BOSTON (CBS) — It’s only fitting that the Eastern Conference finals are coming down to a Game 7.
Following a whirlwind offseason that saw the two teams change quite a bit, many expected that it would be the Celtics and Cavaliers duking it out for the Eastern Conference crown. That pre-season script has gone through several edits over the last seven months, with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward both sidelined for Boston and Isaiah Thomas long gone from Cleveland, but here they are. One final showdown between LeBron James’ Cavaliers and a young and scrappy Celtics team for a trip to the Finals.
The two teams have traded haymakers for six games and will do so one more time Sunday night at the TD Garden. James and the Cavaliers threw a mighty punch Friday night, with LeBron’s 46 points leading Cleveland to a 109-99 win to force Sunday’s winner-takes-all clash. But the Celtics aren’t discouraged about another road loss (they’re now 1-7 away from the Garden this postseason). They know the miscues they suffered on Friday, all the turnovers and missed free throws, can’t happen again, not if they want to complete a stunning trip to the Finals.
They’ll learn from Friday night’s defeat, but it won’t be on their minds on Sunday. This young bunch is eager to come out and throw another punch of their own on their home floor, where they are 10-0 this postseason.
The Celtics have looked like a different team in Boston this postseason. Offensively, they’re averaging eight more points per game at home than the three games they played in Cleveland (103.6 to 95.6). The splits are even more staggering on the defensive end; the C’s surrendered 112 points per game in Cleveland, but have held the Cavs to just 86.7 points in the three games in Boston.
But that 10-0 record and those home-road splits mean little to the Celtics. Like Friday night’s loss, they won’t be thinking about them when Game 7 tips off.
“At the end of the day you have to go out and make your own history,” said C’s guard Jaylen Brown, who is averaging a team-high 19.6 points per game this series. “We have to come out and do what we’ve got to do. People can say whatever they want, but two teams have to come out and play. We’ll see what happens after that.”
“We know we haven’t lost at home, but it’s one game to go to the finals,” said rookie Jayson Tatum. “That’s all we’re worried about.”
“We have to come out aggressive and play Celtics basketball,” said guard Terry Rozier. “We can’t just rely on us being at home for an excuse that it’s going to be easy. It’s not. But we’re looking forward to it; we have to come out aggressive and make things happen.”
Having 18,000+ cheering them on leads to that aggressiveness, and the Celtics are expecting the TD Garden to be as loud as ever Sunday night.
“[It’s going to be] Chaotic. Real hectic. I expect us not to be able to hear each other,” said guard Marcus Smart. “We just have to come and play; we have to stay together, play as one and play united.”
“I expect it to be as loud as I’ve ever [heard] it,” said Brown. “And that’s saying a lot because the Garden can get pretty loud.”
“We think we have the best fans in the whole league,” added Smart. “We all know how we get, especially at home in front of them and the energy we get off them. We just have to come and bring it.”
Having the fans on their side is nice and all, but what matters is how the Celtics play. Like with any Game 7, the C’s are expecting a battle to the very end.
“It’s not going to be pretty. You got to be able to get down and get dirty,” said Smart. “You can’t go out and try to look pretty. You have to be ready for a dog fight.”
The Celtics know they have a gigantic challenge in front of them, with James looking to take his team to the NBA Finals for the eighth straight season. But the moment will not be too big for these them on Sunday, not for a team that has battled adversity all season. Game 7 is just another test, and they’re excited for the opportunity at hand. It’s one more chance to rise to the occasion and prove their doubters wrong, a chance for a team that everyone ruled out a month ago to advance to the NBA’s biggest stage.