Taking show on road

Celtics seeking wins in Miami

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / April 22, 2010

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WALTHAM — It was crazy how much the playoffs changed things in 2008.

Atlanta was just Atlanta in the regular season. The Celtics went down to Phillips Arena once, two weeks before the playoffs. There were 20,000 fans in the building, but that didn’t stop them from going in and beating the Hawks, 99-89.

“Atlanta didn’t have the crowd nor the inspiration at home that they have now,’’ Kevin Garnett recalled.

The Celtics went back down to battle the Hawks in what they thought would be a warm-up of a first-round series. Having waxed the Hawks by a combined 42 points in the first two games of the series, they figured they’d grab two wins, head back north, and rest up for the second round.

Two losses later, they were thinking otherwise.

“That’s all I think about now,’’ Ray Allen said. “It resonates so big with this team now, because we were flying high, up two. We blew them out both games in our building. We had all played in that building before. We didn’t expect what we saw.’’

The Hawks were playing their first home playoff games since 1999, and even though there were actually fewer people in the building than there were in the late-season meeting, there was more emotion.

“When we went and played them playoff time, it was a totally different atmosphere,’’ Garnett said. “I can honestly say it was a shell-shock to our team.’’

“That building carried them to two victories there,’’ Allen said. “You think about how that building is now. In the last two years, they’ve got great fan support, and I think it started right there in the playoffs two years ago.’’

This season, the Celtics were better on the road than at home, and logic would say they have the Miami Heat backed into a corner after blowing them off the parquet Tuesday night to take a 2-0 lead as the series swings to South Beach tomorrow. But if they learned anything from that series two years ago, it’s that they can throw out their regular-season road wins once the postseason starts.

“We’ve got to expect the worst from their building, knowing they’re going to come in and be loud,’’ Allen said. “We can’t go into their building thinking Game 3 to be like Game 2 was. You’ve got to just be prepared for anything.’’

Garnett has seen American Airlines Arena in playoff form. In 2006, as Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal were ripping through the Eastern Conference, Garnett went to Miami to watch the Pistons play the Heat.

Garnett saw “how hostile and how crazy their town can get when they’re behind their team. So that’s all I’m anticipating.’’

The Heat and Celtics had identical home records this season (24-17), but Celtics coach Doc Rivers said the circumstances change in the postseason. In the regular season, a team could be playing back-to-back, or be in a stretch of four games in five days. In the postseason, the variables — rest, preparation time — are the same on both sides.

“That’s why it’s so tough to win on the road, because everything is equal.’’ Rivers said. “And if it’s equal, that tends to lean towards the home team.’’

So far, the Celtics have protected their home floor, and with Tuesday’s 106-77 blowout, they shattered the composure of a Heat team that had won 18 of 22 coming into the postseason.

“At the end of the day, all we’ve done is won two home games,’’ Rivers said. “And Miami has yet to play a home game.’’

“It’s key to win on the road,’’ said Kendrick Perkins. “If you’ve got a chance to put a team away, you never want to go to a Game 7, because anything can happen in a Game 7. Guys get hurt. Guys get in foul trouble. You want to try to prevent Game 7 as much as possible.’’

The fracas at the end of Game 1 will only add to the hostility the Celtics will face in Miami. But having seen hostile crowds in Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and Orlando over the past two postseasons, Allen said the Celtics have learned from each environment.

“We’ve seen a couple possible scenarios,’’ Allen said. “So at least we know what to expect. Whatever they want to yell at me or at Paul [Pierce] or at Kevin, we’re going to hear it all, but I think the most important thing is our focus.’’

The most valuable lesson may be that, regardless of how they fared in other teams’ buildings during the regular season, there’s no way to predict what will happen once they get to Miami.

“It’s great to know that you can win on the road, but Miami could care less about our regular-season record on the road, and we should care less about it,’’ Rivers said. “We have to come and play and earn it. Playoffs are a different beast.

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