Commentary

Same old Celtics dig in for Game 7

Doc Rivers' squad will try to stop LeBron & Co. with the defense 'we always play'

Updated: June 10, 2012, 1:52 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

The Boston Celtics landed in Miami on Friday afternoon a little later than anticipated. Maybe coach Doc Rivers ordered the pilot to take the team plane on a brief detour to squeeze in some additional time watching film in the distraction-free skies. He might have needed that time to break down all those shots LeBron James connected on in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals the night before.

LeBron James
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesPaul Pierce and the Celtics hope LeBron James returns to earth after an otherworldly Game 6.

But if Rivers spent the flight concocting some sort of super-secret game plan aimed at ensuring James doesn't erupt for 45 points again during Saturday's Game 7, he did a good job of masking it when he talked to reporters Friday afternoon.

Rivers said the Celtics' defense won't make any knee-jerk responses to one outburst.

"We can't assume he's not going to score 45 again, but we have to do what we're supposed to do better first," Rivers said. "And then if we have to make changes, we will. But LeBron played great; he made a lot of great shots. So all the credit goes to him. But there's a better defense that we can play, and it's the defense that we should have played."

And which defense is that?

"The one we always play," Rivers said.

The way the Celtics have spun it, James put together a superhuman effort in connecting on 19 of 26 shots while putting up 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists over 45 minutes in Thursday's 98-79 Game 6 triumph at TD Garden.

Rivers hinted that Boston would likely give James many of those same shots; he simply made a lot of tough ones Thursday. And until he shows he can do it again, the Celtics -- and their top-ranked playoff defense -- won't alter the approach that has them one win from the NBA Finals.

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"Listen, if LeBron James has 45 and only misses seven shots, it's going to be tough to win," Rivers said. "If he has 45 and has to take 45 shots, that may give us a better chance to win, clearly. Obviously we have to guard him better first. But there's no doubt we have to guard them all better."

According to ESPN Stats & Info, James connected on 15 unassisted field goals in Game 6, generating 20 points off isolation plays -- this after scoring just 24 total points off isolation plays in the first five games. What's more, James made 12 shots from beyond 10 feet, after averaging less than four field goals per game from that range over the first five games.

Cast in that light, Game 6 seems to be the outlier in the bunch, even if James is averaging a robust 34 points and 10.8 rebounds per game this series.

Boston might have been unable to stop James in Game 6, and his effort was the talk of the sports world Friday. But Rivers is quick to point out the game might not be reflected on so fondly if the Heat don't win Game 7.

"Obviously, [if the Heat] win [Saturday], that Game 6 you'll remember," Rivers said. "If we win tomorrow, then Game 6 will be just another great game."

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra wasn't much in the mood to put the game in its proper historical perspective.

"You will probably get a better perspective from somebody else than me right now," he said. "I think the important thing, it was an historic performance last night. [James] is committed right now to do whatever it takes [to win this series], and it might be another effort like that tomorrow. It might not need to be that great. But whatever he is asked, he'll do tomorrow. And our focus for the next 24 hours is eliminating all of [the chatter about Game 6] and focusing on just [Game 7]."

Spoelstra acknowledged his players can't stand around waiting for James to do what he did in Game 6 again.

"Well, they might, [but] everybody will be ready," he said. "And every game has been different. We've been tested already in the playoffs, where different guys have had to step up. Sometimes it's been our role players. Sometimes it's been Dwyane [Wade]. Now that we have Chris [Bosh] back, he's been giving us an impact.

"We've had enough experience and trials in this playoff run so far to realize that there are a myriad of different ways you have to win. And it won't be the same blueprint every night."

It might not be the same blueprint, but the Celtics sure seem committed to sticking to theirs -- the one that helped them win three straight while rallying from a 2-0 deficit.

Beyond keeping James in this earthly realm, the Celtics need to erase the turnovers that plagued them in the first half Thursday and get back to trying to establish Kevin Garnett in the post -- two areas that have been a consistent theme in Boston losses this postseason.

The Celtics' confidence won't be rattled. Keyon Dooling noted as much after Game 6 when asked about the message on the team's dry-erase board about packing for a week. The insinuation is that Boston is bringing enough clothes to head right to Oklahoma City and the start of the NBA Finals on Tuesday.

Celtics
Steve Babineau/NBAE via Getty ImagesThere's a chance that Saturday could spell the end of the Big Three.

"Guys have a lot of luggage, and we're hoping we can use it," Rivers said.

Here's another sign Boston is focused on the task at hand. Naturally, the pregame chatter includes the potential for this to be the last game of the Big Three era, with both Garnett and Ray Allen set to be free agents after the season.

Rivers was given the chance to reflect on the past five seasons, but politely passed.

"I'm not going to let myself go down that road," he said. "I would like to talk about that in two or three weeks from now."

That would be after the NBA Finals. Rivers can't afford to waste time now. He might not be crafting a new game plan for Game 7, but it's time that could be spent figuring out how the Celtics can get back to doing what they did so well in Games 3 through 5.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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