The Celtics have new life in the Eastern Conference Finals.
After dropping the first three games of the series to the Heat, the Celtics avoided a sweep by earning a 17-point win in Game 4. It’s the first step toward Boston overcoming a 3-0 series deficit, something no NBA team has successfully done in 150 tries.
For the Celtics, the situation is pretty straightforward — win four consecutive games, or your season is over. The formula to do so is where things gets interesting.
In the lead-up to Game 4, the Celtics made it clear that they are leaning on the rhetoric of the 2004 Red Sox team that still stands as the only MLB team to overcome a 3-0 series deficit. The thought process is that, after avoiding the sweep, pressure begins to mount for the opposition. The team that’s facing elimination, on the other hand, can play a bit more freely.
In theory, this concept should especially hold true for Boston, which, as the higher seed, will host Game 5 and a potential Game 7. However, recent history shows that the Celtics’ home-court advantage may actually not be much of an advantage.
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During the 2022-23 regular season, the Celtics’ 32-9 record at home was good for third-best in the NBA. The postseason has been a completely different story.
After losing Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals at home to the Heat, the Celtics are now 4-5 at home during the 2023 NBA Playoffs. Making matters worse is the fact that the five losses have come in a span of seven games.
Since winning their first two home games of the playoffs, here is how things have gone for the Celtics:
|April 25||1||5||Hawks 119, Celtics 117|
|May 1||2||1||76ers 119, Celtics 115|
|May 3||2||2||Celtics 121, 76ers 87|
|May 9||2||5||76ers 115, Celtics 103|
|May 14||2||7||Celtics 112, 76ers 88|
|May 17||3||1||Heat 123, Celtics 116|
|May 19||3||2||Heat 111, Celtics 105|
The troubling trend isn’t unique to this year’s Celtics team, either. After sweeping the opening round of last year’s playoffs, Boston lost two home games in each of the next three rounds, including the Warriors’ title-clinching win in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
Over the last two seasons, the Celtics are a meager 10-11 in playoff games played at the TD Garden. They’re 1-4 in their last five home playoff games against the Heat.
So, what gives?
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Nine-game sample sizes are difficult to explore, and Boston’s two blowout wins in the Philadelphia series skew a few numbers that make trends even harder to identify.
That said, there is a common thread among a number of these games.
Boston’s late-game execution, or lack thereof, reared its ugly head in multiple playoff losses at home. Daggers from Trae Young and James Harden may have gotten the headlines, but in each of those games, the Celtics made poor decisions in key moments.
In Game 5 against the Hawks, the Celtics blew a 13-point fourth-quarter lead. Boston led by as many as 12 points in its Game 2 loss against Miami.
The numbers over Boston’s nine-game sample size may not point toward one specific trend or issue, but the team’s losses indicate problems with execution and maintaining focus for the entirety of a 48-minute game.
It’s a puzzling trend for a title contender to have anywhere, but especially on its home floor.
Ahead of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Jaylen Brown said that the energy inside of the TD Garden has been “OK, at best” during the postseason, hinting that there is a correlation between the crowd and the team’s performance.
In order for Boston to do what no team has ever done before, it will need to create that energy early and often.
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