There was much ado about home court advantage in the 2010 playoffs as the regular season winded down and the Celtics sat in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Turns out it was much ado about nothing.
The Celtics have won five games on the road thus far this postseason; a far cry from the 2008 postseason when they failed to win their first road game until Game 3 of the ECF against the Pistons, and finished with only three road wins.
Luckily for the Celtics that postseason, they had home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. They could afford to lose games on the road, knowing they'd have the last laugh in Boston if it came down to it (which it did on more than one occasion). This was not the case this year, and maybe it has something to do with their improvement on the road, or maybe it doesn't.
The truth is, some teams are just built for the road while others aren't. While there was no doubt that the Celtics were an amazing team during the 2008 season, they may not have been mentally prepared to go on the road and win in hostile situations like the ones the postseason presents. Two years later, that isn't the case. They've been there, done that. And they now collectively have the experience to bring success with them on the road.
"We were still young in 08," said Ray Allen. "We weren't really great winning on the road ... we weren't comfortable; we were still trying to figure it out. (Rajon) Rondo had never been in the playoffs before, so you know, it was like we were just carrying everybody along with us like, ‘ok this is what's going to happen this is what's going to go down' ... I think Rondo has grown tremendously and definitely (Kendrick) Perkins."
The butterflies are now gone, at least to the extent they were there the last time. Obviously, Rondo has had a breakout postseason, and Perkins, technical fouls aside, has grown to become one of the best low-post defenders in the league. Doc Rivers and Paul Pierce are quick to echo Allen's statements in that a now older Celtics team can handle the road better than in the past.
"Rondo, Perk- it's no big deal to them anymore," Rivers said.
"We have the focus, we have veterans, and I think when you play on the road that's what you've got to have," said Pierce. "Most young teams get intimidated by the road and that's why they can't win. But you have a team that's very confident, very poised and has all the characteristics that you need to win on the road. (We've) got the toughness. That's what you're going to need."
Perhaps lost in translation of two seasons ago was the fact that Rondo and Perkins were still young and inexperienced by the time the playoffs rolled around. Neither had played in games of that magnitude. Now, they know what to expect, and know what it takes to win on the road. But it isn't just them, The Big Three, along with Rasheed Wallace, have been in the league much longer, and have grown accustomed to winning big games on the road throughout their careers.
"Kevin and Paul and Ray and Rasheed, they're deaf- so they can't hear because they're so old," Rivers joked with the media before the team headed out to Los Angeles. "But really, I don't know why we're good on the road; I just know they have good composure. They don't get raddled by the crowd noise and I think they actually enjoy some of that, so we are a different group in that way."
Ah yes, the old "us against the world" train of thought seems to be exactly what makes this team tick. Not only are they beating teams on the road, they're playing better on the road than they do at home. They give up an average of 91.4 points on the road and at home, but they average 98.5 points on the road, compared to 95 points at home. The point differential on the road is +7.1, by far the best in the postseason (Lakers sit at +1.8 on road).
"The road mentality was that we are all we got," said Glen Davis. "When we come together and play the way we know how to play we feel like we can beat anybody ... You go in there and you know nobody is on your side. You might see a couple green jerseys in the stands, but other than that we're all we got on the road."
"It's a different kind of feeling but for sure," Ray Allen said, "you're in a euphoric state because you just won and the same people who were booing you and telling you that you suck, you know, it's like they're eating crow by the time the game is over."
Glen Davis admits what most of us thought was the case throughout the regular season. For some reason, the Celtics would come home and not play with the same sense of tenacity that fans saw on the road. It was frustrating to watch, and even made some fans give up on this team at times throughout the season. But when the regular season ended and the postseason began, something clicked.
"Sometimes in a sense when you come home, you have a different sense of relax," Davis said. "It's like when you go home you kick your shoes off, and you cock your feet up and turn the big screen on. And that's like what we're doing on and off. I think something, like the postseason, helped us snap out of it- knowing the fact that we have to win these games at home. We can't give up these games, we have to win games at home. We have to. That sense of urgency came in the postseason and something that we were missing the whole year."
The Celtics will now travel to Los Angeles where they will play the first two games of the seven-game series. The Celtics took Games 1 and 2 of the Orlando Series, marking the first time in franchise history that they've taken Games 1 and 2 from the opponent on the road.
"This has been the toughest road in the Playoffs that I've ever played in, just knowing that I had to go on the road all these series, then one more series on the road," said Pierce. "So it really shows a lot about this team. The mental toughness that it's taken to do what we're doing."
Thursday night's special at the Staples Center: Crow.