Home cooking once again good for the Celtics

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Home cooking once again good for the Celtics

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Last year, the Celtics werent much for home cooking.

They finished the regular season with a 24-17 record at the Garden, which wasnt awful, but mediocre enough to rank them last among the leagues 16 playoff teams. And considering the C's had gone a combined 70-12 at home the previous two seasons, it certainly wasnt up to the lofty standards established by the Big Three.

For most of the Big Three's first two years, the Garden was a place that other teams feared, an arena where opponents took the court hoping to maybe steal a win but knowing that most of the time that hope would result in embarrassment. But last season, as teams like Washington, Memphis, Detroit and New Jersey had their way on the parquet, the mystique surrounding the Celtics home-court advantage slowly started to fade. Teams came to Boston not only hoping, but expecting to win. And often times they did.

The fans booed. The players grumbled. Rasheed Wallace shot a ton of threes.

You remember. It was a mess. And while the team cleaned that up some once the playoffs began and re-established the Gardens Jungle mentality, they knew that coming into this season, there was still work to be done.

Yeah, we talked about it, said Doc Rivers after Wednesday nights win over New Jersey. We knew we had a ton of injuries and we were playing guys strange minutes last year, but one of the things we still expected through all that was to win the home games. And we didnt do that. So obviously this year has been much better."

Much better is an understatement. With Wednesdays win, the Celtics improved to 25-5 at the Garden, already surpassing last years total. The 25 homes wins tie them with San Antonio for the most in the NBA, and leaves the Cs at the All-Star break, well on their way to reaffirming themselves as the leagues pre-eminent home team.

Since Ive been here, home court has always been the emphasis, said Kevin Garnett, who registered his double-double (14 points, 10 boards) of the season. Its always primary. The form which we did in 08 is the form we follow to this day, and home court is a big part of that.

Of course, the fact the Celtics surpassed the mark by barely (the final score is David Blaine-level deceiving) outlasting a struggling Nets team doesnt lend itself to the notion that the Celtics are once again a dominant home team. When a squad like the New Jersey comes to the Garden, you expect the Celtics to make quick, easy work.

But thats not always how it happens. You cant dominate every game in this league, regardless of the opponent. There will always be nights when things start slow, or a lesser team catches you off guard, but the great teams overcome that. And on Wednesday, thats what the Celtics did.

"Listen, not every game's going to be beautiful," Rivers said. "It's the NBA. We just want to win the game."

And that's what they did. But like many games theyve experienced this season, Wednesday nights was one that last years team would have lost. As the Nets fought hard, hung around and led by as many as nine points in the second half, last years Celtics would have folded. They would have let the Nets escape and just thrown the night on the garbage pile with all the rest of the pathetic home losses. But thats not how this years teams built.

"A lot of people came here and beat us last year," said Glen Davis, who played 20 minutes off the bench, "and we didn't like that. We did a better job in the post season but we still lost games. We want to protect home court."

And unlike last year, Davis and the rest of the Celtics know that while not every night can be a cakewalk, what matters especially at home is that the team is ready and willing to get it done in the clutch. And not let anyone run away with a win in Boston's gym.

We took the same approach last year but this is a different team," Davis said. "Were all just different, because of what we went through. We finish games. Thats what its all about. Finishing. But at the same time we know we still need to get better for the second half of the season."

And they do. But unlike last year, they have the luxury of counting on some serious home cooking.

Rich Levine can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Horford admits he was 'very emotional' after 'special' win

Horford admits he was 'very emotional' after 'special' win

CLEVELAND – For about 30 or so seconds following Boston’s 111-108 Game 3 win over Cleveland, Al Horford was not Al Horford.

He’s a passionate player, but seldom is it on display in as outwardly a fashion as it was following their Game 3 victory.

In an interview with CSN’s Abby Chin after the game, Horford tried to put into words what the victory meant.

But the aggressive high-fives to teammates passing him by, the intense way he looked into the camera … that spoke volumes about what this game meant to the veteran big man.

“It’s big, it’s big!” Horford said in between high-fives with Jonas Jerebko and other Celtics who came past him.

“A lot of people doubting us out there!” Horford said, staring intently into the camera as if he was saying, ‘yeah, I’m talking about you!’”

