- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Boston Celtics are quick to dismiss the numbers, even though they suggest the team is in a favorable position as they prepare to host the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series on Saturday night at TD Garden.
History tells us that home teams prevail nearly 80 percent of the time in Game 7. What's more, the Celtics are 17-4 all-time at home in Game 7s and boast more Game 7 victories than any other team in NBA history. Conversely, the 76ers are a mere 1-7 on the road in Game 7s and are tied for the most Game 7 defeats in league history.
Rajon Rondo quickly points out that the success of past teams -- particularly those that had deciding-game success before he was even born -- means nothing to this year's team.
But there's something to be said for the Game 7 experience that Rondo and his more veteran teammates possess. That experience, perhaps even more than home-court advantage, is Boston's biggest edge over Philadelphia heading into Saturday's winner-take-all tilt.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Celtics have eight players on their roster who have combined to play in a whopping 27 Game 7s with a total of 925 minutes of floor time. Boston's Big Four of Ray Allen (7 games, 264 minutes), Paul Pierce (6 games, 239 minutes), Rondo (5 games, 186 minutes) and Kevin Garnett (4 games, 153 minutes) are no strangers to do-or-die situations.
Only three players have seen Game 7 action, for a combined 59 minutes of action. And only one -- Elton Brand, 1 game for 48 minutes -- figures to see the floor on Saturday. (The other two, Tony Battie and Sam Young, are not typically part of the rotation.)
"Only a few of us have [Game 7 experience]," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I say that all the time, it's not like the whole team has it. But the key guys who have it, hopefully it's an advantage. But I've learned that every Game 7 is an individual game in itself, and the game will dictate if experience comes into play or not."
The Celtics know that this year's team is far too inconsistent and far too dinged up to lean on past experience.
"We're not going to go over the history," Rondo said on the heels of the Game 6 loss in Philadelphia. "This is a new series, it's a new group of guys that are going head-to-head, and it's been back-and-forth the entire series, so it's going to be a tough one at home."
But as the Celtics met with the media on Friday, you couldn't help but detect the team's confidence from being in this type of situation before with this core of players.
And it's the mental toughness they've shown throughout an adversity-filled 2011-12 season that leaves Rivers optimistic.
"I'm very confident in this group," Rivers said. "This is as good of a group as I've coached, as far as they just have a way of getting ready. Let's hope that just continues."
Asked why this team -- seeking to become only the fourth team since the ABA-NBA merger to make the conference finals after entering the All-Star break under .500 -- has been so resilient, Rondo offered similar pride.
"We haven't got it done yet, but we will tomorrow," he said of having another chance to close out the 76ers. "I think it's our mindset, our focus and our attention coming into the game. We're going to make sacrifices, we're going to [have] all the intangibles and make plays."
All that Game 7 experience hasn't ensured a Boston win in recent seasons. The Celtics have lost their last two Game 7s -- falling to the Lakers in the 2010 NBA Finals in Los Angeles, and succumbing to the Orlando Magic during the 2009 conference semifinals in Boston.
Those of a pessimistic nature would be quick to point out the similarities between the 2009 campaign and this season. The Celtics were playing that year without Garnett, and while many assumed Boston would roll on its home court in Game 7 against Orlando, the Magic jumped out to a double-digit first-quarter advantage and stormed to a 101-82 triumph that ended the Celtics' title defense.
As usual, with Boston potentially facing its last game of the season, questions abound as to whether this is the final time the Big Four will share the floor as teammates. Allen and Garnett will be free agents after the season, and while you can't dismiss the chance they'll be back together one more time, there's a strong likelihood this postseason will be the last rodeo.
But Allen brushed off the topic, having traveled this path so many times before.
"Not really, not at all," Allen said when asked if he thinks about the potential end of an era. "I think I've been in that situation many times before, that question has been posed so many times.
"We've been so fortunate to do what we've done here and it seemed like we've been ruled out so many times before, so many years before. It's just another opportunity to go out and be who we are, so we're not worried about what's beyond today, what's beyond tomorrow. We'll worry about what we have in the present day."
What they have is experience, much more than their opponent. While Allen doesn't want to focus on the future, the Celtics can lean on their past. It's the biggest reason there might be more basketball ahead for this group.
2dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann