|Setting the scene from Celtics-Heat Game 7, where Ray Allen has it over everyone||06.09.12 at 6:47 pm ET|
MIAMI — Welcome to Game 7.
It’s the seventh such Game 7 in the “Big Three plus Rondo” era. They are 4-2 in the previous six but of those six, only one came on the road. The 2010 Game 7 in the NBA finals in which, like this series, the Celtics were leading 3-2 but couldn’t close out in Game 6 when Kendrick Perkins went down.
In losing Game 6 to LeBron James and the Heat, the Celtics have put themselves in the position of fighting history.
There have been 110 Game 7s, and the home team is 88-22. The Celtics are 3-3, last winning on the road in 1974.
What’s even more improbable is a team winning both Game 5 and Game 7 on the road. The Celtics took a 3-2 series lead by winning in Miami last Tuesday. In the 110 seven-game series, only five times has the road team won both Games 5 and 7 – the 1968 and 1974 Celtics, the 1981 and 1995 Rockets and the 2005 Pacers all did the highly improbable.
On the Heat side, LeBron James is playing in his third Game 7 and everyone recalls the last one. He scored 45 points in a 98-91 loss to the Celtics at the Garden on May 18, 2008 in the Eastern semifinals. Before that, on May 21, 2006, James’ Cavaliers also lost to the Pistons in the Eastern semis.
Ray Allen will have more Game 7 experience than anyone on the floor Saturday night, playing in his ninth such contest. In addition to the six with the Celtics, he played in two with the Bucks in 2001, beating New Orleans in the Eastern semis before bowing out to Allen Iverson and the Sixers in the Eastern finals in Philadelphia.
|Doc Rivers: ‘Riley is inside [Spoelstra]’ and other Celtics-Heat Game 7 shootaround notes||at 1:08 pm ET|
But before Miami, and after winning four titles with the Showtime Lakers, Riley coached the New York Knicks to the 1994 NBA finals. He had a point guard on that team by the name of Glenn “Doc” Rivers.
Doc Rivers speaks often about how much influence Riley had on his coaching career. In the hours before Game 7 with the Heat, the subject came up again.
“If you play for Riley or work around Riley, he’s going to be a part of you for the rest of your life,” Rivers said. “That’s just how it is, even if you have no contact with him, or you do. Riley was Riley for a reason. He gets inside of you, and you can see that with Erik. Riley is inside of him.”
Erik is Erik Spoelstra, the current coach of the Heat, a coach who has – at times in this series – come under intense pressure and criticism for possibly losing to a Celtics team much older that was considered heavy underdogs against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Rivers said he can see a lot of Riley in Spoelstra’s approach.
“I don’t know about the game part of it,” Rivers said. “I think Spo does his own thing there. But definitely, the mental part of it, just listening to how he talks and prepares the team, that’s a Riley [characteristic]. Fingerprints are all over that part.”
Rivers is getting his team ready for the seventh Game 7 in the “Big Three” era but just the second on the road as the Celtics take on the Heat at American Airlines Arena, with the winner capturing the Eastern Conference title and advancing to play the Thunder in Oklahoma City next Tuesday night in Game 1 of the NBA finals.
“We’ll find that out later,” Rivers said when asked what he expects of his team in Game 7, after missing a chance to clinch Thursday night at home. “I’ve been to a lot of shootarounds where I’ve left as a coach [and said] we’re in trouble or we look great and the game comes, and it’s different. So, I don’t think you really get a sense for your team. I know they’ll be ready. How they perform and all that stuff, we’ll have a lot to do with that and the other team will have a lot to do with that as well.”
The Celtics are 4-2 in Game 7s since 2008, losing their only previous Game 7 on the road in 2010 when they lost the NBA finals to the Lakers. Most recently, they beat the Sixers two weeks ago, 95-85, in another Saturday night Game 7, in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“There’s always something to say,” Rivers said. “But really they’ve been in this situation but they’ve never been in this situation against this team. So, every Game 7 is different, every game is different, honestly. You just have to prepare your best. You have to try and figure how much information to give them and how much is too much, and walk the right line.
“It’s always nicer to have it at home, clearly. But let’s be honest, if you had told me before the playoffs started you could have a Game 7 to decide to go to the finals, we’d have taken it and wouldn’t have cared where you played it. In a lot of ways, we love being here.”
