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The Celtics won't have the advantage of their TD Garden fans on Wednesday night.The Boston Celtics have a chance to close out the Philadelphia 76ers during Wednesday's Game 6 of an Eastern Conference semifinal series at Wells Fargo Center (8 p.m., ESPN). To preview the matchup, we play a game of 2-on-2 with colleague Greg Payne.
1. What's the most important thing Boston must do to close out?
Payne: Get Rajon Rondo going early. Well, that's more on Rondo than it is on the team as a whole. Rondo has to come out aggressive and establish the tone for Boston tonight. During the third quarter on Monday when Boston broke the game open, Rondo was almost as crucial to the proceedings as Brandon Bass, as he began attacking the rim more consistently and getting guys like Bass easier looks at the rim. As important as it is for Rondo to get everyone else involved, he can't be afraid to put his head down and charge to the rim himself, as his own offense could play a crucial role in a Celtics victory tonight.
Forsberg: Rondo truly is the X-factor. If he's engaged, it doesn't seem to matter who else around him steps up. As Celtics coach Doc Rivers noted at shootaround, the Celtics need second-half-of-Game-5 Rondo, "for 48 (minutes), though," said Rivers. "Rondo was terrific. He was good all game, he was great in the second half. You get leadership in a lot of ways, Rondo is never going to be a vocal guy. Rondo’s leadership is Patrick Ewing-ish -- by example. When he plays like that, everyone follows. When your point guard plays on any team with that type of physicality, with that type of energy, you have no choice but to follow. And I thought Rondo did that." Beyond Rondo, if Game 4 taught the Celtics anything, it's that they can't let up defensively, or else Philadelphia can turn things around in a hurry.
2. What else will you be focused on in Game 6?
Payne: I'll be looking at the free throw lines, to see who gets to them most often. In Game 5, the Celtics more than doubled the 76ers in attempts (33 to 16), but in Game 4, it was nearly the opposite, as Philly garnered 36 attempts from the stripe to Boston's 19. Getting to the line is a sign of two important things: A certain level of aggressiveness and a devotion to attacking the basket. The C's can't afford to rely on outside jumpers too heavily tonight. While an occasional 3-pointer will help swing the score and create momentum, they should look to initiate the bulk of their offense closer to the rim and extend further out from there.
Forsberg: I was going to say a quick start to neutralize the crowd -- but, well, how'd that 14-0 run to start Game 4 work out for Boston? So let's instead go with a sustained effort. The Celtics have rarely put together 48 consistent minutes this postseason and they can't endure the lulls of past games and expect to finish off a desperate team on the road. Put another way: Boston can't sleepwalk like it did in the first half of Game 5, then expect to motor away this time. Philadelphia has been fantastic coming off of losses in the postseason and has plenty of mental toughness of its own. Can the Celtics finally make things easy on themselves and bury a team on first attempt to close out? It's going to take a full 48 minutes to do that -- otherwise, they'll need 48 more minutes on Saturday night in Boston.