Ever since their head-scratching struggles on the Garden floor last season, the Celtics have preached a heightened desire to protect their home turf. With Wednesday's win, Boston improved to 25-5 at home this season, exceeding its win total from a year ago even before the All-Star break.
"We talked about it," Celtics coach Doc Rivers admitted after the game. "Obviously, you’ve got to go through it. But we did talk about it going into the year. We knew we had a ton of injuries and we were playing guys strange minutes, but one of the things we still expected through all that last year was just to win the home games. And we didn’t do that. So obviously this year has been much better."
For all their struggles against lesser competition last season, especially on the Garden floor, none of that has occurred in Boston this season. (Seven of the Celtics' 14 losses have come on the second night of back-to-backs on the road.) Boston was in danger of producing a rare Garden clunker in the pre-All-Star finale Wednesday, but rallied for a win that might have slipped away a year ago.
"Home court, since I’ve been here, has always been the emphasis," Kevin Garnett said. "It’s always been primary. The formula in which we [won a world title] in  is some of the formula in which we follow to this day and home court is a part of that."
The Celtics lost only six games in each of the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons before finishing a mere 24-17 in Boston last season. Now they are making amends with the notion that winning now will allow them to host even more games when the playoffs roll around.
"I think [defending home court is] very important," center Kendrick Perkins said. "I think we can't take any game for granted. We've got to go out there and play as hard as possible. I think maybe if we had Game 7 of the Finals last year at home, we win that. I think coming down the stretch we've got maybe 20-something games left, we've just got to finish them out strong."
--JOHNSON HEAPS HIGH PRAISE ON RIVERS--
While stopping short of suggesting he's "like a birthday cake" (as KG did a day earlier), Rivers' old friend (and current Nets coach) Avery Johnson offered high praise for what Rivers has accomplished in Boston.
"I just think he does a great job of communicating with his players," Johnson said. "He doesn't fool around. He runs a tight ship, but at the same time, he trusts his veteran players' judgment, whether it's plays or defenses or how they want to travel. Some of the stories that I've heard about how he communicates with Garnett and Ray Allen and Pierce on situations that give other teams problems has been pretty special. I think he's consistent. He has a strong personality, but not so much where the players don't want to play for him."
Rivers and his staff are headed to Los Angeles to serve as the coaching staff for the Eastern Conference All-Stars this weekend thanks to Boston having the best record in the East. After spending time with Rivers on the San Antonio Spurs squads of the early '90s, Johnson knew they were bound for this post-playing-days profession.
"Oh, absolutely, without a doubt," Johnson said. "That time when we had guys like Doc and Chuck Person and Vinny Del Negro. We knew David Robinson wasn't going to be a coach. We knew Dennis Rodman wasn't going to be a coach. But they had a few of us that we thought could continue our careers in sports, in basketball, on the sidelines when our careers ended, or in the front office.
"Oh yeah, we used to be a Money Magazine team. We definitely weren't a hip-hop team. I don't know, was that popular then? We talked a lot about the game, and that's what a lot of our dinners and lunches were about. It's amazing when guys would go to lunch, we would have napkins and ink pens and markers, just like we were coaches, and that was pretty good. Guys had high basketball IQs and it was fun to be in that environment."
--LOOSE BALLS: AUSTIN CITY LIMITS; OBAMA'S SUPPORT FOR RUSSELL--
* Rivers was asked a hypothetical question: If he was coach of a team with the opportunity to draft his son, Austin, when he eventually turns pro, would he draft his own blood? Rivers said absolutely.
"Then I'd quit," he deadpanned. "That would be very difficult. Not because of him, [but] I know his mom. That would be tough."
Austin Rivers, the nation's top high school recruit, is bound for Duke, but the NBA could come soon after.
For now, Rivers will settle for being a fan. After coaching Wednesday's win, Rivers was headed back to Orlando to catch a Thursday night high school game before trekking out to Los Angeles for All-Star festivities.
Of course, if Rivers were coaching his son, he wouldn't have such travel concerns.
* Before Wednesday's game, Rivers threw his support behind the idea of erecting a statue in honor of Bill Russell, which got more life Tuesday as president Barack Obama endorsed the idea while presenting Russell with the Medal of Freedom in a ceremony at the White House.
"It's awesome, we talked about [the statue] earlier in the year, actually brought it up to the players to get it more notice and get the talking going," Rivers said. "President Obama is probably a better spokesperson than any of us could be. I've got a feeling it'll take on [a life] of it's own [now]. The whole thing yesterday was really nice."