All players were accounted for at the open portion of Saturday morning’s shootaround except for Paul Pierce. But Rivers said that Pierce – playing with a sprained MCL in his left knee – and the entire team is ready and will play in Game 7 against the Heat. Pierce eventually showed up at shootaround and participated, before leaving with the team on the bus back to the hotel just after noontime.
“Everybody’s good, everybody’s healthy,” Rivers said.
|Irish Coffee: ‘Let’s go Celtics,’ one final curtain call||06.08.12 at 4:32 pm ET|
Ask Heat coach Erik Spoelstra about Game 7, and like Good Will Hunting he’d probably throw Shakespeare at you, right? “Once more unto the breach, dear friends.” But he’s never been near one.
Neither have most Miamians, at least not since 2005, although they surely have many more to come in their playoff future. Meanwhile, these Celtics and their fans have experienced six Game 7’s in this five-year run of the Kevin Garnett era, including their previous series, but the “Let’s go Celtics” chants echoing to the banners above in the final minutes of Game 6 seemed to suggest: This could be it for awhile, so give us one more. Please.
‘I want to say to all the fans, ‘Thank you guys,'” said Garnett in the wake of the 97-78 loss. “I’ve never in my life experienced anything like this, in any sport. I’m just truly blessed to be a Celtic and be a part of the city of Boston. That’s what’s up to all the New Englanders around here. It’s crazy. It’s [fudge]ing crazy.’
After three straight Celtics victories in the Eastern Conference finals, Thursday night was supposed to be a Garden celebration — the undressing of the fraudulent Heat in The Emperor’s New Clothes — but instead King James ascended to his NBA MVP throne. When it was over, LeBron James had 45 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and one elusive victory in an elimination game that saw his Heat lead by as many as 25 points.
|Dwyane Wade on LeBron James: ‘This isn’t last year’||at 12:24 pm ET|
Dwyane Wade didn’t see it coming. “I’m not a fortune teller,” he said. Erik Spoelstra sensed it coming. “Everybody notices the game,” the Heat coach said. “We saw the last 24 hours.” Either way, LeBron James arrived.
“I hope now you guys will stop talking about LeBron and that he doesn’t play in big games,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “He was pretty good tonight. Now that’s to bed. We can go ahead and play Game 7.”
Therein lies the rub. Sure, his Game 6 evisceration of the C’s was a transcendent performance by a transcendent player, but all 45 points and 15 rebounds are for naught if he and the Heat can’t replicate it on Saturday night.
James willed his team to a must-win playoff victory, finally. That’s what the NBA MVP is supposed to do. But James won’t be remembered for Game 6 if he can’t will them to a must-win series and, really, a must-win NBA title. Surely, it’s a lot to heap on a man with shoulders broad enough to carry the load but a heart that, until Thursday night, seemed unwilling to do so, but it’s not as though he didn’t ask for it in Miami.
“This is not last year,” said Wade. “He’s really been locked in. He’s been playing unbelievable in the playoffs. He’s taken it upon himself. Like I said, he’s been MVP of the league right now. He’s showcasing it on a nightly basis.”
‘This team has been about adversity all year long,” Pierce said. “So, this is not going to be [anything] new. It’s been tough for us all year long to get to the point where we would be at, and why wouldn’t it be tough now? Winning is hard. Trying to get to the finals is hard. And this is as hard as it gets, and I think we are prepared for it.’
As clutch as Pierce was at the end of Game 5 in Miami, Pierce was ice cold all night in Game 6. He finished 4-for-18 from the field, including 0-for-6 from 3-point range. The Celtics captain scored just nine points in 31 minutes while James put up 45 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in 45 minutes to lead the Heat to a Game 7.
“He hit a lot of shots that he hasn’t been hitting all series,” Pierce said. “Sometimes superstars get hot. I’ve had that feeling before and sometimes there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Unfortunately, Pierce came no where near having that feeling in Game 6 as the Celtics missed the chance to clinch on their home court.
‘It was tough,” Pierce said of the loss. “You got an opportunity to close out the series on your home floor. For us to come out and play like the way we did, it’s very tough. I mean, you gotta take your hats off to them. They really had a great game. Lebron got hot, playing like a true MVP. We just didn’t recover.
“I always think we got a chance. We’re not the type of team that looks at the score or say it’s over until it’s over. So, tip my hat off to them. They did what they had to do and now were going to a Game 7.’
