The Boston Celtics have shown great resolve in their playoff journey to this point, but they have demonstrated a weakness they must overcome in order to play in June.
Marcus Morris misses a wide open 3-pointer. Jeff Green skies for the rebound. The Cleveland Cavaliers — down eight — have the ball and a chance to cut further into the Boston Celtics‘ fourth quarter lead.
As Green casually begins to dribble up the sideline, a white jersey appears to be shot out of a cannon. This white jersey happens to be Marcus Smart, who impossibly catches up to Green, knocking the ball away, giving possession back to the Celtics.
This was the story of the Celtics’ Game 2 victory over the Cavaliers. They grabbed 11 offensive rebounds, and forced the Cavaliers into 15 turnovers.
They won with the grit and hustle battle that has endeared them to the Boston faithful. In return, the Celtics have rewarded their raucous fan base with a home record of 9-0 so far in these playoffs.
Just two wins away from a berth in the NBA Finals, and four additional wins away from their first championship in a decade, the Celtics have a lot to be excited about.
But before the people of Boston book flights to Oakland, I would like them to consider one stat: LeBron James has won a road game in 31 of his last 32 playoff series. The one series where he did not? The Kevin Durant-infused Golden State Warriors.
I don’t care if you are 2-0 so far, and neither did LeBron in 2016 when he won Games 5 and 7 in Oracle Arena. Chances are, LeBron will find a way to win a game at TD Garden. This means the Celtics will have to find a way to win a game at Quicken Loans Arena.
So let’s talk about the Celtics on the road, where they have been a completely different team.
In the playoffs, the Celtics’ offensive rating drops an astonishing 12 points per 100 possessions on the road, from 111.9 to 99.9.
Most of this is due to their inability to make shots away from TD Garden. In Boston, the Celtics have shot 47.1 percent from the field and 38.7 percent from 3. On the road they have shot just 41.1 percent from the field and 30.8 percent from 3.
The same strange transformation takes place for the defense. Per 100 possessions, the Celtics give up 8.2 points more on the road than they do at home. They simply don’t play as hard. They average three fewer steals per game and allow opponents to shoot five percent better from 3.
What does this all add up to? A 1-4 record away from home, with their one win involving some help from the inexperienced Philadelphia 76ers.
If the Celtics cannot reverse this trend of awful basketball on the road, LeBron James will return to Boston next Wednesday for a pivotal Game 5, perhaps with the series tied at 2-2, and he’ll have a great chance to win that game.
In order to win this series, the Celtics must find a way to travel with the valiant effort they play with at home. If they do, they will win. They are the better team.
But so were the Indiana Pacers, and if you let LeBron James linger around, you will eventually be at his mercy.