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

Celtics expectations at a new high in Stevens' fourth season

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Celtics expectations at a new high in Stevens' fourth season

WALTHAM, Mass. – As Amir Johnson made his way to the podium during the Boston Celtics’ Media day on Monday, he didn’t waste any time addressing the biggest change from last season this time.

For the first time under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens, the Celtics have  expectations – high expectations – for the upcoming season.

“A lot of expectations I hear around here,” Johnson said. “'Celtics got this,'  'Celtics got that!' Talk to me!”

Well he’s right.

The expectations are at a level we have not seen under Stevens, and its players like Johnson and his play that have helped fuel such speculation.

Vegas lists Boston as one of a handful of teams whose over/under win total is over 50. 

Last season the Celtics were 48-34 which was tied for the third-best record in the East.

Arguably Boston’s greatest strength last season was their depth; the kind that seemed to have a serviceable player at every position times two (or in some instances).

While Boston’s depth this season isn’t any greater in terms of quantity, the quality of Boston’s starters and backups is indeed of a higher grade which is why defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers are the only team at this point that’s without question better than the Celtics.

Being a team that’s expected to be among the top teams in the East is new for this crew. In fact, you have to go back to the days when Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were around to find another time when Boston was thought of so highly in the Eastern Conference.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens is well aware that there’s an increased level of external support that believes his team will be among the top squads in the NBA.

But he also recognizes his team’s best path towards success is to remain true to who they are and what they do best.

When asked what success for the Celtics will look like this season, Stevens was succinct in his response.

“My expectations never change,” Stevens said. “It’s all about getting better tomorrow, making sure we’re as good as we can be. That’s’ a very simple, boring process but that’s the way that I go about it. The results take care of themselves.”

After winning just 25 games during his rookie season, Stevens-coached teams in Boston have increased their win total each season.

So the growth both he and the Celtics as well as their fan base are seeking, has been pretty obvious.

And while most of the players tried to be as non-committal as they could on what would a successful season look like, Jae Crowder left nothing to the imagination when he laid out what a good season in his eyes looked like.

“Our first goal was to make it to the playoffs,” Crowder said. “We’re beyond that point now.

Crowder added, “Success is home court advantage going into the playoffs, getting past the first round. Two years in a row we got the same result. We have to progress from that. That’s what we’re shooting for.”

Being one of the hunted will be a new experience for the Celtics, one that Danny Ainge is excited about this season.

“We expect our team to be better,” said Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations. “We expect each of the players to be better. We have a lot of guys that are not yet in their prime that are moving in that direction. I do expect it to be better.

Ainge added, “You can have some goals with numbers but overall there’s a lot of factors in determining success. We want to be better at the end of the year than we are at the beginning of the year, however good we are at the beginning of the year. We want to compete against the best teams.”