Home field an advantage for the Patriots

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Home field an advantage for the Patriots

FOXBORO -- In the week leading up to the AFC Championship game, teams will accept any legal advantage they can get. Even if it's something as simple as being comfortable in your surroundings leading up to the game, they'll take it.

"Anytime you are playing at home this time of year is a key thing," Wes Welker said on Thursday. "Getting the fans into it and being able to play at home and practice at your own field and your own stadium and prepare for the game at your own place and all those things are good. We just have to make sure to take advantage of it."

In a way, the Patriots have their AFC title game opponents, the Ravens, to thank for their home field advantage. Of course, the Patriots earned their 12-4 record and their No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs. But if the Ravens hadn't beaten the Broncos in last week's AFC Divisional Round, New England would be leaving on a plane soon for Denver.

The benefits of playing on home field? There are the old standbys: Crowd noise, energy and, as Welker noted, home cooking. 
"We have great fans always coming out, high energy," Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. "Its going to be another huge game here at Gillette, so I think that everyones going to be jacked up."

But that energy hasn't always translated to wins in the playoffs. The Patriots have made the postseason each of the last four seasons, but in that time they've never had to play a playoff game on the road. They lost to the Ravens in January of 2010. They lost to the Jets in January of 2011. And last season they beat the Broncos and Ravens at home before going to the Super Bowl.

As their record shows, home field doesn't always guarantee success. And the Patriots know it.

"Its good that we get to stay home, but once you get out there on the field, you have two teams going at it, all playing for one common goal," said Patriots safety Devin McCourty. "I dont care where you play; its not going to change how one team comes out.

"Just because you're at home doesnt mean you're going to be more prepared than the team thats on the road. I think the team were playing now shows that. Theyve won a lot of road playoff games over the last couple years, so I dont think the home field advantage will really be that much of a difference as far as assuming since were at home were going to win."

It doesn't mean that there's no such thing as home field advantage. Only that it has its limitations. Welker said that as nice as it is to prepare for a home game at home, once the ball is kicked, the advantage stops there.

"Not really, not once the game starts," Welker said when asked if he puts stock in home field advantage. "Its a game and you prepare and you just have to go out there and execute the way you did in practice the whole week."

'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.”