<
>

Celtics still have road work ahead

WALTHAM, Mass. -- While a lot came easy to the Boston Celtics over the previous two regular seasons, they've been playoff masochists since the new Big Three was formed.

Of the six playoff series the team has completed since 2008, all six have gone to at least six games, with four being pushed to a do-or-die Game 7.

So it's slightly ironic that, in a 2009-10 season where very little has come easy, Boston finds itself in position to make its playoff life much simpler as it packs a 2-0 lead for its trip to Miami for Friday's Game 3 of the teams' Eastern Conference first-round series.

Judging by history, a win Friday all but guarantees Boston a spot in the next round and likely ensures a swift end to its opening-round matchup. No team in NBA history has come back from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series, and in the 88 times a team has held a three-game lead, only nine times has the series even progressed to a Game 6 (53 ended in four games, while 26 ended in five).

And while Boston players admitted they can smell blood, this team -- prone to second-half collapses all season long -- has rarely shown the killer instinct it will need to ensure a rapid wrap-up to this series.

The Celtics did showcase that stomp-on-their-throat attitude Tuesday night in racing away from the Heat in the third quarter of a 106-77 triumph at TD Garden.

"I just remember [Tuesday] at halftime, guys were like, 'We smell blood,'" said Kendrick Perkins, who then pointed out that Boston emerged from halftime with a 16-point cushion but quickly motored away with inspired play at both ends of the court.

"Going into Game 3, I hope we still smell blood."

There are some numbers that should leave Boston salivating. Consider:

* In NBA history, a team leading 2-0 in a best-of-seven series has won that series 93.7 percent of the time (209-14 overall).

* In NBA history, when the home team has won the first two games of a best-of-seven series, that team has prevailed 94.2 percent of the time.

* The Heat are 1-6 when trailing 2-0 in a best-of-seven series (their lone rally coming in the 2006 NBA Finals against Dallas).

But while the statistics lean heavily in favor of Boston, coach Doc Rivers balanced the line between complacency and overconfidence with his team Wednesday.

In his mind, it hasn't accomplished anything yet.

"At the end of the day, all we've done is win two home games," Rivers said after Wednesday's practice session at the Sports Authority Training Center at HealthPoint. "Miami has yet to play a home game, so that's how they're thinking, for sure, and whether we won by one point or whatever we won by [in Tuesday's lopsided victory], Game 3 was going to be tough and we understand that."

Rivers has reason to be leery. Boston has posted a mere 2-4 record in Game 3s over the past two seasons. Three times during the 2008 championship campaign, the Celtics boasted 2-0 advantages, and three times it lost in Game 3.

Sure, the end result turned out fine that year. But if the Celtics are to make a prolonged run this season, it wouldn't hurt to dispatch the Heat ASAP so they can turn their attention to the top-seeded Cavaliers, who hold a 2-0 lead over the Bulls.

History is keeping Boston focused on the prize. Particularly the grueling seven-game series against Atlanta in 2008's opening round.

"That's all I think about," said Celtics guard Ray Allen. "It resonates now because we were flying high up two [games on Atlanta]. I think we blew them out both games in [Boston]. We had all played in that building before, but we didn't expect what we saw when we got out there [in Atlanta]. That building carried them to two victories."

The Celtics know Miami's fans are capable of creating a similar environment at American Airlines Arena, even though Boston won there twice during the regular season.

"The regular season is the regular season," said Kevin Garnett. "I never mix the two, to be honest. A couple of years ago, Atlanta didn't have the crowd and noise, then we went and played them in the playoffs and it was totally different. Honestly, I'd say it was a shell-shock to our team [against Atlanta]. So I never mix the two.

"We anticipate a very hostile environment. In Miami, I think it was [2006] when they won it, I remember watching Chauncey [Billups] and [Rasheed Wallace] play them [with Detroit], how hostile it was, and how crazy the town can get when it's behind that team."

And while Boston can put this series away with a triumph, Miami can sneak back in with a Game 3 win.

"Everything is magnified," said Allen. "They have a chance now to do what we've done on our floor -- put their A-game on the floor in their building. Their fans are allowed to yell whatever they want to -- yelling at me, Paul [Pierce] and Kevin, we'll hear it all. The most important thing is our focus, we've really got to be together. This is where road resolve really comes into play."

Both Allen and Rivers know nothing comes easy on the road. But each noted that, in a small way, the Celtics look forward to being the villains.

They just can't be complacent villains.

"We can't go into this game thinking that Game 3 is going to be easy," said Allen.

A win almost guarantees the Celtics that things will be a little easier moving forward. But Boston must show the killer instinct that's been missing for much of the season.

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