Can Celtics bring Road Warrior ways to Milwaukee, keep pressure on Bucks?

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Forsberg: Can Celtics bring Road Warrior ways to Milwaukee? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Winning on the road in the playoffs is hard.

The 2007-08 Boston Celtics, who steamrolled their way to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference while going an NBA-best 31-10 away from TD Garden, dropped their first six road games that postseason and had to stretch to seven games in each of the first two rounds as part of their championship march.

It wasn’t until the team stumbled at home in the East finals against Detroit that it had to win on the road. Which is the predicament the 2021-22 Celtics face as their semifinal series shifts to Milwaukee for Games 3 and 4.

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Paul Pierce implored the 2008 Celtics to show why they were the best road team in the NBA and Boston’s tone-setting 94-80 triumph in Game 3 rejuvenated a Celtics squad that went on to close out the series in six games (with the final victory also in Detroit).

Celtics first-year coach Ime Udoka has repeatedly implored his team to build a road-warrior mentality this season and his team eventually took it to heart. The Celtics went 16-5 over their final 21 road games while outscoring opponents by 15.1 points per 100 possessions (the next closest teams were Denver and Phoenix at +6.6 net rating).

The Celtics didn’t just beat teams on the road in the second half of the season, they bullied them. They jammed teams in lockers and stole their girlfriends. There was a 48-point beatdown in Philly. A 35-point thrashing in Brooklyn. A 33-point molly whopping in Orlando. Boston won nearly half (10) of those final 21 road games by 20+ points.

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Alas, the postseason is a different beast. And Marcus Smart, hopeful to be back on the court for Game 3, delivered one heck of an analogy about the intensity of road games during his turn at the podium on Thursday.

"As a competitor, to be able to go onto somebody’s home court and take the life out of it is an awesome feeling. They came and they did it here in Game 1," said Smart. "It’s not going to be easy, we know that, and that’s what kind of makes that Us vs. Everybody even more important, because when you go into that hostile environment, it’s you and those 14 guys, the coaching staff and the team and organization, against everybody else ...

"I look at it as like when you were a little kid, you running from school, everybody got in fights, a lot of us got jumped before. My mama always told me, if you’re outnumbered, you might as well be the first one to initiate and start a punch, because you’re outnumbered. You might as well take one with you. That’s how it is. You’ve gotta go in and you’ve gotta be able to throw that punch first, knowing everybody is against you and you’re going to have a battle on your hands. So it definitely feels good and I think, as a competitor, the good ones and the great ones, they enjoy it."

The Celtics handed out "Us vs. Everybody" T-shirts for Game 1 of the Bucks series with the quote attributed to the "DPOY" -- or Smart, the Defensive Player of the Year -- after he delivered Boston’s rallying cry following the sweep of the Nets.

The Celtics didn’t just beat teams on the road in the second half of the season, they bullied them. They jammed teams in lockers and stole their girlfriends. There was a 48-point beatdown in Philly. A 35-point thrashing in Brooklyn. A 33-point molly whopping in Orlando. Boston won nearly half (10) of those final 21 road games by 20+ points.

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Now this Boston core has to prove it can handle the intensity of the road in the postseason.

The Celtics have experienced a lot of playoff basketball since drafting Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in consecutive years. That duo has 123 combined games of postseason experience. But you have to dig a bit to find a signature road win with the Jays as the focal points of the team.

Now, some of that is beyond their control. Boston won some big road games during the Isaiah Thomas-led 2017 march to the East finals, when Brown was a role-playing rookie and a year before Tatum was selected. Boston’s run to the East finals in 2020 came in the bubble, which made game location irrelevant.

Boston’s grittiest road win, ironically, came exactly four years ago today. Affectionately dubbed "The Confetti Game," the Celtics gritted out an overtime win against the Sixers (whose game-ops staff prematurely celebrated a victory) while taking a 3-0 series lead (then salted away the series in five games). Marcus Morris repeatedly gesturing "3-0" as the Sixers took Game 4 was the epitome of road bravado.

This core did score a notable win in Milwaukee in Game 1 of the East semis during the 2019 playoffs. Alas, Kyrie Irving immediately checked out with his mind on smoothing his path to a Brooklyn pairing with his buddy Kevin Durant that offseason. The Celtics lost four straight for a jarring end to a season defined by failed expectations.

The Celtics already scored two road victories over the defense-averse Nets in this 2022 postseason, though we’re hesitant to lump them in the "signature win" category (though winning two games that triggered clutch criteria -- score within five points in final five minutes -- was progress for a team that struggled in those instances during the regular season).

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The Bucks were a solid-but-not-otherworldly 27-14 at home this season. They dropped Game 2 at home against the Bulls, their only loss in Round 1.

But Milwaukee does know when to turn up the intensity. The Bucks were 10-1 at home during last year’s playoff march, including winning three games in Milwaukee after falling behind 0-2 to the Suns in the NBA Finals.

Celtics fans travel well but they are unlikely to hear many cheers inside Fiserv Forum. Every bit of shamrock green will blend in among the Bucks’ hunter green. Well, unless Boston is able to silence the opposing crowd.

The Celtics have to show that, in the postseason, they can truly thrive when it’s Them vs. Everybody.