CLEVELAND - At some point between the end of the regular season and a trip to Atlanta, the Celtics went from being road warriors to road kill.
The Celtics, who trailed by as many as 26 points, fell to 0-4 on the road in the postseason after being routed, 108-84, by the Cavaliers in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series last night at Quicken Loans Arena. The 24-point loss was Boston's largest of the season.
"It's the NBA, nothing surprises me in this league," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "Did I think this would happen? No. But it did happen and I can't worry about what's happened. As a team we have to get ready for Monday night."
The Celtics still hold a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series with Game 4 here tomorrow night. The Celtics are 0-3 in Cleveland this season.
"We've got to keep thinking about every game as its own separate entity," said Cavaliers coach Mike Brown. "If we do, we're going to give ourselves a chance to win."
The Celtics had the NBA's best road record during the regular season at 31-10, including 20-6 against the Eastern Conference. But all that was forgotten during the first round of the playoffs when the East's top seed lost three road games against Atlanta. And this time, the Celtics weren't even competitive as they lost by double digits for the first time this postseason.
"We've lost four in a row on the road," Rivers said. "We haven't played well. Although two of the games in Atlanta we did [play well], but we lost them. Even if you don't [talk about being 0-4 on the road], someone will. We have to win games. You've got to win four. That's what you have to do."
When asked the reason for the Celtics' poor postseason road record, Kevin Garnett said, "There are no excuses for it. If we had that answer we wouldn't get beat on the road, huh?"
The Cavaliers romped despite the fact star LeBron James again failed to break out of his shooting slump. He shot 19 percent from the field in the first two games in Boston, an NBA playoff low for a player who had taken more than 30 shots in two games in the shot-clock era.
Last night, James missed 11 of 16 field goal attempts, but made eight free throws en route to 21 points. James also had 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 4 steals, and 3 blocks.
"Of course, I haven't shot as well as I've liked," James said. "But the win is all that matters."
Cleveland, which had shot 40.7 percent in the first two games, connected on 53.6 percent of its attempts last night, the best mark for a Celtics opponents this postseason. Ex-Celtic Delonte West scored 21 points, a career playoff high, as five Cavaliers reached double figures.
"Look at the box sheet. It speaks for itself," James said.
Boston shot 40.5 percent and had just 5 fast-break points and 13 second-chance points. The Celtics' struggles included no assists from point guard Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen missing 8 of 12 field goal attempts, Paul Pierce scoring 14 points and taking only eight shots, and Sam Cassell missing all six of his field goal attempts.
"Defensively, I thought for 48 minutes we were pretty good," Brown said.
A 10-0 run finalized by a lay-in by Ben Wallace gave the Cavaliers a 14-4 lead. The Celtics missed 10 of their first 12 shots before Garnett's jumper trimmed Cleveland's lead to 14-6. With Boston down, 18-8, Rivers was called for a technical foul for voicing his displeasure to referee Bennett Salvatore after Garnett was called for a charge.
"It was very key that we got off to a fast start," James said.
James's 3-pointer with 1:52 left in the first quarter gave Cleveland a 27-8 lead. The Cavaliers finished the first in front, 32-13.
"To be up 19 points at the end of the first quarter was pretty good," James said.
Garnett, who had team highs of 17 points and nine rebounds, said, "They put us on our heels early and never looked back."
The Celtics never overcame their first-quarter struggles, as they never not closer than 12 points. Whether they can overcome the struggles on the road in the postseason remains to be seen.
"A playoff series doesn't start until someone wins a road game," James said. "Boston got to a slow start tonight and we took advantage of that."
Said Rivers, "We got down. In every way they beat us tonight. They got to the loose balls. They played harder. They outcoached us. They in every way beat us and we have to be better."