BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics look pretty close to being a title contender. But if they want to experience the NBA’s highest level of glory, they’ve got to get a lot better in one important aspect of the game.
They have to close out their opponents. They haven’t done so twice against the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Semis, and now the series will come down to a winner takes all Game 7 on Friday night.
The first time Boston didn’t close out the Raptors was in Game 3, when OG Anunoby drained a miraculous buzzer-beater with 0.5 seconds left. That’s how close the Celtics were from taking a commanding 3-0 lead on the defending champs.
After failing to close Toronto out several times in Wednesday night’s Game 6, Boston fell in heartbreaking fashion in double overtime. The Celtics had a chance to win Game 6 in regulation, when Kemba Walker couldn’t convert on a layup at the buzzer/totally got fouled but didn’t get the call. The team then blew a four-point lead in overtime.
Add in a 12-point first-half lead that evaporated because of another third-quarter debacle from the Celtics, and they know they had their chances to take Game 6 and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Now they have the ultimate close-out ahead of them, and know from experience that anything can happen in a Game 7.
Losing Game 6 is a blow, but the Celtics aren’t going to let it crush their title hopes.
“Definitely a great teaching moment for this group,” Jaylen Brown said after Game 6. “We had a lot of opportunities down the stretch. We didn’t take care of the ball the way we needed to. That’s fine. We have a game 7. We feel good about ourselves. Obviously, we wanted the win tonight, but we’ll circle back, watch the film, come back with a great spirit and get ready for Game 7. It doesn’t get much better than this.”
Kemba Still Confident
Toronto completely shut down Walker in the first half. He missed all three of his shots and had just two assists at the break. He finished the game with just five points off 2-for-11 shooting.
“I got to find a way to help my teammates more. I got to be better for my teammates,” he said after the woeful performance. “We just got to look at the film and get better. That’s all we can do.”
He remains confident that the Celtics as a whole will bounce back in Game 7.
“Why wouldn’t I be? We’re great players, we are really competitive. That was a hard fought game right there,” he said. “We could have given up. We didn’t. We made plays throughout the whole game, two overtimes. I’m confident. We have a good group of guys and we love playing basketball with each other and we love making each other better. I know we’ll respond. We’re going to come out and play hard again.”
Drawing Off Experience
This will be the fourth Game 7 for Jaylen Brown, and he’s 2-1 in those games. Here’s his advice for teammates heading into Friday night.
“Just breathe, first and foremost. Take a deep breath and play basketball,” he said Wednesday. “I love to play this game. We all love to play this game. Just breathe and play. Come out and be the best version of ourselves and everything will take care of itself.
“You have to embrace the challenge,” he continued. “This is what adversity is about. This is what basketball is about. This is what life is about. You get put in tough situations and you can’t complain. Some days don’t go your way, but you get up and fight tomorrow. I’m looking forward to getting back with the guys, circling back. I’m looking forward to shootaround and film and everything, because it’s all part of embracing the challenge. That’s what we have to do, embrace it so we can come back and give everything for Game 7.”
Game 7 will tip off shortly after 9 p.m. on Friday night.