Celtics bring confidence, 2-0 series lead to West Coast

Jim Fenton

They exited the locker room inside the TD Banknorth Garden early Monday morning, unsure when the next visit back will take place.

The Boston Celtics could return to their Causeway Street home a week from tonight in what would be Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Or they may not be back at the Garden until next October to play a meaningless preseason game in the days leading up to the 2008-09 season.

Those are the options the Celtics took with them on a Monday morning flight to the West Coast where they have a chance to win the franchise's first championship since 1986.

Halfway to the title after going 2-0 at home, the Celtics resume their series with the Lakers in Game 3 tonight at the Staples Center.

One victory in Los Angeles assures the Celtics of having two chances to win the championship at home next week. Two wins in California, and New Englanders will be celebrating their sixth professional title since the turn of the century.

"We have a lot of confidence,'' said point guard Rajon Rondo. "We've had confidence all year within the team and we're going to go out there and try to get two wins.''

Two games into a series that they entered as underdogs, the Celtics have clearly been the better team, the only blip being the final seven minutes Sunday night when a 24-point lead was stunningly chopped to two.

Other than that, the Celtics have looked like the team on the way to a championship because of their physical play, sensational performances by Paul Pierce and the play up front of Kevin Garnett.

"We're not settling on a 2-0 lead,'' said Pierce, who returns to his home to try and close out the Lakers. "We want to go out there and win two games in LA. That's our focus, and that's what we want to go out there and try to do.''

The Celtics have been too much for the Lakers inside with Garnett getting 13 and 14 rebounds in the first two games and Leon Powe coming from nowhere to score 21 points in Game 2.

The Lakers front line, especially Lamar Odom, has struggled with the physical style of the Celtics, and now it remains to be seen whether that trend will continue on LA's own floor.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson complained about the difference in free-throw attempts -- Boston had 38 foul shots to LA's 10 -- and the whistles won't be going that much in the Celtics' favor on the road.

"I thought we were the team driving in the paint, and that's why we shot 38 free throws,'' said Coach Doc Rivers. "If you attack off the dribble, if you play through the post, if you're the more aggressive team, you can get to the foul line. I thought we did that. But we can't go on the road and not do that.''

The road was a dangerous place for the Celtics at the start of the playoffs as they went 0-6 against the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers.

Then, with the Eastern Conference finals against the Detroit Pistons even, 1-1, the Celtics put on an impressive display in Game 3 at Auburn Hills, Mich., to regain control of the series. They also closed out the Pistons with a road win in Game 6, rallying from 10 points down in the fourth quarter.

The burden of struggling on the road has been lifted, and now the Celtics can finish off their special season on top with a pair of victories.

Jackson was asked which Celtics team he expects to show up in LA, the one that struggled on the road earlier in the playoffs or the one with momentum on its side.

"I'm not worried about which Celtics team shows up,'' said Jackson. "I'm worried about what Lakers team shows up. That's the one that moves the ball and we did things well on the offensive end.''

The Lakers have been perfect at home during the postseason, winning all eight games against the Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs. Included the end of the regular season, LA has won 14 straight home games dating back to a March 23 loss to the Golden State Warriors.   

Jack Nicholson will be courtside, and all the stars will be shining as the Lakers attempt to get back into the series.

"They took care of business at home, and we've got to go home and try to do the same thing,'' said Kobe Bryant. "It's not the end of the world. We've come too far to really sweat being down, 2-0. We're going to go home and handle our business.''

The Celtics have won three of their 16 championships on the Lakers' home court, doing so in 1963, 1968 and 1969. Their last trip to the Finals ended in LA with a Game 6 loss to the Lakers in 1987.

The Enterprise