Commentary

History isn't on Celtics' side

Only two Boston teams have lost Game 1 on road of best-of-seven and rallied back

Updated: May 3, 2010, 3:23 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

CLEVELAND -- Plenty of comparisons have been made between the 2009-10 Celtics and their counterparts from the 1968-69 season. From an aging roster with a closing window of opportunity to the fourth-place finish in the Eastern Conference and a lack of home-court advantage in the postseason, the teams are frighteningly similar.

[+] EnlargePaul Pierce
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesPaul Pierce shoots against LeBron James of the Cavaliers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday.

Now here's another thread Boston hopes remains common between the two teams: The 1969 Celtics were one of only two Boston squads ever to lose Game 1 of a best-of-seven series on the road, then rally to win the series.

Boston is a mere 2-6 in that situation, and 8-14 overall when losing Game 1 of a best-of-seven series regardless of home-court advantage.

What's more, teams with home-court advantage that win Game 1 of a best-of-seven series are 256-40 overall in the history of the NBA playoffs, a sterling 86.5 winning percentage.

All of which is to say that the Celtics find themselves in an undesirable situation after Saturday's Game 1 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a conference semifinal series.

Yet, Boston is hardly pressing the panic button.

"If we take it to seven games, we'll have three more opportunities to play here," point guard Rajon Rondo said before Sunday's practice. "[Game 1] is behind us. We wish we could have had it back, but that's yesterday."

The Celtics are taking the position that, so long as they take care of business at home, the Green simply need to steal any of four potential meetings at Quicken Loans Arena to win the series.

History suggests that's easier said than done. But a Boston team that lost two Game 1s last year during the postseason, only to bounce back with a pair of Game 2 wins, seems unfazed by the daunting task ahead.

"We've been here before," Ray Allen said. "It doesn't shake any one of us. We have a lot of experience. Everyone is ready to play."

But the fact remains that losing Game 1 on the road simply isn't a recipe for success. Besides the 1968-69 squad, the only other Boston team to lose Game 1 on the road and prevail in a best-of-seven series was the 2001-02 team. Seeded third, the Celtics fell to second-seeded Detroit in Game 1 at the Palace of Auburn Hills but won the next four to advance.

Opening on the road against the top-seeded Nets in the conference finals, Boston dropped Game 1 and never recovered, losing in six games.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers often scoffs at the notion that the past can indicate future results, particularly when the same participants weren't involved. His players are ignoring the stats working against them as well.

Dobbs The urgency has to go up. You don't want to go down 2-0 and put yourself in that type of hole, especially against a team like Cleveland. ... We gotta play Game 2 like it's Game 7.

-- Celtics captain Paul Pierce

"The first game is the first game," Glen Davis said. "It's tough because we felt like we should have won. But it is what it is. We still gotta play Monday. We still gotta play two games at home. The season is far from over."

Celtics captain Paul Pierce, who was participating in his first postseason when Boston overcame that Game 1 loss to Detroit in 2002, did admit the team needs a greater sense of urgency going into Game 2 against Cleveland.

"The urgency has to go up. You don't want to go down 2-0 and put yourself in that type of hole, especially against a team like Cleveland," Pierce said. "The urgency is there. We felt like Game 1 was important, but we let it slip away due to little things. Hopefully we clean those things up, come back with the same type of mindset, the same type of energy, with a little more perfection in our game, and we'll be all right.

"We gotta play Game 2 like it's Game 7," he added.

Rivers sometimes notes that a coach is often just a truth-teller -- the one person who can tell players what they're doing wrong -- and they can't, or at least they shouldn't, tune him out.

So when the Celtics boarded their team plane to Miami last week with a comfortable 2-0 advantage after winning both contests in Boston to start that opening-round series, Rivers reminded his team they hadn't accomplished anything yet. After all, teams are supposed to win on their home court during the postseason. A two-game lead was nothing to celebrate and surely the Heat were unfazed by such a deficit as the series shifted to Miami.

In this case, a coach is a liar -- someone who might not particularly believe what he's saying, but uses spin to keep his players motivated toward the larger prize. The Heat certainly couldn't have been too relaxed, even with a change of venue, staring at a two-game deficit.

The Celtics are hoping Mike Brown isn't telling his team that same spin after Monday's game.

"Honestly, that stuff, I don't think about it or even care to," Rivers said. "I know when you win the first two at home, the first thing you tell your team is [that the other team isn't worried since it's going home]. But [the opposing team is] thinking, 'We gotta win this next game.'"

Rivers said much of the hype about series deficits are created by articles just like this one. He said he simply focuses on the next game because, at the end of the day, a coach can't change the past, but he can alter the future.

Yet Rivers cannot tell a lie -- well, at least not another one. He understands why the media brings up the stats, and he'll do it himself when he eventually hangs up his whistle.

"When I do broadcasting someday," Rivers said, "that's the [stuff] I'm going to say."

In case you were wondering, that 1968-69 Celtics squad rallied on the biggest stage of them all, overcoming a 2-0 deficit to top Wilt Chamberlain and the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games.

The 2009-10 Celtics wouldn't mind sharing that similarity as well.

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

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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