“Maybe we shouldn’t play West Coast teams at the Garden. Because they haven’t gone well.” – Head coach Doc Rivers after losing to the Clippers
At first glance, this looks to be a throwaway line by Doc during his postgame presser after the 108-103 setback against the Clippers Wednesday evening. A quick inspection of the numbers by your curious blogger however, tells us that Doc was really onto something here, even more so than probably he realized at the time.
You see, the Celtics have lost six games at home this year overall (27-6 at TD Garden). In what may be a coincidence, six of those losses have come at the hands of Western Conference teams. Here’s the rundown of those defeats, along with the final scores.
Oklahoma City (85-82), New Orleans (83-81), Houston (108-102), Dallas (101-97), Lakers (92-86), Clippers (108-103).
Against the entire Western Conference as a whole, the C’s are 8-6 at home, with just one more opponent looming (Memphis) later in March. That record split is pretty disappointing if you ask me, given the team’s overall record, so I took the liberty of putting together a couple reasons in trying to explain the letdowns.
1) A lack of familiarity: The Celtics only see these teams twice a year. A fairly safe assumption could be the coaching staff spends less time looking at these squads (besides the other Western Title contenders) than their Eastern Conference counterparts. Why’s that? Likely simply for the reason that they aren’t a majority priority, given the very slim possibility this team will see them once again when it matters. (i.e. the postseason)
2) Lack of Importance: Piggybacking on the point made in reason one, you have to take into account that a lot of these games aren’t as important in the standings. There are no potential two game swings. You never want to lose, but if you had to make a choice, you’d want to do it against the West. The C’s record tells me they seem to realize this as well. Every squad is prone to letdowns. Boston’s have come regularly against the west.
3) Injuries: Here’s a quick inspection of the team’s roster situation for each of those losses:
OKC: No Jermaine O’Neal, Kevin Durant
NO: No Rondo, (Also no JO, but he’s on every game on this list)
HOU: No Kevin Martin, KG, Delonte
Dallas: No Delonte
Lakers: No Shaq & Delonte
Clippers: Just 10 active players
Clearly a few big names were absent here, but to me, I don’t buy that as an excuse. The C’s have faced the injury bug all year long, not just in these select games and that still hasn’t stopped them from taking care of business in other games, which brings me to the good news about this “problem.”
The Celtics are undefeated at home (19-0) against Eastern Conference opponents this season.
That my friends, is a terrific and extremely impressive number. Despite all the injuries and turmoil, the C’s have taken care of business at home against the teams it matters most against. Doc Rivers, his staff, and his players should get tremendous credit for being ready to play every night in these contests.
While we’re here, let’s take a quick look at the home/road splits for the C’s against the East and West.
Home: East (19-0) West (8-6)
Road: East (11-7) West (8-3)
Now, we get to the tough part. It’s painfully apparent how much home court advantage matters to Doc, (as it should) given this tremendous record, proving as of know, the C’s are unbeatable at home against the East. Still, despite the success, they are only just clinging to a 1 1/2 game lead over Chicago for the top seed in the Conference.
Ryan covered a lot of this topic earlier this week, but Boston has a lot of reason to worry about the Bulls nipping on their heels, as Chicago has a very favorable schedule down the stretch.
The Celtics? Not so much.
As of Friday, Boston has the most games remaining out of any NBA team (20) as well as the most road games (12). Despite the tough path, a lot of these roadies are winnable games, with a couple jaunts out west against playoff clubs (San Antonio, New Orleans) and against top East contenders (Miami, Chicago, Atlanta)
The good news is the team’s home schedule is that the team should continue to succeed the rest of the way. A quick look at what’s left for them in their remaining eight home games.
Milwaukee, Indiana, Memphis, Charlotte, Philadelphia, Detroit, Washington, New York.
The Celtics will be heavily favored in all of those games, and to be perfectly honest, they likely need to run the table at home if they want to stay atop the Eastern Conference.
When push comes to shove, this entire race could easily come down to April 7th TNT showdown in Chicago. A Boston win will give them the tiebreaker (3-1) and a much needed extra game cushion in the race for the number 1 seed.
Will the Eastern Conference be decided based on who gets home court? That’s a big no. However, a majority of chips (inferior first round opponent, officiating bias, homecourt edge) will be in the corner of whoever claims the top spot. And with Boston facing so many new faces/challenges entering the season’s final few months, combined with stellar track record at home, that’s an edge worth fighting to the bitter end for.