C's Say Yes to Health over Home Court

Marc D'Amico
April 23, 2012

WALTHAM, Mass. – Two games remain on the regular-season schedule, but make no mistake about it – it’s playoff week.

The playoffs are on the minds of players, coaches and media members alike. The anticipation of the playoffs - not Tuesday's showdown with the Heat - is palpable in Waltham, Mass.. That's why the media pelted the C’s with questions about the postseason, which begins this weekend, and particularly about home court advantage.

Boston currently trails Atlanta by one game in the loss column with two games remaining on each team’s schedule. The C’s will play the Heat and Bucks at home to close out their season, while the Hawks will host the Clippers and the Mavericks. The result of those four contests will determine which squad will host Game 1 of their almost-certain playoff series.

To explain the situation in simple terms, the Hawks must finish with a better record than the Celtics in order to gain home court. A tie or a lead for Boston would ensure that Game 1 will be played in TD Garden this weekend.

Johnson Jumper

The Celtics may be forced to defend Joe Johnson in Atlanta for Game 1, but they'll have plenty of green in the Philips Arena crowd.Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty

With the location of Games 1 and 2 still undetermined, you can imagine that a lot of thoughts are currently running through the minds of Doc Rivers and Larry Drew. Do they rest their veterans in order to gear up for the playoffs, or do they try to preserve home court? In a perfect world for the Celtics, it would be a mixture of the two.

“It’d be great to get (home court),” Rivers said after Monday’s practice. “We have two games. We’re going to try to win them both and see what happens.”

Everyone knows that the Celtics will try to win those two games – they don’t take the court just to lay down for their opponent, as the Hawks learned Friday night. The question, however, is which Celtics will be on the floor trying to win those games.

Rivers and his staff have already given plenty of rest to their biggest stars over the past week. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were healthy scratches from two of the past four games, while Rajon Rondo, Mickael Pietrus and Ray Allen are all healing from separate injuries. How many of those players will make it into both of these final two games? The answer to that question is still unknown, but don’t be shocked if the answer winds up being “none.”

“If I thought our guys were banged up, I’d sit them. That’s not even a question for me,” Rivers said of his top players. “I’m taking rest and rhythm over home court.”

That’s an interesting stance, but not a foreign one for the Celtics. Rivers has gone this route over the past three seasons, and one of those resulted in a trip to the Finals. Everyone knows that when Rivers has his players healthy, this group can compete with anyone, anywhere.

“Home court is great; you want to have home court,” Pierce said today. “You want to try to play for home court, but at the end of the day you want to be healthy first.

“I mean, we’re definitely a better home team than we are a road team, but at this point we feel like if we’re healthy we have a chance in anybody’s building. We’ve shown we can beat anybody in the Eastern Conference in their building.”

Pierce is close with that assessment. Boston has marched into the arenas of five of the seven teams that will join them in the Eastern Conference playoffs and notched a win this season. The remaining two arenas in which the C’s have yet to grab a victory are the United Center in Chicago and Madison Square Garden in New York. There have, however, been some pretty tight contests in those arenas.

Boston’s players are confident that they can win anywhere. That’s why the notion of health over home court is widespread throughout its locker room. Every player and coach who spoke to the media today made that clear, including newcomer Sean Williams.

Although Williams has only been with the team since Friday, he is confident that this team can compete with the best of them. He also now understands that a road game for the Celtics in the playoffs won’t be a standard road game.

“I’ve only played one game as a Celtic on the road and it was… awkward, to say the least,” Williams said with a laugh. “I was with Dallas (earlier this season) and we were going places and you had your fans there, because I guess we were the champions, but not quite like it was in Atlanta the other night.

“It felt like a home game.”

Boston is ready to open up its playoff push with a home game this weekend in the Garden, but it would have a favorable atmosphere if it’s forced to play Game 1 in Philips Arena. But wherever they end up, they want health to be on their side.