Commentary

No empty feeling for Celtics

Despite loss in Game 1, they say goal of split in Cleveland is still in play

Updated: May 2, 2010, 10:35 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

CLEVELAND -- When the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers met in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2008, Boston leaned on the luxury that home-court advantage affords by taking care of business at the TD Garden and prevailing in seven games.

Standing outside the visitors locker room at Quicken Loans Arena before Saturday's Game 1 of the 2010 rematch, Celtics coach Doc Rivers didn't need a reminder that his team was opening its first playoff series on the road since the Big Three was formed.

"Yeah, it sucks," he joked when a reporter brought up the fact.

"Usually you do have to win a game on the road, eventually. So, for us, it's a fact. The last time we believed that would happen. It never did. This time I'm positive of it. We're going to have to win a road game."

[+] EnlargeLeBron James
Dave Miller/US PresswireThe Celtics tried all means to slow LeBron James, but he still came away with a game-high 35 points.

The Celtics gave themselves a golden opportunity to do just that Saturday but let a double-digit lead evaporate in the third quarter en route to a 101-93 defeat.

If Cleveland ultimately prevails in seven games, this might be the game the Celtics look back and kick themselves over. But in the aftermath of Saturday's second-half letdown, the team seemed as if it had already moved on to Monday's Game 2.

"We're going to try to get one here in Cleveland," captain Paul Pierce said. "That is the goal."

Those prone to knee-jerk (over)reactions will suggest the Celtics are toast after letting this game slip away. How many chances do you get against the best team in the league on its home turf?

Inside Boston's locker room, however, the team saw a positive base to build on and a chance to atone Monday.

Sure, letting an 11-point third-quarter lead slip away is something the inconsistent Celtics -- the ones who went 27-27 during the last two-thirds of the season -- often did. But the team doesn't seem overly concerned about reverting to that form after looking a whole lot more like the team that started the year 23-5 in a first-round series win over Miami.

"No, an 11-point lead isn't much in the NBA," said resident straight shooter Kendrick Perkins, who received five stitches in his upper lip after suffering a first-quarter laceration. "If it was a 20-point lead, it'd be different. But an 11-point lead, that's really nothing in the NBA, especially on the road.

"We've got to stick together, and we need to play together Monday."

As for the Cavaliers, they saw room for improvement even in victory and weren't talking as if the series was over based on one home triumph.

"Game 1 sets the tone, individually and as a team," said LeBron James, who scored 35 points on 12-of-24 shooting and helped Cleveland pull away in the fourth quarter. "Game 1 is behind us, and we go to practice tomorrow, watch film and go over things that we can do better, especially in the first half. We'll take a look at that so we won't get off to a start like that again on Monday. Game 2 is also important."

Boston could have taken a whole lot of pressure off itself with a triumph Saturday. But if the goal, as Pierce suggested, is to simply come away with a split -- and net that coveted road victory -- then the Celtics haven't failed at their mission just yet.

In fact, Kevin Garnett went so far as to suggest the team was more confident after the game.

"We felt like we had this game," Garnett said. "We have a lot of confidence now. When you're at home, you play your hardest; you play your best basketball. We all know they're a good team at home. We'll go back to the drawing board, watch the film and try to get Game 2.

"We come in here with confidence; we're not lacking that. We just have to be more consistent coming down the stretch."

Rajon Rondo wouldn't deny that Boston let an opportunity get away.

"I thought we stopped being aggressive, and they picked it up," Rondo said. "We turned the ball over, and they capitalized.

"We did a good job of getting out to a good lead. We took that first blow. We had a double-digit lead going into halftime. What more can you ask for in a road Game 1? They came out swinging, and we just stopped doing what we were doing and being aggressive."

Let one slip away? Sure. Let the series slip away? Not so fast.

"There will be at least three more [games], I can guarantee you that," Rivers said. "It's NBA basketball. Hopefully we have a great opportunity every night, and hopefully we win one of them. This is not going to be easy for either team. You can see that. It's going to be a tough series."

When a reporter asked whether Rivers was insinuating the series would go seven games based on "three more" Cavaliers home games, Rivers kept it light.

"I hope so, or five," he said, alluding to the potential for Boston to end the series with four straight victories. "If we can do it in five, that would be terrific.

"Right now [the Cavaliers] have to feel real good. They've won a game; we haven't. For us to make it go five, we've got to win one first, then go from there."

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

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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