The preferred musical accompaniment in most NBA arenas is hip-hop, but it's a country classic that best defines the current state of the Celtics - "On the Road Again." If Willie Nelson were going to pen a version of his hit for Boston's basketball team, it would go, "On the road again, where the Celtics just can't seem to win . . ."
Well, at least in the playoffs.
The NBA's best road team during the regular season with a 31-10 mark, the Celtics are 0-6 in the 2008 postseason, and if they want to raise banner No. 17, they're going to have to find a way to win away from home. Since the NBA moved to a four-round playoff format in 1984, the fewest road wins of any NBA champion is three, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The 1984 Celtics and 1988 Lakers both won three games on the road, although it should be noted that first-round playoff series were best-of-five until 2003.
The road to the Finals goes through the Detroit Pistons or, more precisely, Auburn Hills, Mich. The Pistons defeated the Celtics, 103-97, in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals Thursday night, handing Boston its first loss on the parquet in the postseason. With the series tied, 1-1, and shifting to The Palace of Auburn Hills for Games 3 and 4, the Celtics must find a path to victory on the road or they're heading home for good. Boston gets another crack at an elusive road victory tonight.
"We have no choice now but to get it done on the road, as well as take care of home," Celtics captain Paul Pierce said following Game 2. "If we're going to win this series, we've got to protect home for the rest of the series and try to get one on the road."
Guard Ray Allen, who rediscovered his shooting touch in Game 2, said the Celtics are approaching these road games as a blank slate. They don't see themselves as 0-6 on the road, dropping all three games in series against the Hawks and Cavaliers.
"That was the last two rounds," said Allen. "I don't think we look at it or think about it like it's a hang-up, like we can't come out and win a basketball game because we're not in a building full of green and white."
If the Celtics needed an additional confidence-booster, it should come from the fact that they've beaten Detroit at The Palace this season, scoring a season-defining 92-85 victory Jan. 5, a win that improved them to 29-3 on the season, established them as legitimate title contenders, and snapped Detroit's 11-game winning streak. In that game, which was played at a playoff-like pitch, Boston got a career-high 20 points off the bench from Glen Davis.
"I hope it helps that we won the last time we played there," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "Having said that, even if we hadn't, we still have to go win."
Rivers was asked yesterday what the difference has been between his team's road play in the regular season and in the playoffs. He said that during the regular season, his team executed well on the road, rebounding well and playing great defense.
"We've done some of those things. We just haven't done them all for 48 minutes, and in the playoffs you have to," Rivers said.
The biggest difference has come on the defensive end. At home, the Celtics have allowed opponents to shoot just 39.1 percent from the field and score 81.6 points per game, but on the road those numbers jump to 45.7 percent and 95.3 points, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
"Defensively, we just need a great effort," said Rivers. "But I really believe we'll be fine on this trip coming up."
After the Pistons took Game 2, Celtics forward P.J. Brown remarked that Detroit played in desperation mode. That's the mode the Celtics are in now because they can't afford to come back to Boston trailing, 3-1.
"Urgency, desperation, those are two good words to use because the home-court advantage has really swung in their favor with them having won on our floor," said Allen. "We got to go and try to get that back."
Before they lost to Detroit, the Celtics, who have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, deflected questions about their road woes by stating that if they won all of their home games, they'd be NBA champions. Well, that's no longer an option, and it was never a realistic one, anyway.
"At some point you're going to have to win on the road," said guard Eddie House, "and I don't think there is any better time to do it than now."
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.