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Can the Celtics contain LeBron James and the Heat in Game 7 Saturday in Miami?MIAMI -- Early in Doc Rivers’ off day conference call Friday, a reporter pointed out that the odds are strongly against a road team winning Game 7.
“Yeah, and?” barked Rivers.
The Celtics have maintained a steady aversion to probability this postseason, maybe because they have so often defied what history tells us about how their games should play out.
So, no need to remind Rivers about the odds. Like the fact that home teams are 88-22 (80 percent) all-time in NBA Game 7s. Or that, despite the fact that Boston as a franchise is 21-7 in Game 7s, the Celtics are 3-3 in road Game 7s, including having lost the only such instance of the Big Three era (falling to the Lakers in the 2010 NBA Finals).
You’d have to go back to the 1974 Eastern Conference finals to find Boston’s last road Game 7 triumph (over the Milwaukee Bucks). That was two years before Kevin Garnett was even born (and we all know how long ago that was).
Fortunately for the Celtics, the odds of a road Game 7 victory are somewhat in the eye of the beholder. For all the negatives, there are encouraging numbers as well. Like Boston's 4-2 record in Game 7s during the Big Three era, or how the Celtics as a franchise have won 94.7 percent of all series in which they’ve led 3-2 (36-2, only tempered by the fact that both of those losses came in recent years, including the 2010 NBA Finals and 2009 conference semifinals against the Magic).
Go ahead and throw away the statistics. As Rivers is inclined to point out, what’s happened in the past can’t aid the Celtics now. It’s what happens in the three hours after Game 7 tips tonight at 8:30 p.m. that will decide Boston’s fate.
Here are seven quick-hits on key areas of Game 7 that will likely decide whether Boston advances to the NBA Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder:
* Feed KG: It’s impossible to overstate Kevin Garnett’s value to the Celtics this postseason. Good things happen when he’s on the floor (to the point where you wonder if Rivers can even take him off much Saturday night) and Boston absolutely has to establish him in the offensive end. “I don't think we did a very good job with it (in Game 6),” admitted Rivers. “(Garnett) made the first post shot, and then he didn't get one for 10 touches, I think I counted. I thought they threw him out of his rhythm -- we threw him out of his rhythm. And all great scorers or great players are rhythmic. I didn't think we did a very good job of keeping him within the rhythm of our offense.”
* Value the ball: This probably goes without saying at this point, particularly given how it was a point of emphasis in the last two rounds of the postseason (and most notably against Miami), but first-half turnovers plagued Boston in Game 6 and only made Boston's attempt to rally out of an early hole that much more difficult. If the Celtics get sloppy, it’s going to be very difficult for them to win this game.
* Limit LeBron: Easier said than done, right? Boston might get away with allowing James 45 points, they simply can’t let him get away with shooting 73.1 percent while doing it. Boston has to make him work for his points and, if he’s on fire again, tweaks will be necessary to force the supporting cast to beat Boston. Much more on this HERE.
* Hang around: Five seasons of deep playoff runs have put Boston in these type of situations numerous times before. Maybe the greatest intangible this team has over Miami (or any other opponent) is that big-game experience. If the Celtics can hang around for 43 minutes -- and there’s enough left in the tank for the final 5 -- you gotta like their chances. Boston shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the moment.
* Eyes on Pierce, Allen: Boston’s Big Three -- Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett -- combined for a mere 31 points in Game 6, their fewest combined points in a postseason game since becoming teammates in the 2007-08 season (in a game that all 3 played in), according to ESPN Stats and Info. Clearly, Pierce (sprained left MCL) and Allen (bone spurs in right ankle) are hobbling through this postseason, but Boston absolutely needs them to find ways to impact the scoring column in Game 7.
* Something in reserve?: After providing a nice boost in Games 3-5, Boston’s bench struggled in Thursday’s Game 6 loss and the Celtics have to hope their confidence didn’t dip because of it. While Boston will almost certainly lean heavy on its starters in Game 7, the team still need the likes of Mickael Pietrus and Keyon Dooling to provide key minutes. Rivers likes to remind us that this is a defensive unit, so even if the scoring doesn’t come, they gotta keep Miami’s supporting cast quiet at the other end of the floor. More on that HERE.
* Lean on what got you here: There’s no need to get gimmicky with the game plan at this point. The Celtics’ recipe for success this season has been fairly simple and includes a heavy dose of their hallmark defense. Rajon Rondo will fuel the offense and he needs to identify early on what kind of a game this needs to be for him (heavy on distribution? Or does Rondo need to shoulder some of the offensive output if the Big Three struggle again?) But if Boston gets the multiple stops that Rivers so often implores his team to generate, they will give themselves a chance to get back to the NBA Finals for a third time in five seasons.
The one thing Boston has to realize is that the margin for error in a road Game 7 is very narrow. Having its backs against the wall has often brought out its most inspired and focused basketball. To prolong the Big Three era -- at least with a summer of uncertainty looming -- the Celtics will have to do it again on Saturday night.
History suggests it won't be easy. Rivers and Co. clearly don't care what history suggests.