Celtics look to back up Pierce’s boast
“We ain’t coming back to L.A.!” Pierce yelled in the final moments of the Celtics’ Game 2 victory.
Pierce has reason for his optimism with the Finals resuming here on Tuesday and two more games at the Garden to follow. History, however, shows it’s not too easy for the home team to sweep all three middle games, and the Celtics can blame none other than franchise patriarch Red Auerbach for that.
It was at Auerbach’s urging that the NBA decided in 1985 to switch the Finals to a 2-3-2 format instead of the standard 2-2-1-1-1 used in the earlier series. The league made the change to spare teams from having to make additional cross-country flights back when everyone was traveling commercially. Since then, the only home teams to win all three middle games have been the 2004 Detroit Pistons and ’06 Miami Heat.
Three visiting teams – the 1990 Pistons, 1991 Chicago Bulls and 2001 Lakers – have swept the middle games, which just proves one thing: At this level of the playoffs, it’s hard for any team to beat the other three times in a row.
“It’s extremely difficult to do,” said former Pistons point guard Isiah Thomas, who was MVP of the 1990 Finals when Detroit won three straight games in Portland to close out the series.
“That’s why it’s such a rare feat. Mentally, you have to go in there with the attitude that you can crush your opponent. Our locker room was totally silent before we came out for Game 3. We then ran out with [Bill] Laimbeer first, myself second and Joe Dumars third. I never forget Laimbeer running full blast out of the locker room and running a cameraman over.
“We all got to half court and Laimbeer grabbed the ball and slammed it hard to the floor. The Blazers turned around and looked at us, and I thought, ‘We are going to kick your ass.’ We were the ‘Bad Boys.’ If you’re going to be in a city that long, you have to own a city, make it yours and take it from the home team.”
That’s easier said than done for the Lakers, considering their famed rivalry with the Celtics makes them loathed here more than any other team. Even after beating the Lakers for the 2008 championship, Celtics fans still pelted L.A.’s bus with rocks as it tried to leave the arena. For now, the Lakers’ only goal is to get one win to steal back home-court advantage and force the series to return to L.A.
“In a sequence like this there’s no doubt it’s a blow to us to lose the home court, but we anticipated this might happen, and we’re just going to have to go pick it up,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
These Lakers aren’t easily intimidated. They closed each of their three previous series with wins on the road and are 4-4 overall away from home this postseason. The Celtics didn’t play well at home during the regular season, going 24-17, but have lost just two of their nine playoff games at the Garden this postseason.
“We’ve been playing great,” Celtics president Danny Ainge said. “We had one bad playoff game. Other than that, we’re playing great at home. It’s going to be crazy. Our Boston crowd has been great in the Cleveland series and the Orlando series.”
While Pierce made his bold proclamation to the fans, likely not expecting it to be picked up by TV cameras, he was much more tempered in his comments to reporters.
“I told ya’ll that doesn’t guarantee we’re going to win the games because we’re at home,” Pierce said. “We’ve got to go out there and play the game. They’re going to be coming into our house and we can’t assume anything. We can’t take it for granted.”
If losing Sunday’s game – or getting crushed here in their last game of the 2008 Finals – wasn’t motivation enough, the Lakers can now add Pierce’s taunt to their fuel. More than anyone, the Lakers know how difficult it is to win in Boston. That’s why they’re not looking past Tuesday.