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The great home court debate: How much does it matter?

Well, here we go: the first major salvo from the mainstream media on whether the Celtics should have guns blazin’ for home court advantage or begin resting players and accept the second seed. It comes from the Boston Herald’s Gerry Callahan, and it can be summed up in this excerpt:

But let’s face it: This regular-season race matters. A lot. And in the Cleveland-C’s matchup, the homecourt is almost everything. In the last two seasons, playoffs included, the home team has won 15 straight. The Celtics are 9-0 in the Garden, 0-6 in Cleveland.

The bottom line is the Celtics have a better chance of overtaking the Cavs in the next six weeks than they do of beating them in Cleveland in the playoffs…If they stumble at all down the stretch, their road to the Finals will go through Orlando and Cleveland, which would be a longshot at best even at full strength.

The upshot is that the Cavs are unbeatable at home. Callahan compares them to the 1986 Celts, who went 55-1 at home including the playoffs. Since the Cavs are 28-1 at home, the comparison fits–for now. 

Callahan even takes a dig at our friends over at Celtics Blog for this post, in which CB argues that finishing second isn’t the end of the world. Callahan’s take on that:

That noise you heard was Red Auerbach choking on his Hoya de Monterrey from beyond the grave. Maybe second place wouldn’t be so bad if this were baseball or football or Q-school.

Callahan basically mocks the idea that Paul Pierce and Ray Allen need their minutes cut and jokes that the ‘health and rest’ crowd thinks Rajon Rondo and KG “should be hermetically sealed and quarantined in an undisclosed, peanut-free location.”

There is no denying that home court advantage matters. Callahan reminds us, rightfully, that the C’s lost their first six road games of the playoffs last season, including all three against Cleveland. But I can spin the stats the other way: They won three of their last six playoff road games. And you know what? I believe that something happened to the Celtics sometime during the Eastern Conference Finals against Detroit. Maybe it was finally losing at home in Game 2 and feeling the reality that they would have to win a road game. Maybe they loosened up after the immensity of the playoffs bore down on them against Atlanta and Cleveland. I know the C’s looked tight in the Hawks series last season; you could feel the pressure they were feeling by just looking at their faces as they crumbled down the stretch during those road losses. 

I don’t think that will happen this year. But I believe in this team, and I believe they can win a big game on the road. And you know what? At some point, they are going to have to win a big game on the road anyway–even if they somehow manage to earn home court advantage. They are almost certainly not going to win every single home game–they didn’t last year. 

I can’t claim to know the players like Callahan does–I’ve never met them, talked to them or been in the locker room. I have no idea how tired they are or what it feels like to have played 64 games this season after playing more than 100 games last season, including 26 grueling playoff games. I don’t know what KG’s knee feels like, though I suspect that if a cyborg lunatic like KG says it’s “hurting,” then it’s hurting. 

So I will trust Doc Rivers. If he says the team need rest, I have to trust him. If he says he’d rather have the second seed–or, gasp, the third–and be healthy than go full out for home court, I have to trust him. I have a hunch he’s right. And that hunch is based on my faith in this team: If it comes down to it, I believe they can win a Game 7 on the road.

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