CLEVELAND - They were kings of the road. Now they are road kill. And it's giving their fans road rage.
Celtics fans figured this was the night the team would revert to their green jersey dominance of the regular season. Hub hoop junkies witnessed the ease of a Game 2 victory at TD Banknorth Garden and concluded that the real Celtics were ready to take it to the streets of Cleveland. No more of the nonsense that plagued them for three long nights in Atlanta.
And then the game started and Boston's swagger and superiority evaporated. Again. The Celtics didn't show up. They got run out of the gym, 108-84, last night by the same team that couldn't score 75 points in the New Garden. It was the Celtics' most lopsided loss of the season.
It wasn't about LeBron James this time. The King carried his shooting woes back home (5 for 16 from the floor). But it didn't matter because the Cavaliers ran away from the Celtics long before halftime. It was 32-13 after one and 43-17 early in the second. The Celtics never got closer than 12 after intermission.
Boston's no-show included taking only two free throws in the first half, which ended with the Cavaliers leading, 52-35. Paul Pierce took eight shots all night. Ray Allen shot 4 for 12. Point guard Rajon Rondo had zero assists in 23 minutes. Cleveland has the Cavs, but the Celtics were the ones with the cavalier attitude.
"Obviously, it's disappointing for us," said coach Doc Rivers. "I thought Cleveland came out and played harder at the start of the game. In every way they beat us tonight. They outcoached us, they played harder, they got the loose balls. We were not comfortable. We didn't make plays. Instead of being the solid defensive team that we've been, I thought we got down because our offense wasn't going."
This makes the Green 6-0 at home and 0-4 on the road in this postseason. Though it is technically possible for the Celtics to win the championship if this continues, the hot-cold, home-away dynamic does little to inspire confidence. This caliber of play is simply not going to cut it against the Pistons, Lakers, or Hornets.
So the same questions will be asked before the Celtics play Game 4 here tomorrow night. The questions will be asked again and again until the Celtics win a road game in the 2008 NBA playoffs.
Strange. These same Celtics were a league-best 31-10 on the road this season. They swept through Texas, which is virtually impossible in today's NBA. And now they are neutralized and intimidated by the likes of Philips Arena and Quicken Loans Arena. What gives?
"This is the NBA," said Rivers. "Nothing surprises me in this league. Did I think this would happen? No. But it did happen. So now we just have to get ready for Monday night."
Asked to account for the home-road disparity, Rivers said, "I can't. But we have to find out why."
"We definitely took our lumps tonight," admitted Pierce. "We're going to come out better in Game 4. We've got to come out to a better start."
When Pierce was asked if he was worried, he said, "A little bit. I'm disappointed. We've got to be a lot more aggressive. We've got to be aggressive on the road."
This was never a game. Cleveland's Ben Wallace recovered from his Game 2 vapors and made his first three shots as the Cavaliers bolted to a 22-8 lead. That's a 14-point lead. I know this only because the overhead scoreboard at The Q offers a moronic feature entitled "The Diff." When it was 22-8, The Diff was 14. Thanks. (Wonder if there are any hockey or soccer scoreboards that offer The Diff?)
It was 32-13 after one - exactly the type of start the Celtics were hoping to avoid.
"We've got to come out in the first quarter and put up a better fight," said Celtics guard Sam Cassell.
"We refused to play together offensively," said Rivers. "And that's the thing that alarms me from Atlanta. They got a lot of the offensive rebounds. But that's hustle. We have to do better."
There is cause for concern. This is a little more than a home-road thing. It feels like the Celtics are being exposed. Pierce and Allen have not been the same players they were during the regular season. Rondo looks lost. The team that won 66 games hasn't demonstrated the fortitude of a champion. They lost only 16 games during the regular season, never by as many as 20. Now they are 0-4 on the road in the playoffs and smarting from a 24-point beating.
Time for somebody to step forward. Time for the Celtics to show up in a game played outside the Garden.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.