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Game 2 > Celtics at Cavaliers

Two-fisted effort is required

Getting 2d game on road would be key for Celtics

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / May 3, 2010

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CLEVELAND — There are certain philosophies in playoff basketball. A couple of the major ones apply to the Celtics’ current predicament.

Down a game to the Cavaliers after dropping Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series Saturday night, 101-93, the Celtics are trying to not to fall into a two-games-to-none hole, historically a death trap. But, then, there’s also the saying that a playoff series doesn’t officially start until one of the teams wins on the road.

Considering he was part of a 2007-08 team that won two playoff series without winning a game on the road, Paul Pierce wasn’t buying it.

“I really don’t get that,’’ the Celtics forward said, “So the series hasn’t started yet?’’

Boston coach Doc Rivers, who does glib better than most NBA coaches, understood the logic.

“I know when you win your first two at home the first thing you tell your team is, ‘That’s what they’re thinking [the series hasn’t started].’ Even though, that’s not what they’re thinking. They’re thinking, ‘We’ve got to win the next game.’ ’’

But having been in the playoff trenches as a player and a coach and also observing them as a television analyst, Rivers made it clear that some things sound good even if they don’t exactly add up.

“I don’t even think about that kind of stuff,’’ he said. “I give that stuff zero thought. You’ve got to focus on the game. All that other stuff happens and if it happens you adjust to it. When I do broadcasting one day, then that’s the [stuff] I’m going to say.’’

Playing without home-court advantage for the first time since the 2004 playoffs, winning on the road already was a must for the Celtics. But dropping a very winnable series opener to the Cavaliers puts them in a position in which they’ll need to do it sooner rather than later.

“Your sense of urgency has to go up,’’ Pierce said. “You don’t ever want to go down 2-0, put yourself in that type of hole, especially against a team like Cleveland. The urgency is definitely there. Game 1 was important and we let it slip away.

“Hopefully, we can clean those things up, come back with the same type of mind-set, same type of energy, a little more perfection to our game and I think we’ll be all right. But definitely, we have to play Game 2 like it’s a Game 7.’’

The odds don’t favor the Celtics. The home team that wins Game 1 of a seven-game series goes on to win the series 86.5 percent of the time. Boston is 2-6 all time in series in which it has lost the opening game on the road. Cleveland is 10-0 in series when it takes Game 1.

The Celtics were ahead by as many as 11 points as late as 6:03 left in the third quarter Saturday night, but they couldn’t fight off foul trouble and a Mo Williams flurry. Coming up empty on a chance to steal a game on Cleveland’s home floor “was a big missed opportunity,’’ Ray Allen said.

Still, for 3 1/2 quarters, the Celtics’ defense strangled the Cavaliers. They battled Cleveland to a draw on the boards (41-41). Kevin Garnett played the most minutes he has all season, looking fearsome as he posted an 18-point, 10-rebound night. And Rivers takes all of those things as signs that there are winnable games left in this series.

Asked after Game 1 if his team let a road win slip away, Rivers said he thought there were still three more chances. Slightly stunned, the questioner then asked if Rivers was saying he thought the series would go seven games. Rivers, tongue in cheek as always, said, “I hope so, or five.’’ The reaction — delayed — was a mix of chuckles and gasps.

“I think we’re going to create more [opportunities],’’ Rivers said. “We let an opportunity go, but we’ll have more.’’

The Celtics were better on the road (26-15) than at home (24-17) during the regular season. The teams split the season series, each winning games on each others’ home court. The Cavaliers, however, were the best home team (35-6) and the best road team in the league (26-15).

Times like these are when hindsight starts to creep in and losses to bottom-feeders like New York, Washington, and New Jersey start to sting even more, because of how wins in those games possibly could have improved playoff seeding.

“It’s tough,’’ said Celtics forward Glen Davis. “But we know what we have to do. You play through a season and you put yourself in a situation where you’re not the No. 1 seed or you’re not first in the East like you’re supposed to be. But we’ve just got to play the cards we’re dealt and make sure we handle our business.’’

If there’s a sure thing, it’s that while the Celtics can remain slightly comfortable even after a series-opening loss, departing Cleveland with anything other than a split would put Boston in a predicament no one wants to be in.

“The bottom line is you don’t even want to be down 2-0, on the road or wherever,’’ said Rivers.

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