Less than 24 hours after the game, Horford’s emotions had cooled down considerably.

“It was an emotional game,” he told CSN following a short practice at the Q Arena on Monday. “Just, having to hear … since the blowout, everybody counting us out. Everybody really believing that it was over.”

The Celtics came into Game 3 having lost both Games 1 and 2 at home by a combined 57 points which includes the worst playoff loss (Game 2, 130-86) in franchise history.

So with that as the backdrop, knowing full well that no one outside of their locker room gave them an ice cube in hell’s chance at winning Game 3, the victory brought about a level of satisfaction that Celtics players had seldom experienced before if at all.

“The emotions at that time were high for our group,” Horford admitted. “And it shows what we’ve been talking about all year, a resilient group that has a lot of fight in them. We were hit with some adversity with Isaiah being down but our group responded.”

Thomas re-aggravated a right hip injury in Game 2, and was later ruled out for the rest of the playoffs. 

After falling behind 77-56 in the third quarter, the Celtics closed out the third with a 26-10 run to come within 87-82 going into the fourth quarter. During the run, Marcus Smart had 11 points which turned out to be equal to LeBron James’ scoring output … for the entire game.

This is Horford's 10th NBA season, all of which have included a trip to the postseason.

That, combined with having won a pair of national championships when he played at the University of Florida, serves as a reminder that the 30-year-old has been on the winning ledger of big games before.

But even he acknowledged Sunday’s Game 3 win was … different.

“I have had plenty of moments like this,” Horford said. “But this was definitely emotional. This was very emotional, exciting, on the road, no one really giving us any chance. To be able to come through like that, it just felt great. I’ve been part of emotional wins, but this one was a special one.”

That was evident in Horford’s energy-charged, post-game comments.

“Heart! Heart! This team got heart!” he yelled. “We got beat bad (in Game 2), but it’s all about how you rebound!”

And we get that message, loud and clear!

'Ecstatic' Thomas was with Celtics teammates via FaceTime after Game 3 win

'Ecstatic' Thomas was with Celtics teammates via FaceTime after Game 3 win

CLEVELAND – Gone but definitely not forgotten.

Isaiah Thomas, out for the rest of the playoffs with a right hip injury, wasn’t in the Q Arena physically, but his presence – and his face via FaceTime – were inside the locker room in the initial moments following their 111-108 Game 3 win over Cleveland.

“We called him right after the game,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “He got to celebrate with us a little bit. It’s sad that he’s not here. We wish he was here with us. We just want him to get better.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens added, “I didn’t even realize that had happened until later on. one of my first text messages was from Isaiah.  He’s hurting not being out there but he’s completely invested, for sure.”

He initially suffered the injury on March 15 at Minnesota, but re-aggravated it in the first half of Boston’s Game 2 loss to the Cavs. Less than 24 hours later, Thomas was deemed out for the remainder of the playoffs.

Instead of Thomas being the rock of sorts that the Celtics lean on with his play, he has become their rallying cry for the remainder of the playoffs.

“All we can do is play hard for him,” Bradley said. “He was excited with the way we played. We’re a family. Other guys got an opportunity to step up for us. Marcus (Smart) had a big game for us. It could be somebody else next game.”

Smart led the Celtics with a career-high 27 points which included a career-best seven 3’s going down.

And most important, the Celtics avoided going down 3-0 which would have all but sealed their fate in this series considering no team in league history has ever come back for a 3-0 series deficit.

Doing so without Thomas, the Celtics’ leading scorer and the top regular season scorer in the Eastern Conference, made the win all that more impressive for Boston.

“It meant a lot,” Horford said. “We know, Isaiah gives us so much and gave us so much this year. For him, we definitely wanted to come out and fight for him and our season and our team. It felt good to keep believing despite being down big. Just felt good to win the game and bring life back to our locker room. Because going down 3-0, that’s a death sentence pretty much. This was big.”

Not only to the Celtics players but also to Thomas who also texted head coach Brad Stevens full of excitement following Boston’s surprising win.

“He was excited,” Horford recalled. “He was ecstatic. I know he wishes he was here being part of it. We just need to keep doing it for him and our group and doing the best we can.”