After Tuesday night’s sensationial win, Boston improved their record during the Big Three era to 9-0 in Game 5’s when the series is tied up at 2-2. While we turn the page on that impressive mark, the narrative will begin to shift to the C’s struggles in closeout games during these past five years.
The Celtics have gone 11-13 in closeout games during that era, including 2-2 this year. The number that will alarm Celtics fans more however is their poor track record in their first opportunity to close out a series. Boston is just 4-10 during The Big Three era in that category, including 0-2 this year, dropping Game 5 against Atlanta, and Game 6 against Philadelphia, both of them in games on the road.
That 4-10 mark is a bit misleading though in my estimation, for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, if you look at how the Celtics accumulated that underwhelming record, it’s pretty important to investigate the home and road splits, as well as the position the C’s were in for each of those series. Were they tied? Up 3-0? Up 3-2? All of this matters with this group. Let’s look at the home/road splits first though.
First chance to close a series:
Boston at home (2-1)
Boston on road (2-9)
The wins at home came in two Game 6’s Boston fans should fondly remember: Game 6 of the NBA Finals in 2008, and Game 6 against LeBron James and the Cavs in 2010. The loss at the Garden also came in 2010 in the Eastern Conference finals, as the C’s blew a chance to sweep the Orlando Magic in Game 4, waiting instead until Game 6 to dispatch Dwight Howard and company.
The C’s only road closeout of note in a postseason series came in the 2008 Eastern Conference finals, when they ran away with Game 6 in Detroit after struggling through the first three quarters. The track record on the road for Boston is undeniably ugly in their first opportunity, but it’s important to note the C’s had a margin of error in all of those games. That is, none of those first opportunities to closeout a series came in a deciding game. Boston led in all of those series, and if you know anything about this core, you know they are best with their backs against the wall 99 percent of the time.
The other crucial thing to keep in mind here is after going 4-10 in their first crack at taking care of business, Boston has been very reliable at finishing the job. Once they did drop that first chance to win the series, they have gone 7-3 in their next attempt to finish the job, including 7-1 in games at home. That one setback was Game 7 of the Orlando series in 2009, where Mickael Pietrus lit up the Garden from beyond the arc.
The good news about Game 6 for Boston of course is that it’s not on the road. Instead, it is in the friendly confines of the TD Garden where Boston has won 22 of their past 24 games this year dating back to the regular season. The C’s also have a tremendous postseason mark overall in home closeout games, going 9-2 over the past five years, including 5-1 over the last three years, with the one loss coming when Boston was up 3-0 in the series.
The point I want to make is this: If you’re going to look at Boston’s track record over the past five years (which is only somewhat relevant in itself) you need to take into account how well they’ve played at the Garden during the postseason during that time.
The Celtics have a series record of 9-1 during the past five years when they’ve had just a chance to close out a team at TD Garden. That series loss came in 2009 without the services of Kevin Garnett as well, putting a pretty big asterisk next to the defeat.
While all this should be noted, nothing is guaranteed here for Boston. Doc Rivers put it the best in his postgame remarks last night while looking ahead to Game 6:
“I told them, we’ve done nothing. We’re playing a heck of a basketball team. So just because we’re going to Boston, I told them, we have to play. They’re not going to give it to us. We have to go get it.”
Rivers knows just as well as anyone this won’t be easy. He also knows what happened the last time this team had to play a Game 7 on the road, the only one this core has played away from the Garden during his career. He doesn’t want to roll the dice with that again, and neither does anyone else in that locker room who took part in that game.
With that in mind, expect this group to treat Game 6 like a Game 7. In all honesty, that should come as no change for them since they’ve had to play with that sense of urgency for every game in this series since they went down to 2-0.
The happy truth for Boston fans though is that the numbers bode well for Boston to be able to finish the job without having to return to South Beach.