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Pressure not really building

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By Marc J. Spears
April 13, 2009
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CLEVELAND - The Celtics' best friend in their championship run last year could end up being their biggest foe this time around.

A season after the Celtics relied on home court en route to an NBA title, LeBron James and the Cavaliers now own that grand benefit throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Boston dropped its 11th straight game at Quicken Loans Arena, including the playoffs, after a 107-76 loss to the Cavaliers yesterday. If the Celtics hope to get back to the NBA Finals, they'd better figure out a way to win here soon, if the teams meet as projected in the Eastern Conference final.

"It's plain and simple," Celtics guard Ray Allen said of a possible matchup between the teams. "We only get seven games, but the seventh game isn't in our building. That's the difference. We can't have a struggle. We have to win one game here.

"You take it one game at a time in the playoffs. You've got to beat them, whoever you play. As the momentum builds, the playoffs build, and the teams start to dwindle. That is what it's going to come down to, winning in this building."

The Celtics haven't won in Cleveland since a 114-107 overtime victory Dec. 18, 2004. Boston is 0-6 at Cleveland since the arrival of the "Big Three." The Celtics last had a regulation victory in Cleveland Dec. 13, 2003, 105-98. They have lost by an average of 12.7 points during the 11-game stretch of setbacks.

On the reason for Cleveland's home dominance, Celtics guard Rajon Rondo said, is fast starts.

"All I can remember is us always being down in the first quarter," Rondo said. "Not just 2 or 3. It's always like a 9-plus, double-digit lead in the first quarter. On the road it's hard to fight back with a crowd like this."

But when asked whether he was worried about losing so often in Cleveland, Rondo said, "It doesn't mean anything. We just have to win the championship. The streak is all pretty much behind us. They played great in the regular season, but the start of the playoffs we're at 0-0."

Added Paul Pierce, "It's not something that the players think about like when we come in this building that we can't win, because we feel like we can win in this building."

The Celtics shouldn't feel too terrible about their struggles here, since Cleveland has victimized everyone but West power the Lakers this season.

The Cavaliers are now one of six teams in NBA history that have won at least 39 home games. Each previous team made it to the Finals. A win in their regular-season finale against Philadelphia Wednesday would tie Cleveland with the 1985-86 Celtics for the all-time best home record at 40-1.

The Cavaliers also are 25-0 against the Eastern Conference at home this season and suffered their only home defeat to the Lakers Feb. 8. Cleveland also hasn't allowed anyone to reach 50-percent shooting from the field in 42 straight home games.

"Whenever you can get a record as a team or individual, you should be proud of it," James said. "We should be proud of what we did today. We just have to continue to get better."

The Celtics have enjoyed similar success against Cleveland in Boston. The Cavaliers are 0-8, including the playoffs, since the arrival of the Big Three. Cleveland last won in Boston Jan. 3, 2007.

"No one has won on somebody's else's court in a long time in this series, so [home court] can be an advantage," James said. "It was definitely an advantage in the postseason between the two teams. But it's a totally different year. You never know how the playoffs may shake out this year."

"It goes both ways," said Pierce. "We haven't beaten them here and they haven't beaten us there."

But Cleveland's problems in Boston won't matter if it wins all its home games in a possible East final. The Celtics relied on home court to get them through a tough seven-game second-round series against Cleveland last season. The Cavaliers remember that, used it as motivation, and believe they would have beaten Boston last season if they had home court.

"Last year we feel like the series with those games came down to just [home court]," Cleveland guard Daniel Gibson said. "Now the ball is in our court. The way we have been playing at home all year says that we are prepared for what we are up against this postseason."

The Celtics have said time and time lately that they are confident they can win anywhere, especially with a healthy Kevin Garnett. Well, the champs likely will have to figure out a way to get that confidence working in Cleveland some time soon, or King James and Co. soon will be snatching their crown.

"I'm confident in this ball club anywhere, any day, any time," Pierce said.

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

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