which, after beating Orlando on Christmas Day to improve to 23-5, the Celtics spent the next four months as a .500 team.
“During the season,” he said before interrupting himself. “I don’t want to go back to that. I will go back to pre-Christmas.”
Forward Paul Pierce would also like to forget the regular season, and the Celtics’ playoff run is making that easier.
After earning the No. 4 seed in the East and quickly dispatching the Miami Heat in the first round, Boston eliminated LeBron James and the top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference semis. Against second-seeded Orlando, the Celtics have twice opened big leads and held on to take a 2-0 advantage.
Now they’re back home, where the Celtics are 5-1 so far in the playoffs.
“I think our guys are getting comfortable playing at home again,” Rivers said.
It doesn’t hurt that they’re playing better defense than they did during the long regular season, when the 2008 champions seemed uninterested. Veteran Rasheed Wallace has become a contributor off the bench. Point guard Rajon Rondo is blossoming into a star at both ends. And Kevin Garnett, who missed last year’s playoffs because of a knee injury, seems to be responding to his restful regular season with the strong play that was a key to the team’s 17th NBA title.
To Pierce, that’s a sign that the regular-season struggles at home don’t mean much any more.
“Yesterday already happened and tomorrow’s going to come,” he said. “We’ve turned a lot of things around, so hopefully it can continue in the playoffs.”
Orlando was one of two teams – Atlanta was the other – to win twice in Boston this year. The Magic also remember coming to town in last year’s playoffs, when they beat Boston twice – including the Celtics’ first-ever loss at home in a seventh game – to advance to the conference finals.
“Last year, Boston never lost a Game 7 on their home floor. We went in and beat them,” Lewis said. “It can happen.”
This year’s problem: The Celtics have never blown a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven series, and the Magic have never come back after losing the first two games.
“Those are daunting numbers, and I think those numbers are maybe good for gamblers and oddsmakers,” Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. “But they don’t really mean anything to you. Unless it affects your game plan and how you’re going to play, what do you do with that? What is the implication in terms of how we would play? The answer is: nothing.”
And it’s not like there haven’t been bigger comebacks.
In the very same building.
Just last week.
The NHL’s Boston Bruins led Philadelphia 3-0 in their best-of-seven series before the Flyers came back to force a seventh game. Once there, they overcame a three-goal deficit to win 4-3 and advance to the Stanley Cup semifinals.
“Those guys on the Flyers were counted out and look what they did,” said Magic guard Jameer Nelson, who’s from the Philadelphia suburbs and went to Saint Joseph’s. “The Flyers believed in themselves and we believe, too. You’ve got to believe.”
Associated Press writer Antonio Gonzalez in Orlando, Fla., contributed to this report.