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Brad Stevens is a realist. The coach of the Boston Celtics, who hold a 2-0 lead on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, realizes what is coming in Game 3 Saturday night as the series shifts to Cleveland.
“I don’t know if that was their best,” he said of the Cavaliers’ performances in Games 1 and 2 at TD Garden in Boston.. “We’ve all seen them play at an elite level for a long time. … At the end of the day, they’ve got a lot of guys that have been there, done that.
“And we’re expecting that every game we’re going to have to play better to have a chance to win.”
The way the Celtics have performed on the road in the playoffs this season is reason enough for Boston to not feel overconfident. The Celtics are only 1-4 away from the friendly confines of TD Garden.
In those five games, Boston is shooting 41 percent from the field and only 31 percent from the 3-point line.
Conversely, the Celtics have shot 47 percent from the floor at home and 39 percent from deep. Boston is 9-0 at home in the playoffs this season.
“We haven’t played well. We know that and understand that,” Celtics swingman Marcus Smart said. “We understand that other teams see that and try to exploit it. But that’s the beauty about this game. It just takes one game. You never know. Things change. Our confidence is high. Who knows?”
Stevens admitted Boston was “shell-shocked” when it hit the road in the first-round series against Milwaukee. Holding a 2-0 lead, just as it does now, Boston was whipped in Game 3 at Milwaukee, 116-92, then also lost Games 4 and 6 there, needing a Game 7 win at home to advance to the second round against Philadelphia.
“We took a punch in the mouth right when guys came out and they surprised us a little bit,” Smart said. “We can’t afford to be surprised this time around. … We’re just trying to make it as hard as we can on those guys for them to win a game and for us to execute whatever plan Brad has for us.”
Behind LeBron James’ 42-point, 10-board, 12-dime triple-double, Cleveland led through halftime of Game 2 before fading in a horrific third quarter.
Still, James’ track record is certainly on his side. His teams have won at least one road game in 31 of the last 32 playoff series they’ve played. For that to become 32 of 33, the Cavaliers will need to win either Game 3 or Game 4 on their home floor at Quicken Loans Arena to get it back to a Game 5 in Beantown.
Still, the Celtics have proven they aren’t afraid of the three-time defending conference champion Cavaliers or even James, whose teams have won the last seven conference crowns to put him in seven straight NBA Finals.
“And why should I?” Jaylen Brown said of having no fear. “The stage is set for all of us to do something spectacular. LeBron has been to the Finals (seven) straight times. He’s a great player. But we want to win and we want to beat a team that does win and get to the Finals.
“We got a bunch of young guys trying to make names for themselves in this league. Why not come out and play hard? Everybody says we’re playing with house money anyway. So why not come out with the energy level that we need and try to do something special?”