By A.Sherrod Blakely
BOSTON Nobody said this march toward Banner 18 was going to be easy for the Boston Celtics.
But as it stands now, the path could not be much tougher.
The Celtics are down 2-0 to the Miami Heat, a team that's younger, more athletic and, right now, playing with the kind of swagger the Celtics aren't used to having to deal with this early in the playoffs.
Just when it seemed the Celtics were turning the corner on what has been a season filled with injuries, Paul Pierce (left Achilles strain), Ray Allen (chest) and Rajon Rondo (back) all left the floor at some point in Game 2 with injuries.
And we're not even going to get into the Shaq-who-cried-wolf tale that seems to have no ending in sight.
It all adds up to the Celtics returning to the TD Garden for Game 3 on Saturday in as dire a hole as we've seen this core group.
"We need to go protect our home court, period," said Kevin Garnett. "There isn't much to talk about. It's do-or-die."
Indeed, the Celtics are banking on a change of scenery being just what they need in order to gain some footing in a series in which they are sinking fast.
"They held their serve at home," said Pierce. "Now it's our job to go home and get two wins."
Boston was among the NBA's best teams at home during the regular season, compiling a 33-8 record. Only Chicago and San Antonio, which each finished 36-5, were better.
The Celtics' home-court advantage was on display in the first round of the playoffs against the New York Knicks, a team the C's defeated in both Game 1 and 2 of that series in Boston.
Home or away, it really doesn't matter at this point for the Celtics.
"We just have to win," said Rajon Rondo. "I thought we had a decent sense of urgency (in Game 2 against the Heat), but we didn't play smart down the stretch. We have to find a way to get stops those last three minutes of the game."
Limiting Dwyane Wade and LeBron James in the closing minutes of quarters, is among the issues that the C's have to work through between now and Game 3.
After spending most of Game 2 playing from behind, the Celtics rallied to tie the score at 80-80 in the fourth.
The Heat responded with a 14-0 run to put the C's away with James scoring seven of his game-high 35 points during the spurt.
And while the C's clearly have to make some adjustments in how they defend Wade and James, the biggest change needs to come about in their attitude.
Points. Defensive stops. Turnovers.
The Celtics are allowing all these things to happen too easily, a trend they have to reverse.
Boston prides itself in being a defensive-minded team first. But far too often, their struggles offensively have dictated their play defensively and for a team that's serious about winning a championship, that can't happen.
"They've played well and we can't allow them to play like this or it's going to be tough at our place," Rivers said. "Bottom line is we have to go back and take a look at what we're doing, fix it and be ready for Game 3."
Part of that process of preparation involved giving the players Wednesday off to, according to Rivers, "do whatever they want to do, just stay away from each other, stay away from film and stay away from basketball. Just relax. We'll get right back at it (practicing) the next day."
Then comes more specific adjustments that the Celtics hope will get them a much-needed win to get back into this series.
"We'll be ready (for Game 3), I can guarantee you that," Rivers said.