Chris Forsberg

Celtics need to make TD Garden a homecourt advantage in 2024 playoffs

If the C's win every home game this postseason, they'll be NBA champions.

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Nothing hammers home Al Horford’s basketball longevity like the fact that he was on the floor at TD Garden with the Atlanta Hawks when they pushed the 2007-08 Boston Celtics to Game 7 of an Eastern Conference first-round series.

Sixteen years later, Horford can admit now that his eighth-seeded Hawks, despite their success at times in that series, never really stood a chance against the top-seeded Celtics. Boston won the four home games of that first-round series by an average of 25.3 points per game, including a 34-point triumph in deciding Game 7.

Horford marveled at the energy inside TD Garden back then, and did so again in 2012 when the Celtics outlasted the Hawks in six games in another first-round showdown. But even when Atlanta broke through and eliminated a different Boston squad in six games in the opening round of the 2016 playoffs, Horford couldn’t stop thinking about the energy that permeated the walls inside TD Garden.

"It's electric,” said Horford. “If you're a basketball player, this is where you want to be. This is where you want to be playing, in TD Garden. You want to feel the crowd. The energy is contagious.”

Horford was so overwhelmed by the Garden aura after that 2016 season that he elected to sign with Boston that summer. Horford couldn't stop thinking about the way the Garden hummed in the postseason, regardless of whether the team was a legit title contender or not.

“When you walk into the arena, you walk into the Garden three hours before the game, just the drive up to the Garden, you can feel it,” said Horford. "It’s just different. I had that experience on both sides, coming in as a visitor but also when when you're coming in and you're with the home team. It's pretty special.”

After compiling the best record in basketball for the 2023-24 campaign, the Celtics will enjoy homecourt advantage for the duration of their postseason stay.

The path now is simplified: Win every home game and the Celtics will raise Banner 18. It’s easy to forget, given their regular-season domination, but those banner-raising 2008 Celtics dropped their first six road games that postseason, and won just three times away from the Garden overall (twice against Detroit in the East finals). But their Garden dominance propelled their title run.

Yes, even the best teams can get away with missteps when you take care of business at home.

The 2023-24 version of the Celtics understand that this team has too often shot itself in the foot in the Garden in recent years. A Game 7 loss to Miami here remains fresh in the minds of Celtics fans. And these Celtics yearn to maximize the advantages of playing at home this season.

"I think just not take it for granted,” said Jayson Tatum. "I think, in the past, we felt like, coming back home, we had the advantage. And we were supposed to win. Maybe relaxed a little bit. Probably take the opposite approach [this year] that maybe feel like our back is against the wall when we come home and have some better outcomes.”

After struggling to protect home court in last year's playoff run, Jayson Tatum says the Celtics need to have a different mentality at home to find more success.

There is no denying Boston’s success at home during the 2023-24 season. The Celtics were an NBA-best 37-4 at the Garden, with Milwaukee being the closest rival in the East despite stacking up seven additional home losses. Boston was four home wins better than any team in the West (OKC, Denver both at 33-8).

When Celtics players are asked what it’s like to play inside TD Garden during the postseason, they all tend to start with the same statement.

"It's electric,” said Derrick White, echoing Horford’s sentiment.

Added White: "I just think everybody comes together cheering. It's great in the regular season but they just take it up another level in the postseason and they're behind us the whole way. And you just know that we've got their support throughout it all.”

The Celtics know they must take advantage of home court, while not taking it for granted.

"It's amazing, the Garden is incredible in a regular-season game and it's how like a lot of other places can be in the playoffs,” said Luke Kornet. “Just that intensity. I feel like, with the games coming so much quicker and more heavily, I feel like everybody's ready to go and it definitely gives us an edge. The intensity and knowing what you're competing for is just evident from the second you warm up and the energy that's in the building.

“It’s something we're blessed to have and is a testament to all like the teams that came before us for — for building it and for the city of Boston. But it makes you want to play as hard as you can and compete as well as you can.”

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