CLEVELAND – Prepare for the punch.
No amount of bobbing and weaving will prevent the Celtics from taking a hard blow or two from the Cleveland Cavaliers now that they are back in the comfy confines of the Quicken Loans Arena.
“It’s the playoffs, Eastern Conference finals,” Marcus Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “It’s gonna be a zoo in there. The only thing we can do is continue to play hard and continue to give it our best shot.”
Thus far, Boston’s best shot has positioned them to shoot their way past the Cavaliers and into the NBA Finals as they enter Game 3 on Saturday night with a 2-0 series lead.
Although Boston had the best road record of any team in the East in the regular season, they come into this series with the worst road record among the four teams still left standing at 1-4.
“We haven’t played well [on the road],” said Marcus Smart. “We understand that. We understand and other teams see that and try to exploit but that’s the beauty of this game. It just takes one game. You never know when things change. Our confidence is high. Who knows, so we are going to go in with our game plan and try to execute it.”
Boston anticipates the Cavaliers will get a lift of some sorts by playing in front of their fans in Game 3.
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“Ultimately anytime you play on the road, the other team has great comfort playing at home,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “They’ve been a great home and road team over the last few years in the playoffs. No matter what, you have to play great between those lines.”
And that is where the Celtics feel good about their chances of stealing one of the next two games in Cleveland.
While LeBron James has been a one-man scoring machine for the Cavs, Boston has spread the wealth, which has made them an extremely tough team to beat.
And despite the 1-4 record, they come into Game 3 feeling pretty good about their chances of finding success.
“We’ve gotten better as the playoffs have gone on,” said Jaylen Brown. “We didn’t get a road game against Milwaukee but we got one against a good team in Philly and we just needed to see one go in. Sometimes you need to see one go in to feel good about yourself and we’ve seen one go in, so we are feeling good going into Cleveland.”
But it won’t be easy, especially on the road where the home team’s players tend to step their game up in front of their fans.
Specifically, Cleveland has to get more production from its starting backcourt of George Hill and J.R. Smith, who combined to score just three points in Boston’s Game 2 win.
The Celtics anticipate both Hill and Smith will play better tonight compared to how they struggled in Game 2.
That’s why it’s imperative for the Celtics to not begin the game on their heels, knowing the Cavs are at their best when they are playing with a lead.
“We have to start out with great intensity,” Stevens said. “We have to keep that up for 48 minutes. We have guys that have been through it before. We got a lot of guys going through it the first time. These experiences the last month, feel like they’re worth three times what you would normally get just because we’re going through it together as this group.”
Against the Bucks, Boston lost all three games on Milwaukee’s floor, which further validated how important having home-court advantage for as long as you can, can be in the playoffs.
“When we went to Milwaukee for Game 3, we were poor,” Stevens said. “I thought Game 4 we played pretty darn well.”
The Celtics etched their only playoff road win at Philadelphia to take a commanding 3-0 series lead before ultimately finishing the Sixers off at the TD Garden in five games.
“You get a little better at handling those moments,” Stevens said. “But ultimately, we’re going to have to go in there and play good basketball. Where it is played is one thing, but you still have to play good basketball. Our focus is going to be on trying to play well.”
Brown has had success on the Cavaliers floor in the past, dating to his first NBA start, which came against Cleveland when he scored 19 points.
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He’s not reminiscing much these days about what he has done.
Instead, his focus lies squarely on tackling the next challenge awaiting him and the Celtics, and that’s winning on the Cavaliers’ home floor.
“My reaction is I can’t wait for Game 3,” Brown said. “And I’m just going to leave it at that.”