ORLANDO, Fla. – Can the Boston Celtics find a way to petition the NBA to have the rest of their games held away from home?
When a team rattles off four straight road playoff wins, the most recent being a 95-92 decision Tuesday night in the Eastern Conference finals over the suddenly fallible Orlando Magic, such talk no longer seems so crazy.
Crazy is thinking the Celtics could go into Cleveland and dispose of LeBron James and the Cavaliers, the top seed in the Eastern Conference, by margins of 18 and 32 points. Crazy is thinking the Magic, they of the dominating four-game sweeps of Charlotte and Atlanta, would go down twice in a row in a building where their regular-season record was 34-7.
Even with the Magic getting 30 points from Dwight Howard and the Celtics getting very little offensively from Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, it was as if the ghosts of old Boston Garden had resurfaced in a humid and hostile environment.
"If we're going to carry over one thing from the regular season, it's the way we play on the road," said Paul Pierce, who poured in a team-high 28 points on the heels of his 22-point performance in Game 1. "All year long, we've been a great road team. Doesn't matter what building we go in."
The Celtics are now 5-2 away from home since hobbling into the playoffs as something of an afterthought to the Cavs and the Magic. The first of those road wins came at Miami, when Pierce's jump shot at the buzzer over the outstretched arm of the Heat's Dorell Wright gave them a 100-98 victory in the first round of the playoffs.
There were no such last-minute heroics against the Magic from Pierce, who did most of his damage during the first three quarters. While his two free throws with 34.7 seconds to go gave the Celtics a three-point lead, he followed those up moments later by getting whistled for his sixth foul and sending Vince Carter to the free-throw line.
As Pierce sat on the bench near Kendrick Perkins, who had fouled out earlier in the final period, Carter stepped up and clanged both of his attempts off the back of the rim. To Magic fans, it was eerily reminiscent of when Nick Anderson missed four free throws in Game 1 of the 1995 Finals against Houston.
The Magic never recovered from that 15 years ago and were swept by the Rockets. And this series is beginning to take on that same tone.
The Magic can't fault Howard, who not only was a force on offense but slammed Pierce to the floor in the second quarter on what was correctly ruled a flagrant foul. Pierce needed to be restrained by Rasheed Wallace, who is seldom viewed as the voice of reason, but was able to shrug off the incident later.
"It was a good foul, man," he said. "A playoff foul."
Freed from the shackles of being assigned to cover James in the Celtics' previous series, Pierce can now score at will again. And Rajon Rondo (25 points, eight assists) continued his remarkable playoff run while thoroughly outplaying Jameer Nelson.
Game 3 Saturday night, even if it is in Boston, can't get here soon enough for the Celtics.
"I wish we could take them to Alcatraz for four days and be on the island all by ourselves," coach Doc Rivers said, dreading the prospect of the lengthy layoff.
The Magic, meanwhile, might simply be looking for a place to hide.