CLEVELAND (AP)—Kevin Garnett stutter-stepped as he reached a potential right turn down a seemingly endless hallway early Sunday morning. After losing Game 3, he and Boston teammate Paul Pierce were on their way to a media interview room proving difficult to find.
“Where’s it at?” Garnett growled.
That’s the Celtics, searching for directions on the NBA’s playoff highway.
The kings of the road are lost.
Boston, which went a league-best 31-10 in away games during the regular season, has dropped all four of its road games so far in this postseason, a potentially disturbing trend for a team aiming to win it all. A perfect 6-0 inside noisy TD Banknorth Garden so far in these playoffs, the Celtics dropped to 0-4 on the road Saturday night with a 108-84 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who trimmed Boston’s lead to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
Game 4 is Monday night, and unless the green-and-white can cure their home sickness, their commanding lead will be gone.
Of course, holding the home-court advantage trump card throughout the playoffs gives the Celtics a safety net. They can continue to lose on the road as long as they win all their home games. But one little misstep on their parquet floor could lead to an early slide into summer.
A slower-than-slow start doomed the Celtics in Game 3. They fell behind by 19 points after the first quarter, were down by an eye-popping 43-17 in the second and never mounted a serious threat after halftime as the Cavaliers destroyed a team with a collective 72-20 record this season.
“We can’t spot a team 15-20 points and try to dig ourselves out of it,” Garnett said. “We talked about that in the locker room, that we need to play with the same urgency like we have at home. We can definitely play better, and we will.”
What’s most puzzling about the Celtics’ road woes is that they played so well while living out of their suitcases during the regular season. They won almost everywhere, even blowing through San Antonio, Houston and Dallas to win consecutive games in a rare Texas-three step of wins.
It was the first time Boston had won three in a row in the Lone Star State since 1987, and the Celts became the first team to nail the Texas trifecta since the Sacramento Kings in 2001.
The Celtics reviewed tape of Game 3 and practiced for about an hour at Quicken Loans Arena. Coach Doc Rivers only had his team watch the first quarter of the loss.
“Our guys saw what they need to do,” he said. “It’s not a lot of Xs and Os.”
Pierce said the Celtics need to come out faster.
“You can’t just ease into these games and expect them to lay down, especially on their home court,” he said. “We all need this win on the road, man. Shoot, it’s like a gorilla on our back trying to get a road win.”
They certainly know how to win on the road, it just seems as if they’ve forgotten.
The NBA’s best defensive team in the regular season, the Celtics limited the Hawks to just 77 points per game in Boston’s four wins in the first round. However, Garnett and Co. gave up an average of 101 points in their three losses in Atlanta.
On Saturday, they gave up 56 points in the second half as the Cavaliers had their most complete game of the series.
Odds favor the Celtics becoming road warriors once again, a thought that has crossed the mind of Cavs forward Joe Smith.
“I was thinking about that all day before yesterday’s game,” Smith said following practice on Sunday. “I was watching everything on TV and that’s all you hear about, their struggles in Atlanta and how they’ve been struggling on the road lately.
“A team like that is going to do everything they can to break out of that road slump and I was kind of worried about that going into the game and I’m still worried about it. Hopefully we can come out and play the same way we did yesterday.”
The Cavs got the big game they needed to get back into the series. Although star LeBron James remains stuck in a three-games-old shooting slide (he’s up from 19 to 22 in field-goal percentage), Cleveland got key contributions from Smith, Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak and Ben Wallace, the veteran foursome brought in at the trading deadline by general manager Danny Ferry.
Smith went 7-of-8 from the field, grabbed six rebounds and helped control Garnett in 23 minutes. West made four 3-pointers, scored 21 points with seven assists, pushed the tempo in Cleveland’s favor and contained Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, who didn’t have an assist in 24 minutes.
Szczerbiak scored 16 points, and Wallace, who wasn’t expected to play because of an inner ear infection, came up with nine points, nine rebounds and inspiration.
Cavs coach Mike Brown didn’t know Wallace could go until an hour before tipoff, but even when Cleveland’s starters were announced, it was still unclear if Big Ben was in the lineup. When Wallace was introduced to the crowd, Anderson Varejao ran onto the floor as his teammates broke into laughter and fans wondered if there had been some mistake.
It was all choreographed, though. Wallace, you see, was standing behind a nearby curtain trying to stay clear of the smoke emitted from the pregame pyrotechnics that trigger his allergies.
“We’re probably going to do the same thing,” Szczerbiak cracked. “It worked.”
It would help if Cleveland’s role players pick up the slack in case James has another off night. If that happens, West said the Cavaliers are ready.
“That’s why it’s a team game,” he said. “That’s why you have teammates you trust. … We’re a unit. In this locker room we don’t separate ourselves and put that separation between LeBron and ourselves as a team. I think y’all more so do that.
“But here in this locker room, he brings the attitude. He brings the attitude like we’re all in this together. And I think it’s good to have his back for a change since he has ours so many nights.”