Friday's NBA: Celtics hope to put road struggles aside
Waltham, Mass. — Home-court advantage has proven to be a valuable commodity for the Celtics so far this postseason.
Boston is 9-0 at TD Garden during these playoffs and has blistered opponents early in games, shooting 47 percent from the field and 39 percent from the 3-point line. It’s often led to cushions that have helped the Celtics sustain opponents’ runs in the second half.
But after boasting the third-best road record in the NBA during the regular season, the Celtics have looked like a totally different team since the postseason began. They are just 1-4 away from their building and seen their shooting numbers dip to 41 percent overall and 31 percent from beyond the arc.
That can’t persist if Boston is going to have success as the series shifts to Cleveland on Saturday.
Marcus Smart, who was all over the court in the Celtics’ Game 2 win, didn’t take any offense to Cavs coach Tyronn Lue’s comment that the Celtics have “shown they haven’t played that well on the road.”
“We haven’t played well. We know that and understand that,” Smart said. “We understand that other teams see that and try to exploit it. But that’s the beauty about this game. It just takes one game. You never know. Things change. Our confidence is high. Who knows?”
Coach Brad Stevens said he thought the entire team seemed a little “shell-shocked” at Milwaukee in the first round, when after taking a 2-0 series lead, was promptly blown out 116-92 in Game 3. It lost all three road games in that series.
“We took a punch in the mouth right when guys came out and they surprised us a little bit,” Smart said. “We can’t afford to be surprised this time around. … We’re just trying to make it as hard as we can on those guys for them to win a game and for us to execute whatever plan Brad has for us.”
That will be easier said than done against a Cavaliers team that got 42 points and near triple-double by LeBron James in Tuesday’s loss.
Pressure will certainly be on the Cavs, but they have history on their side. James has won at least one playoff road game in 31 of his last 32 playoff series. To have a chance to make it 32 out of 33, Cleveland would need to win one of the next two games at home to force a Game 5.
That’s not out of their reach by any means.
Stevens isn’t sure Cleveland has yet to play up to its full potential.
“I don’t know if that was their best,” he said. “We’ve all seen them play at an elite level for a long time. … At the end of the day they’ve got a lot of guys that have been there, done that. And we’re expecting that every game we’re going to have to play better to have a chance to win.”
One of the reasons that the Celtics have had success against the Cavs so far is their willingness to challenge James defensively.
Jaylen Brown has been one of several players tasked with guarding James. He also drew that duty at times in last year’s conference finals. He said he is no longer intimidated by the matchup.
“And why should I? Brown said. “The stage is set for all of us to do something spectacular. LeBron has been to the finals (seven) straight times. He’s a great player. But we want to win and we want to beat a team that does win and get to the finals.
“We got a bunch of young guys trying to make names for themselves in this league. Why not come out and play hard? Everybody says we’re playing with house money anyway. So why not come out with the energy level that we need and try to do something special?”
Boston leads 2-0
Game 1: Boston 108, Cleveland 83
Game 2: Boston 107, Cleveland 94
Saturday: Boston at Cleveland, 8:30
Monday: Boston at Cleveland, 8:30
x-Wednesday: Cleveland at Boston, 8:30
x-Friday: Boston at Cleveland, 8:30
x-Sunday, May 27: Cleveland at Boston, 8:30
Series tied 1-1
Game 1: Golden State 119, Houston 106
Game 2: Houston 127, Golden State 105
Sunday: Houston at Golden State, 8
Tuesday: Houston at Golden State, 9
Thursday: Golden State at Houston, 9
x-Saturday, May 26: Houston at Golden State, 9
x-Monday, May 28: Golden State at Houston, 9