Pierce realizes that, like the beginning of the series, few if any observers are giving them a chance in Game 7. But like the beginning of the series, he knows that doesn’t matter.
‘Well its been that kind of year for us anyway,” Pierce said. “[I] think we are in the perfect opportunity. We’ve been the underdog all year long, going into Game 7 the underdog. We are right where we want to be.’
As for the “Let’s Go Celtics” send-off from the fans?
‘We have the best fans in the world,” he said. “Down 20, at home, in the playoffs, and they cheer us off the court. And that’s just awesome. That’s why we have the best fans in the world.’
A disappointed Kevin Garnett admitted that the Celtics might have been too excited for their chance to close out the Heat in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Thursday night at TD Garden. The result was an unforeseen flat performance that produced a 98-79 Miami win that extended the series to Game 7 Saturday night at American Airlines Arena.
‘Some shots didn’t fall that we know we can make,” Garnett said. “Everybody in here was pumped up. Everybody was probably too jacked. It didn’t transcend into a win, though.’
To Garnett’s point, Paul Pierce was just 4-for-18 in 31 minutes while Garnett was 6-for-14. The two stars combined for just 21 points on 10-for-32 shooting from the floor. Now, the Celtics must repeat their clutch road performance from Game 5 in order to advance to the NBA finals and a date with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
‘Nothing’s been easy up until this point, and you can’t expect it now,” Garnett said. “It is what it is. We’re gonna take these cards and play them. There’s a lot of confident guys in here, lot of guys who’ve been through Game 7’s, a lot of experienced guys. We’re going to lean on that. And we’re going to fight. We’re a bunch of fighters in this locker room. Let it all hang out [for Game 7]. [We’re] on the road, a hostile environment. We got a lot of fans down there but it is what it is.’
As for LeBron James and his 45 points in 45 minutes, Garnett said there was little the Celtics could do.
‘LB was in the groove and he never looked back,” Garnett said.
|Fast Break: Heat, James LeBlow out Celtics in Game 6||06.07.12 at 11:10 pm ET|
LeBron James submitted perhaps his greatest game as a professional — his most clutch, anyway — amassing 45 points (19-26 FG) to go along with 15 rebounds and five assists, breaking even a raucous Garden crowd’s spirit and sending the Eastern Conference finals back to Miami for a Game 7.
Six minutes before the 98-79 defeat in Game 6 was over, Celtics fans already headed for the exits. Doc Rivers rested Paul Pierce (9 points, 4-18 FG), Kevin Garnett (12 points, 6-14 FG) and Rajon Rondo (21 points, 10 assists, 7 turnovers) for the last half of the fourth quarter, letting them stew on what just happened.
The C’s fans who stayed, though, deserve respect, closing out the final two minutes with a prolonged “Let’s go Celtics” chant that lasted until the final answer, sending a message to the “good job, good effort” Heat fans and Boston’s Big Four for Game 7.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Worst first: Through the first 11:42 of Game 6, James played the Celtics dead even by himself. He scored 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting; the Celtics netted 14 on 7-of-16 from the field. While the C’s offense seemed stagnant for long stretches, James attacked from the opening tip. His effort effectively quieted a deafening Garden crowd and forced the Celtics to play from behind. If not for James, the Heat don’t take a 26-16 lead into the second quarter, as Dwyane Wade started 0-for-4 and finished the first frame scoreless.
Long play the king: Since James started a ridiculous 12-of-14 from the floor, it’s worth discussing further. His emotionless face said it all. If the Heat were going down this time, it wouldn’t be on his shoulders. Playing all 24 minutes of the first half, he scored 30 points, and it would have been more, if not for his 5-of-9 free throw shooting. As the Heat took a 55-42 into the break (on a ridiculous four-point swing of a no-call when Shane Battier mugged Rondo), James owned an 85.7 field goal percentage. The rest of the Heat? Thirty six percent.
Foul mood: With 5:39 remaining in the second quarter, Pierce picked up his third foul, continuing his foul prone ways over the past seven games. Rivers had no choice but to sit his captain until halftime. Pierce had as many turnovers (2) as he had first-half points, and considering James’ performance, it wasn’t his finest effort on either end. Sitting for a long stretch certainly didn’t help his flow. Pierce missed his first three shots out of the break, too. Not to mention a wide-open 3 that would have cut the lead to eight and could have changed the game’s complexion late in the third quarter.
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