INDEPENDENCE — It’s called TD Garden now instead of Boston Garden, but the parquet floor and leprechaun are still there.
So are the 17 championship banners and all the retired numbers.
And the fans, depending on who you ask, are either entertaining, obnoxious, intelligent or boorish. Heck, sometimes they’re probably all the above.
That’s the atmosphere the Cavaliers will walk into when they play the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
“Boston’s one of the rowdy cities, one of the rowdy environments,” Cavs swingman Kyle Korver said Friday following practice. “There’s a lot of places (around the league) that will be full, but it’s full for different reasons. Boston’s fun. They have a great crowd. They’re ready to get behind their team.
“There’s been moments where I’ve been on teams where there’s a decent lead and they make one shot and the place just erupts. It’s like, ‘Man, they’re going to come back.’ You just feel it. It’s a great place to play, especially in the playoffs.”
A former assistant under Doc Rivers with the Celtics, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue is familiar with the ambiance at TD Garden, which doesn’t have the rats, beer and urine smell and poor vantage points the old Boston Garden featured.
“That crowd is amazing,” Lue said. “No matter how good you’re playing or how bad you’re playing, they’re going to ride with you. That’s the great thing about their fans. They could be down 30 and they’re going to be cheering like they’re up 30.”
All that didn’t help the Celtics one bit in the 2017 conference finals.
In taking the series 4-1, the Cavs won their three games at TD Garden by an average of 30 points, including a 44-point victory in Game 2 that was the Celtics’ worst home loss in their illustrious playoff history. Cleveland became the first team in league history to win two road games in the same series by at least 30 points, and it also became the first franchise to never trail on the road in a playoff series.
But that was then and this is now.
A year ago, the Celtics were the top seed in the East, while the Cavs were No. 2 and still had Kyrie Irving wearing No. 2. This time, Boston is No. 2 — and has an injured Irving — and Cleveland is No. 4.
The Celtics have advanced despite not having their two best players in All-Stars Irving and Gordon Hayward, while the Cavs are still standing with new faces like George Hill, Jeff Green, Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson, Jose Calderon, Rodney Hood, Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic on the roster.
“I don’t know which one’s tougher,” Korver said. “Neither one’s ideal. But I tell you what, (the Celtics) are still really, really good. Especially us, we all respect Kyrie and what he’s capable of doing in a playoff game, but they’ve really stepped up. I don’t really see that they’re lacking at any position. They’ll have five guys out there at all times that can play. Even though they lost two really good players, they’re not lacking for talent. They’re not lacking for playmakers or anything.
“Our season has felt like four seasons. Which one’s harder? I can’t say one’s harder than the other, but neither one’s ideal.”
Despite the many hardships they’ve overcome, both teams are playing very good basketball at the moment, with Korver going so far as to say the Cavs enter the series having played their best hoops of the season in a four-game sweep of Toronto.
“We just had to keep evolving,” Korver said. “Survived is a word you could probably use. It felt like we were just trying to get through certain parts of the season, but I like where we’re at right now. I felt this last series was the best we’ve played all season.”
LeBron James, who is averaging 34.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 9.0 assists in the playoffs, has been the key to everything the Cavs have accomplished so far.
Equally important, in Korver’s opinion, is one other factor.
“Basketball is analyzed on so many levels now,” he said. “They break down the game in every single way. But chemistry is something you just can’t put together. You have to develop that over time. Honestly, we needed more time. We needed to stay healthy.”
Korver views the improved chemistry as vital against the Celtics, who are among the best defensive teams in the league.
“I think Boston’s better than Indiana, as much respect as we have for Indiana. Obviously, they took us to seven,” he said. “Defensively, Boston is elite. They’re really good. They’re always in the right spot. They have a great game plan. They have guys that have a really high IQ at the defensive end and guys that just mix it up.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens is the maestro, and he’s also in charge of a well-balanced offense that features Jayson Tatum (18.8 points per game, 4.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists), Terry Rozier (18.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists), Al Horford (17.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists), Jaylen Brown (16.9 points), Marcus Morris (12.3 points) and Marcus Smart (10.6 points).
“It’s hard to pick a focal point on Boston because they do have so many threats,” Korver said. “They’ve had four or five guys get 20 points in several games in the playoffs. You can’t just lock into one guy. We have to be good all the way around.”
And, of course, deal with the fans at TD Garden.
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