Two weeks ago, the Celtics fought back from a 26-point deficit against the Miami Heat in the final game of the regular season to try to earn home-court advantage for the first round of the postseason. Despite the win, an unlikely four-way tiebreaker scenario denied them home court, knocking the Celtics down to the fifth seed in the East.
When looking at how the ensuing first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks has played out over the first five games, it’s easy to understand why the Celtics laid it all on the line in game 82. The team’s performances against the Hawks — in Boston and in Atlanta — have proven powerful examples of the importance of home court in the postseason.
The Celtics enter Game 6 on Thursday night as home underdogs in Las Vegas for the first time in the series, largely based on a 110-83 Game 5 drubbing by the Hawks at Phillips Arena. The good news for Boston fans is that the Celtics have been a different team at TD Garden in this series. The following numbers bear that out.
Improving to the Mean on Offense
Outside of the Memphis Grizzlies, the Celtics have had the league’s worst playoff road offense, posting a putrid 84.6 offensive rating in three games in Atlanta. Those struggles have not carried over to games in Boston.
In two playoff games within the friendly confines of TD Garden, the Celtics’ shooting numbers have been respectable. The Celtics are shooting 44 percent from the field and 33 percent from 3-point range at home this postseason. Those aren’t elite numbers, but they do come close to matching the team’s regular-season averages. They are also a tremendous jump from the road playoff splits (35.2% FG, 25% 3PT).
The spike in Boston’s offensive production makes sense from the Atlanta perspective as well. The Hawks are an elite NBA defense, but the team has experienced a drop off at that end of the floor when playing away from Phillips Arena all season long. Atlanta allowed 100.2 points per 100 possessions on the road during the regular season, compared to just 97.4 points per 100 possessions at home.
Boston’s Defensive Uptick
While the Celtics weren’t shooting well for most of Game 5, the team’s bigger issue was inept defense. The Hawks exploded for 95 points over the final three quarters of the win, largely on the strength of hitting open 3-point looks. Mike Scott provided pivotal spacing at the 4 while Paul Millsap turned into a stretch 5 for a prolonged period. The arrangement kept Boston’s perimeter defense scrambling all night, helping Atlanta shoot 40 percent from downtown.
The Hawks have not found similar success on the perimeter in Boston, despite firing away from 3-point range with reckless abandon. Atlanta is averaging 39 road attempts per game from deep this postseason series, but have hit just 26.9 percent of those shots.
Those numbers fall in line with Boston’s defensive success at home all season long. The Celtics, who have lost just three games at home in the past three months, have produced most of that success based largely upon their defense. They had a 97.7 defensive rating at home in the regular season, a three-point improvement from their season mark of 100.9 and the third-best output in the entire league.
The main reason behind Atlanta’s sharp shooting drop off in this series can be seen in Boston’s regular-season defensive numbers as well. The Celtics defend the 3-point arc better than any team in the NBA on their home floor, limiting teams to just 31.3 percent shooting from deep. Those numbers combined with ratcheted up defensive pressure (16.4 turnovers per game for opponents) have given the Celtics the formula to stay in any game at the Garden as long as they post respectable shooting of their own.
A Look at History
Since moving to Atlanta in 1968, the Hawks are an ugly 2-22 on the road in Boston in the postseason. The Hawks have not won a postseason game in Boston dating back to Game 5 of the 1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Since then, visiting Hawks teams have come up empty in Boston over 10 straight playoff road games.
So while history may be on the side of the Celtics on Thursday, the odds show they have a steep climb ahead of them in order to fight back to win the series.
Re Celtics-Hawks: When the home team wins the first five games of a best-of-seven series, road team is 32-24 in Game 6.
— Dan Feldman (@DanFeldmanNBA) April 27, 2016
Only five of those 24 home Game 6 winners won the series. Long road ahead for the Celtics https://t.co/5qTN0TwH8Q
— Dan Feldman (@DanFeldmanNBA) April 27, 2016
With Avery Bradley not expected to return for the series, the Celtics have to hope the home trends stay intact for Game 6, before attempting break out of them in a potential Game 7 on Saturday night.