Commentary

Celtics downright homely at home

Ugly loss to Cavaliers latest example of team's puzzling problem

Updated: February 26, 2010, 11:31 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- With the Boston Celtics nursing a third-quarter lead against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night, a message flashed on the TD Garden JumboTron reminding season-ticket holders to place their orders for the upcoming postseason and renew for the 2010-11 season.

Good thing the team didn't wait any longer to broadcast that message. After the Celtics crumbled yet again at home in a 108-88 loss to the Cavs, few would have been inspired to fill out those renewal forms or load up on playoff tickets given what they've been witnessing of late.

In what's become a disturbing trend at the Garden, the Celtics wilted in the second half against a quality opponent.

The Celtics didn't have Paul Pierce on Thursday, but it hasn't mattered lately. With or without their captain, Boston has struggled at home, to the tune of a 16-10 record for the season. The only other top-eight team in the Eastern Conference with double-digit home losses is the Miami Heat (14-13).

More concerning is the Celtics' record against the class of those playoff teams, most notably the others among the top four seeds in the East. Boston is now 0-5 at home against the Cavaliers, Magic and Hawks this season (and 2-8 overall).

Try to find a stellar win for the Celtics at home this season. A 105-86 victory over Utah -- currently the third seed in the West -- on Nov. 11 is as close as you'll get. That was back when the Celtics had won eight of their first nine to start the season.

Then the Celtics lost to Atlanta, and they haven't been the same here since. You can almost excuse losses to the Lakers, Phoenix and Dallas, three of the top five squads in the West, but Chicago and Philadelphia? For a team that lost just six games at home in each of the past two seasons, the struggles at the Garden are baffling.

The Celtics are 6-6 at home since the calendar turned to 2010. Even when they have won, it hasn't been pretty. Gino, the dancing star of the Celtics' late-game celebration video, has been spotted on the side of milk cartons instead of the JumboTron.

Boston plays 15 of its final 26 games at home. That's supposed to be a good thing. But one can't help but wonder if the Celtics would be better off on the road, where they are 20-10. That's the best road record in the NBA, a mark they share with Cleveland after Thursday's collapse.

"Doc said it perfectly: We've just got to continue to work," said Kevin Garnett. "We knew it wasn't going be an easy game. It was going to be a little bit of a test. But on the same level, the way we came out, we've got to be a 48-minute team. We can't just play one half and then relax, especially against a good team, a proven team, a team full of veterans and guys who are eager. We've just got to play better. We can't just play one half of basketball and then just come out and play like that.

"I know you guys are tired of writing it in your columns; I apologize for all that. At some point there has to be some action, you're right, you're totally right. Doc has a saying: 'You have to run through the whole race' -- and we've got to do that. Until we as players decide to do that, we're going to be in this predicament."

The frightening part is that there's no glaring issue in the Celtics' home losses (though the problems often have come in the second half, with the Green looking lethargic after intermission). Rivers says he knows what his team needs to do, but can't quite explain it. It's not as simple as tightening up one area.

"We'd like to be better, but we're not right now, and we've just got to keep working on it," said Rivers. "I know what we need to do. But one night it'll be defense, one night it'll be offense. So we've just got to be more consistent."

In the past, the Celtics have contended that it's just the regular season and that these sorts of losses don't have any real bearing -- aside from playoff seeding -- in the postseason. But they've also (begrudgingly) acknowledged that every loss gives the opposition a little extra confidence. Cleveland certainly didn't deny that Thursday.

"We haven't had much success here; we lost the last nine times coming into this building, so you get the monkey off your back," said LeBron James.

Now the monkey is on the Celtics' back and time is running out to get it off. The notion that the team can simply flip a switch and remember how to win at home in the playoffs is foolish. Heck, maybe it's best they keep losing at home, then they won't have to play here as often in the postseason.

The five-win Nets -- they of a 2-27 road record -- come to the Garden on Saturday. Charlotte, Washington, Memphis, Indiana, Detroit and New York follow, a string of seven straight home games against teams that wouldn't currently qualify for the postseason.

The current Celtics will not struggle to sell out their building. But if they want to sell it out into the summer months, they'll need to start capitalizing on the so-called home-court advantage.

Thursday's game closed with the public address announcer thanking the fans for being the "best sixth man in basketball." He competed with the boos raining down from those same fans who couldn't have been in any rush to submit their playoff order forms.

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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