BOSTON (CBS) – The Celtics and 76ers need a seventh game to decide their Eastern Conference semifinal series, and Boston’s performance in Game 6 — along with their battle with injuries — has many wondering if this will be the final game of the “New Big 3” era.
The end is near, but it won’t come Saturday.
Yes, the Celtics have plenty stacked against them Saturday night. Their Game 6 effort was possibly the worst performance by the C’s in the last five years, the injury to Avery Bradley has left them without one of their youthful contributors, and the eighth-seeded 76ers will come into the Garden with a “nothing to lose” mentality.
But, with their time together coming to an obvious close, these pride-filled Celtics will not go down to an eighth seed. Not at home. Not on back-to-back playoff losses. Not in a series they could have easily swept.
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As bad as the Celtics were in Game 6 — and they were awful — it is hard to imagine they would play that poorly on their home court with a trip to the Eastern Confernce finals on the line. They’ll have had two days, not just to rest, but to stew about that horrid performance at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Celtics shot just 33 percent from the floor Wednesday night. None of Kevin Garnett’s 20 shots were within 10 feet. The Celtics were dominated 42-16 in the paint. Rajon Rondo didn’t remember there was a game that night. The list goes on.
All of that should change Saturday.
The Celtics will make an emphasis to establish themselves in the paint early and often, thereby bringing Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes’ defense back to earth. Instead of all those jumpers that Garnett tried, tried and tried some more, a couple of four-footers would work wonders at stretching the floor. They need to work from the inside out, something they never got going Wednesday.
A lot of that had to do with Rondo’s (lack-of-a) performance.
Back in Boston, Kevin Garnett should dominate and Paul Pierce will continue to do his thing in Game 7. But the player the series will come down to is Rondo. His head was not in Game 6 from the get-go, and the Celtics offense never got going because of it. So in Game 7, Rondo needs to play the quarterback and establish the ball movement. After his quiet nine-point, nine-rebound and six-assist performance, it would be hard to see Rondo go out and put up another playoff triple-double (just hope for one along the lines of 20-17-18, and not 11-10-11). Of the eight he’s put up in his playoff career, none of them have come in a Game 7. It would be nice see him to grab that first one Saturday.
The Celtics will also need contributions from Brandon Bass (who shot just 2-for-12 in Game 6) and Mickael Pietrus. Garnett should be able to handle another 35 to 40 minutes on the floor, but if Bass is not involved it will make those 40 minutes feel like 80. With Ray Allen stumbling around the court — he is trying, but the man has no ankles anym0re — Pietrus will need to bring his outside shot as much as his defensive intensity.
Nothing has come easy in this series. Game 7 will be just as big a grind as the other six games. But if the Celtics can establish themselves in the paint early, and in turn get their ball movement back to where it had been, they should be moving on to the Eastern Conference finals and the Miami Heat.
The Celtics chances in that series is a whole different story. So enjoy Saturday night. It won’t be the Big 3’s last, but that time is approaching quickly.