WALTHAM, Mass. — The Boston Celtics know they haven’t played well away from TD Garden this postseason, but they’re not overly concerned about those road woes as they prepare to head to Cleveland for Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.
The Celtics are 9-0 at home this postseason but just 1-4 on the road, their lone win coming in their Game 3 overtime triumph during the second round in Philadelphia.
Boston players were peppered with questions about their road struggles after the team’s practice Thursday but sounded confident in their ability to maintain the momentum from two wins at home to start this series with the Cavaliers.
“My reaction is I can’t wait for Game 3, and I’ll just leave it at that,” said second-year forward Jaylen Brown, who is one of only four players remaining from last year’s team that won Game 3 in Cleveland last year.
“I think we’re pretty confident, just as confident as we were at home,” added Brown. “There’s a difference definitely between being on the road and at home, just the energy disparity. At home the energy is for you, away it’s against you. But if you do what you’re supposed to do and you are who you are, it’ll show, home or away.”
The Celtics’ offensive rating plummets by 12 points per 100 possessions on the road, dropping from a robust 111.9 at home to a meager 99.9 on the road. And Boston’s defensive rating skyrockets from 101.1 to 109.3.
Boston’s struggles stem largely from a reserve unit that has struggled to impact games away from home. Boston’s starters are shooting 45 percent on the road this postseason but bench players have combined to shoot just 33 percent (or nine percent worse than bench players have averaged at home).
Celtics backup guard Marcus Smart expects a better effort from the bench in Cleveland.
“We haven’t played well. We understand that. We understand that other teams see that and are going to try to exploit it, but that’s the beauty about this game,” said Smart. “Just take one game. You never know. Things change. Our confidence is high. Who knows? We’re going to go in with a game plan and try to execute it to the best of our ability.”
Celtics players admitted they were surprised by the intensity of the road when they lost Game 3 of their first-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks. Boston players are ready for what awaits in Cleveland with the Cavaliers facing what amounts to a must-win situation.
“We can’t afford to be surprised this time around,” said Smart. “We understand that. 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 game plan [coach] Brad [Stevens] has for us.
“We’ve got to be the one to hit first. Going into somebody else’s house, you can’t allow them to get a hold of it first. It’s going to be hard for us. So we’ve got to come out as hard as possible and punch first.”
The Cavaliers dropped Game 1 against Indiana in Cleveland to start the playoffs but have won five straight at home.
Asked about Boston’s play on the road this postseason, Celtics coach Brad Stevens deadpanned, “I like the one we won. I didn’t like the rest of them.”
Added Stevens: “We had our moments, but we weren’t as consistent as we need to be to win more. We’re going to have to be really focused, really locked in, really consistent. It’s even harder to communicate on the road. You’ve got to be great communicating. Our coverages change up based on who’s on the floor with us and what we’re trying to accomplish. So our guys really have to be good about that, and there’s no reason to think they won’t. They’re locked in.”
The Celtics had one of the league’s best road records during the regular season and believe they have shown they can play some of their best basketball away from TD Garden. Boston won an East-best 28 games away from home (only the Rockets and Warriors had more).
“That’s who we are,” said Brown. “It wasn’t Monday or Tuesday or Tuesday through Friday – every day we brought our hard hat defensively. Every game of the season we tried to keep that same level of consistency, and I think that’s why we led the [East during the] regular season in away victories.”
Having won in Cleveland in the postseason, what advice would Brown give his teammates?
“Just breathe, man,” said Brown. “Just take every breath, relax, separate what’s real and what’s not, come out and do what you got to do, let the chips fall where they may.”