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Eager Celtics ready to take flight

LeBron James celebrates during the fourth quarter of Cleveland's Game 4 victory. LeBron James celebrates during the fourth quarter of Cleveland's Game 4 victory. (Reuters)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / May 16, 2008

CLEVELAND - Coach Doc Rivers said the only reason the Celtics took an early-afternoon flight here yesterday was because of a scheduling issue.

The Celtics didn't take an early field trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; wives and girlfriends did not make the trip.

The Celtics aren't doing anything dramatic to combat their playoff woes on the road. All the Celtics are focused on is finding the performance needed to end their second-round series in Game 6 tonight. The Celtics aren't the only team with second-round road struggles; the Pistons had the only road victory as of yesterday. Home teams are 20-1 in the second round.

"Listen, everyone's struggling on the road right now," Rivers said during a teleconference yesterday. "I guess we could bring all the scorekeepers . . . bring all the wives on the road. But we're not going to do that. We're going to show up and play basketball."

The Celtics were an NBA-best 31-10 on the road in the regular season.

They are the top seed in the Eastern Conference and went 0-3 in the first round at eighth-seeded Atlanta. Boston is also 0-2 at fourth-seeded Cleveland, and the Celtics were 0-2 here in the regular season. The Celtics' last road win was April 14 against New York. A loss tonight would force Game 7 Sunday afternoon in Boston.

"Cleveland plays great at home," Rivers said. "We're going to try to go in there and close it out. It's going to be a difficult game. We knew that coming in. It should be when you want something as valuable as we're all trying to get. It's not going to be easy. We understand that."

After the Celtics' 96-89 Game 5 win Wednesday, Kevin Garnett said, "We know there's a bigger task at hand and we're trying to play better and let's just close this thing out. The big [emphasis] is to play better on the road, man."

If the Celtics win tonight, they will host Detroit in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Sunday. The Pistons have been resting since eliminating Orlando Tuesday.

Although the scouting process has started on the Pistons, Rivers is focused on Cleveland.

"Why worry about [Detroit's] rest?" Rivers said. "They're getting it anyway. We're not going to lose any sleep over that. But we'll have our film guys working on the Detroit stuff and I'm sure Cleveland does, as well."

"I like that [Detroit is] resting," Ray Allen said after Wednesday's game. "For me, personally, I don't like to sit around. I think you lose some rhythm."

The Celtics have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs and are 7-0 at home in the postseason. But they would be playing with fire if they expect to win an NBA title by just winning at home. Since the NBA changed the playoffs in 2003 to a best-of-seven series in each round, no champion has won fewer than six games on the road. According to STATS, lnc., no team has won an NBA title after losing five straight road games.

"The object is to win the series," Rivers said. "I think everybody else focuses on the road. This is the playoffs. Winning on the road is difficult. But our focus is to win this series and if we could win it in Game 6, that's great and that's what we want to do. But our focus is winning this series.

"I don't see the stress with us as far as the road. We want to win on the road. We want to play well [tonight] on the road. But the focus for us is to win this series."

Said Allen: "It will be a huge test and a great reward for us to win this game and move forward. Then you'll have so many positives to draw from going into the next series."

Marc J. Spears can be reached at mspears@globe.com

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