Celtics

A 2-0 lead is nice, but can Celtics translate that success to the road?

A 2-0 lead is nice, but can Celtics translate that success to the road?

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.

“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.

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.”

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Austin Ainge on confidence of Celtics heading into the season

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NBC Sports Boston Photo

Austin Ainge on confidence of Celtics heading into the season

Austin Ainge talks with A. Sherrod Blakely about the confidence the Celtics have heading into the 2018 season, and we discuss what team we think Jimmy Butler will end up on. 

(2:00) Does Jimmy Butler wanting out of Minnesota make him look bad? (6:00) What team does Jimmy Butler end up with?

(11:00) Breaking down ESPN top 100 NBA players list, did they rank the Celtics correctly? (15:00) Would you rather have Jimmy Butler or Gordon Hayward?

(17:00) A. Sherrod Blakely talks with Celtics Director of Player Personnel Austin Ainge.

(17:30) How does Austin think Kyrie irving and Gordon Hayward will fit back in on the Celtics?

(25:00) How important was getting Marcus Smart back with the Celtics? 

(28:00) What are the Celtics thoughts on the 2019 draft?

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What are some key intangibles to the Celtics having a great season?

What are some key intangibles to the Celtics having a great season?

BOSTON – Winning in the NBA is about more than just having better players or an awesome coach. There are factors that come into play, like scheduling, unexpected injuries by an opponent, or even a leaky roof.

All those factors fall under the category of intangibles, which for most of the top teams, aids them in their quest towards success.

The Celtics have a roster that on paper ranks among the NBA’s best. Still, for them to sustain the kind of success they're pursuing all season, they’ll need some other things to work out. 

So, what are some of those intangibles?

COACHING CONTINUITY

Former Celtics player, assistant coach and fan favorite Walter McCarty left the team last season to become head coach of his hometown’s college team, the University of Evansville. The rest of the coaching crew remains intact this season. Having that familiarity on the sidelines is a bigger deal than most people might think. Head coach Brad Stevens doesn’t have to worry about egos or how folks will mesh together among his staff. They’ve been around each other long enough to know how to work well, and effectively, with one another. Team harmony among coaching staff can only help foster a similar culture inside the locker room.

STABLE FRONT OFFICE

This too is one of the more overlooked aspects of the Celtics success, a franchise that on the basketball side of things has been run by Danny Ainge since 2003. His right-hand man, Mike Zarren, has done an exceptional job of maintaining the team’s salary cap flexibility and remains one of the more highly regarded NBA execs out there. The stability of those positions takes away some of the uncertainty that agents and players might have about the franchise and, more specifically, how they will be treated if they become Celtics.

NEW PRACTICE FACILITY

The team’s new facility in Brighton, The Auerbach Center, won’t win them a single game. But there’s something about having a building that’s yours and yours alone, which is different than what they had in Waltham, Mass, in where their practice court was inside the Boston Sports Club. It breeds a greater sense of pride and ownership, two character traits you can’t have enough of in the NBA.  

NO LEBRON JAMES

They will still see him twice a year, but that’s so much better than four times a year plus the playoffs. Of course, Boston will still have to show up and handle their business against the teams in the East, and the NBA for that matter. But to know that their journey towards competing for an NBA title won’t have to involve dealing with James – his Cleveland team have eliminated Boston in the postseason three of the past four years – is a good thing for Green Teamers.

FAN BASE

Win or lose, blowout win or beatdown loss, Celtics fans support this team in a way that has no end in sight. Crowds don’t take shots (on the court ones, at least). They don’t grab rebounds, either. But they can motivate and inspire players in ways that no amount of X’s and O’s can top. We have seen this team tap into that energy from time to time. And while it appears on paper they won’t need to as much this year, knowing that their fans have that to offer is reassuring to a team that so many fans – not just their own, either – expect to make a deep postseason journey that takes them back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2012.

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