Celts don't want to return to Cleveland
WALTHAM, Mass. -- When the Boston Celtics were on the verge of closing out the Miami Heat, boasting a 3-1 edge as the quarterfinal series shifted back to Boston earlier this month, captain Paul Pierce joked that the only time he wanted to return to South Beach was when he was on vacation.
With all due respect to Cleveland, the Celtics have seen quite enough of The Forest City this season and would just as soon not return -- for business or pleasure -- until next October at the earliest.
We haven't [won anything yet]. Listen guys, we've got one home game left in this series. We haven't done anything and we've made that clear. You know we're going to get Cleveland's best shot. You know LeBron is going to play an amazing game. And we're going to have to absorb that, and still win the game.” -- Celtics coach Doc Rivers
And with Boston holding a 3-2 edge as its Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Cavaliers shifts back to the Hub, both players and coaches stressed it's in the Green's best interest to never see the cramped confines of the visitor's locker room inside Quicken Loans Arena again this season.
"If we lose [Game 6] at home, we've got to go back to Cleveland, and even though we know we can win there, at the same time, that's their house, that's their environment," Celtics forward Glen Davis said at Wednesday's practice. "It's just a tough situation. Sure, it's hard to win three games in a row, but at the same time, the Suns did it. They pulled it out. The Lakers did it. Orlando did it. We've got to win this game."
Echoed center Kendrick Perkins: "It's Game 7 coming up. We don't want to go back to Cleveland. We've got to come out with the right focus, the right mindset. And play our game."
Celtics forward Kevin Garnett shared a similar opinion in his postgame comments Tuesday night, indicating there was an overwhelming sense of urgency for the Celtics in Game 6.
"Anybody who gives two cents about this game and is very, very competitive, anything like me, then they're going to go home and watch this tape, probably not eat, probably not sleep much, and be ready for Game 6," Garnett said. "So we have to be ready for that. We can't put the onus on a Game 7 back here in this building [in Cleveland]."
Boston knows it has Cleveland on the ropes after Tuesday's 32-point thrashing in Game 5. The Celtics wouldn't mind if the circus surrounding LeBron James' struggles (he scored 15 points on 3-of-14 shooting) and his potential future employer (he's a free agent at season's end) continued to cloud him for one more day, but they're not expecting it.
"We haven't [won anything yet]," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "Listen guys, we've got one home game left in this series. We haven't done anything and we've made that clear. You know we're going to get Cleveland's best shot. You know LeBron is going to play an amazing game. And we're going to have to absorb that and still win the game."
James chalked up what could have been his final home game in Cleveland to an off night and believes he and his teammates can extend the series and their season.
After practice Wednesday in Cleveland, he was asked why Cavaliers fans, who booed him and his teammates during the Game 5 debacle, should be confident.
"They've got me," James said.
For now, anyway.
Rivers said the key for his team is to avoid focusing on how close it is to advancing to the next round or becoming complacent with the luxury of home court in Game 6.
Heck, Rivers isn't even using last year's 3-2 collapse against the Orlando Magic -- the only one of 33 best-of-seven series the Celtics have failed to win when leading after five games -- as motivation.
"I think [the media] will [point that out], I don't think I have to," said Rivers. "It doesn't matter, this is not Orlando. This is Cleveland. And we don't have home-court [advantage] as far as the whole series goes," which they did last year against the Magic.
"The bottom line is all that stuff doesn't matter -- it really doesn't. At end of the day, you come out and focus on the process of playing basketball. You can't focus on anything that's happened before, or anything that happens after. I don't even like hearing guys talk about closing out. That doesn't do anything. You've got to play the game, focus on the game of basketball. It's the only way to win this game."
Fortunately for Boston, this year, unlike last, it has Garnett. And even Davis, the man who filled in admirably for the Big Ticket, admitted the Boston roster is simply not the same without KG.
"Kevin's a verbal guy, a verbal leader," said Davis. "He's the action, the intensity out there; a post-up presence. That's a lot of things we didn't have last year with KG out. Sure, I was scoring points and matching his points, but at the same time, it's a different person."
Davis is happy to resume a supporting role with Garnett healthy and performing at a high level this season. But it's not just his contributions on the stat sheet that have buoyed the Celtics.
Rivers noted how it's hard for anyone not in uniform to motivate the players around him. So while Garnett sat on the bench during the postseason last year, his impact is far greater while wearing a No. 5 jersey even without setting foot on the court.
"KG brought that intensity to the game, the energy level is high," said Perkins. "Forget his skills, he's a man of great focus. He demands his team goes hard."
Now he's demanding his team go hard enough to avoid a trip back to Cleveland. And his message has been received loud and clear.
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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