Besides the play of the experienced Big Three and young point guard Rajon Rondo, the Celtics will need to use their home court to their advantage on Saturday.
This is it. Game 7. Winner-take-all. A trip to the Eastern Conference Finals at stake, the Miami Heat awaiting their opponent’s arrival in South Beach. Two seasons on the line. And perhaps more importantly, however, the conclusion of an era is a stake. For the second time this postseason, the reign of the Boston Celtics’ Big Three could be put to an abrupt end in Game 7 on their home court. That’s right: no more talk of wait until next year, they’ll have another chance. This is the last chance for the trio of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett to win an NBA title, a championship that has seemed within their grasp nearly every season they have taken the court. Unlike their match-up with the Atlanta Hawks, however, the Celtics have some history with the 76ers, having played six Game 7′s against Philly all-time and winning four.
The last time these two teams met was in the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals, the 76ers winning 120-106 on the Boston Garden parquet. It was the second straight year they had been up three games to one in the series before allowing the Celtics to crawl back and force a pivotal Game 7. Past games between these teams isn’t the only history that is against Philadelphia going into Saturday. In NBA history, there have been 108 Game 7′s, 87 of them (80 percent) having been won by the home team. Also, the team that has won Game 6 to force Game 7 has only won the series 35 times (32 percent). To add to these statistics, the Celtics are 17-4 all-time in Game 7′s on their home court, 3-1 in the Big Three era. So, to say the odds are stacked against Philly is an understatement.
But that doesn’t mean that the 76ers are doubting their chances to win. In fact, they are quite confident heading into the Game 7 match-up with Boston. And why shouldn’t they be? Philly is a young team, an upstart group of guys that plays with confidence and doesn’t fear experience. Head coach Doug Collins has been feeding them clips of the ’82 team defeating the Celtics at home, adding to the confidence they already had after a Game 6 victory with their season hanging in the balance. Plus, the Celtics are far from healthy. Allen is having trouble giving his teammates much on the floor on either side of the ball, clearly still laboring from bone spurs in his right ankle. Pierce is battling through a knee injury. And Avery Bradley, the Celtics’ top on-ball defender, is out for the remainder of the playoffs with a left shoulder injury.
Those injuries have resulted in Allen’s typical sharp shooting being slightly off (a career-worst 26.7 percent) and his defense suffering due to his inability to keep up with his man. Rajon Rondo’s defense has also suffered without the support of Bradley off the bench. The point guard has looked lackadaisical on ‘D’ at times, taking questionable routes on picks and gambling for steals far too often while allowing his man to get by. Jrue Holiday has been a beneficiary of the absence of Bradley, and will most likely continue to be Saturday. Still, we Celtics fans must trust in our team. Yes, we are old and banged up. Yes, we are tired and in dire need of rest. It won’t be easy by any means, certainly. But we still have heart and experience on our side, and this I feel will be enough for the C’s to make it past the 76ers. The players understand what’s on the line, especially the likes of Pierce, Allen, and Garnett. Do you really expect Boston’s new-age version of the Big Three to bow out of the playoffs without giving their team a shot to play for another NBA title against the rival Heat? Yeah, it didn’t take me long to think of an answer either.
Prediction: Celtics 97 76ers 89
Here are some video clips to get you Celtics fans pumped for Game 7: