As the Celtics drive into downtown Atlanta via Interstate 75 North this evening, they will pass a locally well-known So So Def Recordings billboard highlighted by the words, "Welcome to Atlanta." But after that, the Celtics shouldn't expect any more southern hospitality.
The Celtics will play their first road game of the postseason tomorrow night. Game 3 of their first-round series against the Hawks is at Philips Arena. The Celtics own a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. The Hawks will be playing their first home postseason game since 1999.
"It will be loud," Hawks forward Marvin Williams said. "I remember when they came down there in the season, that's probably the most full it has been. We'll be back on our home court. Our fans will be ready for a good game and we'll be ready to play."
The Hawks have their hands full; the Celtics had the NBA's best road record (31-10) in the regular season. No other team won more than 27 away from home. The Celtics also earned their stellar mark in front of an NBA-high road attendance of 19,042 fans per game.
So why are the Celtics so good on the road?
"We don't really question it," Ray Allen said. "We just know [winning is] what we have to do. We know what our job is. When we go on the road there is not a letdown or a lack of focus on whomever we are playing on the road. We know we have to get the job done."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers said, "We don't really care where we are at. We didn't make a big deal of it and we never talk about [being] on the road.
"Our veterans have great focus. That really helps. Young guys lose focus on the road more than veterans. Veterans have been through it all, so they just come to play."
The Celtics defeated the Hawks, 99-89, in their lone regular-season visit to Philips Arena April 12, with their starters sitting most of the fourth quarter. Atlanta was 25-16 at home with an average attendance of 16,280. Philips Arena, however, isn't considered one of the intimidating NBA venues. There are still limited tickets available for Game 3.
"We worked hard to get better over the years," Williams said. "We're finally here [in the postseason]. We are in a tough position down two games to probably the best team in the league right now. But we still got to fight.
"We are still in it. The season's not over. We just have to take it one game at a time, and that's how we feel. But we're back at home. We're excited to be back there. I think teams always play better at home. It's easier. When you're on the road, so many things come into play. We'll be ready to go."
The Celtics carry a swagger on the road after several key victories:
They won 10 straight from Nov. 30 to Jan. 11, including a 110-91 triumph against the Lakers Dec. 30.
Their biggest win might have been against Detroit, 92-85, Jan. 5, about three weeks after the Pistons beat the Celtics at the Garden.
In March, Boston became the first team to sweep the Texas Triangle - wins at San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas - since Sacramento in November of 2001.
The Celtics have won 13 of their last 15 on the road.
"The San Antonio win was a good win because they were killing us," Rivers said. "And the Laker win was a good win because of the playoff atmosphere. Detroit . . . clearly, those were the three teams. Dallas was another one. Those wins were good wins for us because of the atmosphere, environment.
"The Lakers and the Pistons game stood out to me as far as playoff atmosphere. You're not going to get much more than that. Houston was different because that was more about [the Rockets' 22-game win] streak [we snapped]. We were the uninvited guests.
"You got to win on the road in the playoffs," added Rivers. "That's why winning on the road in the regular season was good for us. I don't think our guys are worried about where they play. They believe they should win on the road."
Paul Pierce was doing fine after receiving treatment on his injured back yesterday. Pierce strained his lower back during a hard foul in the first quarter of Game 2 Wednesday night. He is expected to play tomorrow . . . The Celtics did not practice yesterday and will practice today in Waltham before departing for Atlanta. The Celtics are scheduled to practice at Morehouse College in Atlanta Sunday.
Marc J. Spears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org