Celtics look to end series at home
The celebrations took place in New Orleans, Houston, Jacksonville, St. Louis and Denver over a span of less than six years.
Since the turn of the century, those are the cities where the New England Patriots — after winning their three Super Bowls — and the Boston Red Sox — after securing two World Series titles — jumped for joy.
Tonight, the Boston Celtics have an opportunity to secure a pro sports championship inside the boundaries of the state of Massachusetts for the first time in more than two decades.
A victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 of the NBA Finals at the TD Banknorth Garden (9 o’clock, TV: Channels 5 and 6; radio: WEEI-850 AM) will give the Celtics their 17th franchise and first since 1986.
The Celtics clinched their last title at the old Boston Garden with a Game 6 victory over the Houston Rockets on an early June Sunday afternoon 22 long years ago.
Despite their stumble in Game 5 in Los Angeles on Sunday night, the Celtics, leading, 3-2, have plenty of favorable omens on their side with two chances to win one game for the championship:
The Celtics are 47-7 on the parquet floor, including the regular season and playoffs, with a 12-1 mark in the postseason. One more victory gives Boston the NBA record for home wins in the playoffs. They will be denied a title only by losing back-to-back home games, something that happened just once all season (Jan. 9 and 14 defeats to the Charlotte Bobcats and Washington Wizards). The Lakers would be the first team to ever overcome a 3-1 deficit if they win the title and the first road team to win Games 6 and 7 in the Finals. The Celtics would have to go on a three-game losing streak in order to drop the series, and they did that just once right after the All-Star break in February.
There were championship T-shirts and hats and plenty of champagne ready to go in Los Angeles Sunday night, but they have all been shipped to the East Coast.
“Guys are down and upset because they thought they could (win Game 5),” said Coach Doc Rivers in a postgame press conference. “They thought they should. But we didn’t. We played all year to go home, to have home court.”
The Celtics’ lone postseason loss on the parquet floor was Game 2 to the Detroit Pistons and they have won 18 of the last 19 games at home.
The noise in the building has been deafening throughout the playoffs, creating an electric atmosphere, and with a championship within reach, tonight’s noise level should set new records.
“It’s going to be like coming into the Amazon, into the jungle,” Kevin Garnett told reporters at a postgame press conference. “I look forward to going home and playing.”
While the Celtics have been the better team in the series, there are concerns facing them heading into Game 6.
The Lakers raced off to leads of 24 and 19 points in Games 4 and 5, and only an amazing comeback last Thursday night allowed the Celtics to get out of LA with one victory in three tries.
Center Kendrick Perkins, who missed Game 5 with a strained left shoulder, remains a question mark and his absence caused the Celtics some interior defensive problems, especially when Garnett got into foul trouble.
There is also the fatigue factor that will have to be dealt with by both the Celtics and Lakers. Thanks to the schedule, the teams spent the off day Monday flying to the East Coast, both arriving in Boston early in the evening.
“It’s a terrible turnaround,” said Rivers. “It’s a tough one. It’s as tough as you can have. I think going west to east is tougher. Sleep patterns are messed up. There’s no way around it.
“I wish we could do this on Thursday and skip a Tuesday, but that’s not the way it’s going to be. But both teams have the same issue, so you know, it could come down to a game of mental toughness, who fights the fatigue mentally better than the other group.”
The Celtics also have to be wary of Kobe Bryant, who was held in check after a strong start Sunday night. Bryant missed 10 of his last 13 shots and had just 10 points over the final three quarters, but he remains capable of carrying a team, like Cleveland’s LeBron James did in Game 7 against the Celtics.
Causeway Street is braced for a celebration that hasn’t taken place in 22 years, and the Celtics are in a prime position to make it happen with two chances to end their long drought.