“Whether they play in Boston, Atlanta or Tokyo, the Celtics are going to beat the Hawks.”
That’s what Charles Barkley said the other night. It’s also what Doc Rivers implied over the final two weeks of the season.
Wasn’t that the message when Rivers started resting his players with home-court advantage against the Hawks still at stake? Didn’t Doc send out his “C” team against the Hawks at Philips Arena–and nearly win the game anyway? Certainly Doc earned the psyops W at that moment when Joe Johnson trudged back into the game because Atlanta’s reserves couldn’t finish off the likes of JaJuan Johnson.
“That’s mental,” Josh Smith said. “He’s a great mental coach. He plays mental games with his players and the other team. He’s a great coach. He knows what his team can do.”
The Celtics didn’t have to go all-out to get home-court advantage, either. The Hawks opened the door with that ugly home loss to the Raptors. Doc just shrugged.
“I’m taking rest and rhythm over home court,” he said over and over.
The unstated implication, of course, is that the Celtics don’t think they need home-court advantage beat the Hawks.
“I’m not going to be politically correct: Yes, I am a bit offended by that,” Jannero Pargo said. “I think it also shows the confidence they have in themselves, which is a good thing for them. But, yeah, I feel some type of way about that. They feel like they are going to win the first round whether it’s here or there.”
I suppose Boston’s nonchalance about home court is understandable for a group with championship rings and three players headed to Hall of Fame. The Celtics are 13-22 in playoff road games since 2008 so it’s not as if they don’t know they can do it (though it’s worth noting is they didn’t win at Philips in 2008 when they were much better and the Hawks not as good).
I’m sure supreme confidence is the default disposition for a franchise that has nearly as many playoff victories in the last four years as the Hawks have managed since 1988.
“They’ve won a championship,” Jeff Teague said. “They’ve won on the road in the playoffs. They are confident. We are confident, too. We don’t take offense to it. They feel like they can win on the road.”
Larry Drew: “They won a championship with a team a few years ago and they have a core of guys that are used to playing on the road in big-time situations. I’m sure that doesn’t faze them at all. Being a veteran ballclub, I can see where health is probably a little bit more important than home court. For us, it’s totally different.”
I’m not one to throw shade on Doc’s approach with his team. Not many coaches are more in tune with what their players need. Perhaps it’s less about Doc taking the Hawks lightly and more that he felt he had no choice but to ease his guys into the postseason.
Still, Doc’s strategy is not without risk.
It starts with the math: According to the NBA’s postseason media guide, teams with home-court advantage have won 76.3 percent of series since 1984. The Celtics were a mediocre road team this season–even their surge to end the season included a loss at Toronto when they were actually trying to win. And if the Celtics expect they’ll get their usual robust support from fans at Philips Arena, they may be out of luck: word is the Hawks expect the ratio will be much more in the home team’s favor for Game 1.
In other words, the Celtics have plenty of warts for a team that seems so unconcerned about home-court advantage. But I’m all for playing this series in Tokyo.
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat