Celtics must avoid state of confusion
WALTHAM -- There is a popular saying in Pacers territory: "In 49 states, it's just basketball. But this is Indiana." The slogan hints at the kind of reception the Celtics will receive tonight at Conseco Fieldhouse during Game 3.
Indiana fans are passionate about basketball, especially when it comes to their NBA team. Throughout a season in which it would have been easy to write off a squad hit hard by suspensions and injuries, they rallied around the Pacers.
With the best-of-seven, first-round series tied at 1-1, the Celtics understand the fieldhouse will be an energized and difficult place to try to win a game or two. They know they must set the right tone in the opening minutes or risk further inspiring the crowd.
"With Game 2, I think we kind of woke up their fans and got them back into this series," said Antoine Walker. "We could have went up, 2-0, and it would have been a better situation for us. It's going to be tough on the road and we have to get off to a better start. It's our job as starters to not put ourselves in position where we're down, 10 or 12 points, and put that much pressure on our young guys and our second unit to produce for us. That's probably the biggest challenge we face and that's probably been the most negative part of the two games, the way we started out the first quarters. It's been killing us."
In Games 1 and 2, the energy and encouragement of a soldout FleetCenter crowd helped the Celtics overcome slow starts. They will not have the same advantage tonight. The last time the Celtics won at Conseco Fieldhouse was Nov. 11, 2003, when Vin Baker hit a 10-footer in the final minute to earn the victory. Since then, they have gone 0-4 at Indiana, including a pair of playoff losses last year. The toughest loss for Boston at the fieldhouse, however, came Nov. 23, 2004. With the Pacers still reeling from the post-brawl fallout and left with only eight players available, they defeated the Celtics, 106-96.
But that seems long ago given the big road wins the Celtics recorded later in the regular season. They won in Seattle, in Phoenix, in Houston, and in Los Angeles in double overtime against the Clippers. Boston finished with an 18-23 road record, the same as Atlantic Division rivals Philadelphia and New Jersey. In the Eastern Conference, only Detroit and Miami wound up with winning road records.
"There's nothing positive about [playing on the road]," said Walker. "For the veteran guys, we've been through that before. We know it can be a little culture shock for the younger guys. People are going to say what they want to say. People know your whole bio. They know everything about you. It's going to be difficult, especially in a place like Indiana where they breathe basketball. It's going to be a hostile environment, but we've got to be prepared for that. The way you take the fans out of the game is by playing well early on. You've got to take them out of what they want to do."
Walker admitted he hears the taunts of fans on the road, but tunes them out and focuses on what the Celtics must do. And the game plan remains the same. But in Game 3 expect the Celtics to pay more attention to what coach Doc Rivers called the Pacers' "smalls," such as Reggie Miller, Stephen Jackson, and Anthony Johnson. The trio burned the Green in Game 2. Also, Boston will try to keep its turnovers down after committing seven in the first quarter of Game 2 and finishing the contest with 16.
"All of us have to do better," said Rivers. "That's the way you have to think during the playoffs. I don't think one guy has to step up. The team has to step up.
"I'd rather for us to throw the ball in the stands, honestly, or get a 24-second clock violation [than throw it to the Pacers]. At least then, they don't get in transition. We've proven in this series when we play in the halfcourt, defensively we've been very good. We've been a terrific defensive team in the halfcourt. We can't give them 16 or 18 points from bad shots or bad turnovers."
To keep turnovers down, the Celtics must be more focused. Some players believe that is easier to do on the road with little else to focus on but the next game. Paul Pierce hopes the Celtics will pay greater attention to detail in Indiana. If not, the results could be disastrous.
"The mistakes you make at home you definitely can't make on the road," he said. "It's going to be a lot tougher. It's an uphill battle for us, but I think it's something were ready to climb. We kicked ourselves in the foot and took away our home-court advantage. Now, our job is to go up there and get home-court advantage back, win one and possibly two. We're going to take it one game at a time. That's what the playoffs are about. It's a game of emotions. One day you're up, the next day you're down. The good thing about it is you get a chance to bounce back."
One win at Conseco Fieldhouse and the momentum bounces back to Boston.