Boston, MA- Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla pleads with his team as the Celtics take on the Knicks at the Garden on December 8. (Staff Photo By Stuart Cahill/Boston Herald)
By STEVThe Celtics have become a dominant team when playing at home in the regular season. But can it translate to the playoffs?
With Friday’s win over the Knicks at TD Garden, the Celtics moved to 10-0 at home this season. Coupled with a Nuggets home loss on Friday, the C’s became the last remaining unbeaten team at home this season.
The last time they did that? The 2007-08 season, when they won their first 12 home games en route to a 35-6 home record and ultimately, the NBA championship.
As they head into a stretch of four home games this week – two against the Cavaliers, then two against the Magic – the Celtics have not lost a home game in the regular season since a double overtime loss to the Knicks last season on March 5, a stretch of 17 in a row. But Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said there hasn’t been an added emphasis on protecting home court.
“We haven’t said anything about it,” Mazzulla said. “Obviously, outside of it just being the Garden and being at home and playing in front of a crowd that we have all the time, we haven’t really spent too much time deciding what the difference is. Small sample size, we’ve only lost five games (overall), too.”
The Celtics know better than anyone that their dominant home mark means nothing if they can’t do it come playoff time.
Over their last 16 postseason games dating to the 2022 Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics have just a 7-9 record at TD Garden. It features some puzzling defeats, including a frustrating 2023 stretch last spring that made life far harder than it needed to be. They lost Game 5 of the first round to the Hawks, which was a potential clinching game. They lost Game 1 and Game 5 to the 76ers, forcing them to come back from a 3-2 series deficit. Then, of course, they dropped the first two games to the Heat in the conference finals, forcing them to attempt a never-before-done 3-0 series comeback that ultimately fell short in Game 7 – at home.
Mazzulla, though, seemingly doesn’t put too much stock into those home playoff losses. He looked at it from a different perspective.
“There’s two sides to look at it,” Mazzulla said. “‘Cause then you could say that we’re really tough to go win on the road. So there’s two sides to that and I think more about just learning about what leads to winning regardless. I think that’s the thing we’re trying to really make clear to everybody and our team in general is like the things that lead to winning are the things that lead to winning regardless of where you play and the hardest things to do are those things all the time. So we have to just continue to fight for that mindset, you know?”
That has been a theme with Mazzulla’s focus this season. The coach is doing his best to eliminate outside influences or distractions that might affect his team’s ability to hone in on the factors that impact winning. That came to light during the In-Season Tournament. Before the Celtics’ final group play game against the Bulls – when they needed to win by at least 23 to advance to the quarterfinals – Mazzulla said the point differential wasn’t a focus going into the game because it was a distraction. It was only when the Celtics were in position to advance in the fourth quarter when Mazzulla changed his approach to give his team the best chance to make the quarterfinals.
Mazzulla was disappointed that the Celtics didn’t win the championship of the new tournament. But falling short of that goal isn’t necessarily motivation to win it next year. For Mazzulla, he wants the Celtics to understand that no matter what the circumstances are – a home game, an in-season tournament game or anything else – that the habits that lead to winning always remain the same.
“That was my whole point in the beginning, is like if we’re gonna use all our emotional energy to do this one thing and we still have 61 games left, what’s going to be our motivation after that?” Mazzulla said. “So are we frustrated that we didn’t get a chance to win a championship? Yes. But do we have to see that the things that go into winning a championship are the things that go into winning on a Monday night in the middle of January when no one really wants to play?
“So we’re really fighting for that mindset and identity. Can things be important all the time? But yeah, I was pissed off that you don’t get a chance to win at it, but we have to fight for that mindset all the time.”