There is nothing better in the world of sports than game seven of a playoff series. The atmosphere is different, the energy is different and last but not least, for both teams, it is win or go home.
When teams are down 3-2 in a series, as the Philadelphia 76ers were after their game five loss to the Boston Celtics, having the opportunity to play that game seven, is something the team can relish. For the Celtics, who have had a horrid time closing best-of-seven series on the road in recent years, playing game seven at home is a different story. The Celtics are 17-4 when playing the closeout game at home. However, one of these four losses did come against a Philadelphia team, which for them was their only road win in a game seven as their record stands at 1-7.
For the Sixers and Celtics, Game 7 is a chance to redeem prior series losses as this now winner-take-all game, will have the victorious team headed straight to the Eastern Conference Finals to face the Miami Heat.
In order to "beat the Heat" however, one team first needs to win. While both the Celtics and Sixers have strengths and weaknesses, there are certain elements of the game each team needs to bring in order to take home the victory.
Key to the game: If the Celtics hope to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, Kevin Garnett will have to continue to play a major role in the Celtics offense and score no less than 15 points.
When this series first began, Kevin Garnett was not expected to be a major factor. Sure, he would get the 15 points and eight rebounds that have become his season averages, but I don't think anyone expected to see the KG of the past who once averaged 20+ points in nine straight seasons.
Unfortunately for the Sixers, they too were not expecting to be beaten by Garnett, who in Game 1 put up a 2012 playoff high 29 points and another 11 rebounds. In Game 3, a blowout win by the Celtics, Garnett contributed 27 points and 13 rebounds. He added another 20 points in the Celtics Game 5 victory.
In the three games the Celtics lost, Garnett scored 15, nine and 20 points respectively. In the Sixers biggest win, a nine point victory, Garnett netted only nine, a 2012 playoff low for him.
It is no coincidence that when KG has come up big and played with the energy of a younger version of himself, that the Celtics have gotten the victories. As a result, one of the deciding factors of Game 7 could very well be KG. If the Celtics get the reinvigorated Garnett that has shown up in wins, they will likely be moving on to face Miami. If they get the Garnett of seasons past, the one who is 36 years old and it shows, the Sixers could be the ones moving on to the Conference Finals.
With the Sixers unable to defend him, Garnett will get his shots, as he has attempted no less than 12 and upwards to 20 this entire series. What he needs to do however, is convert on his opportunities.
Key to the game: Jrue Holiday will have to summon the best that he has as he needs to play the role of superstar on the Sixers by scoring at least 20 points.
If KG needs to score at least 15 points for the Celtics to win, Jrue Holiday will need to score at least 20 if the Sixers want to advance to the Conference Finals. Even though on paper, the Sixers don't have a bonafide superstar, it will be up to Holiday to play that role as he continues to grow and emerge in this league.
There is no certainty that Holiday, still only 20, will ever become a star in this league. He has shown spurts of this star quality but the biggest obstacle for Holiday is his inconsistency. He has been known to have great games and then immediately following, may come out and only get eight or nine points going three of 13 shooting.
The Sixers will need Holiday to come up big in Game 7 and that means starting off strong. Holiday's best games come when he starts strong and keeps up momentum for the entire game. When Jrue is at his best, not only is his shot selection better, but he also has more of a sense of running the offense. Holiday has seemed to have found something in himself as the past two games he has scored 20 points, one of these in a must win Game 6.
During the Celtics series he has also been 13 of 13 from the line, a telling mark for a Sixers team that has not shot well from the line during the series. If Holiday has the confidence from the start of the game, he will drive the paint and get his opportunities.
Just like KG, the Sixers will need Holiday to convert on these opportunities if they hope to win this game.
Key to the game: Get a lead and run with it. Once this home crowd is energized, they will carry the Celtics to victory.
As I previously mentioned, there is nothing better than getting the chance to play a game seven. Well, there is one thing better and that would be playing this decisive game at home.
It might not seem like a big deal but under these circumstances and in front of these fans, playing this win or go home match at TD Garden will give the Celtics a huge advantage.
The location of the TD Garden is right where the former Boston Garden once stood. Formerly known as "Boston Madison Square Garden," this arena was one of the toughest places for visiting opponents to play as both the Celtics and Bruins enjoyed immense success.
Even though TD Garden is not quite Madison Square Garden in New York or the Boston Garden, it carries with it much of the same luster and the same intimidating atmosphere. If the Celtics get off to a significant lead, it is likely this home crowd will help them keep it.
The only way for the Sixers to neutralize this crowd is to keep them out of it. In the past games of this series, the Sixers have gotten off to good leads only to relinquish them after the second half. It is for this reason, that not only do the Sixers have to start the game strong, but that they also have to start the second half strong. Otherwise, this Boston crowd and passionate Boston sports fans will not let up and it will make playing at "the Garden" a not so memorable experience for the 76ers.
Key to the game: The Sixers must have at least two bench players score in double figures in order for them to win the game.
There are two things that the Sixers did this season as well if not better than any other team in the NBA. One of these was taking care of the ball and the other was bench scoring. While it may be true that the Sixers don't really have a superstar, what they do have is depth. Depth that so far has really helped them to make it to this point in the playoffs.
The Sixers have been aided all season by great contributions from their bench. So far against the Celtics, the bench has also been vital to helping them win games, with one player in particular once again leading the charge.
Lou Williams is the most prominent member of a bench that also features Thad Young, Jodie Meeks, Lavoy Allen and at one point Evan Turner, who has since become a starter. Williams, who averaged 14.9 points and 26 minutes a game, led the Sixers in scoring and finished second to Oklahoma City's James Harden in the Sixth Man of the Year Voting.
So far in the playoffs, Williams has not been as successful. Getting nearly thirty minutes a game in these Conference Semi-Finals, Williams is only averaging 10.8 PPG and is shooting a mere 22 percent from the three-point line. Even with his numbers down, with 11.8 PPG in the playoffs, Williams is once again playing a huge role as he is the third highest scorer on the team.
Thad Young and Lavoy Allen have each added a little over eight points a game, but their biggest contributions have come on defense. Allen, who has been tasked with guarding Garnett for much of this series has certainly had an impact. During Game 4 especially, Allen got the majority of minutes instead of starter Elton Brand and managed to hold Garnett to just nine points including 3-of-12 shooting. Allen also added five offensive rebounds, a big aid to the Sixers to their biggest win of the series.
With most of the Sixers success this season coming from these players who garnered the nickname, "the Night Shift," they will need increased production to win Game 7. The Sixers have six to seven guys who can score in double figures and in order to win Game 7, at least two of these guys will be coming off the bench.
Key to the game: Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers have been in this situation before. This experience will be to their advantage as they close out Game 7.
There is some truth to the saying, "been there, done that." For the Celtics, their big three especially, having to play a Game 7 at home is really nothing new. They have been in this situation before and as opposed to the young Philadelphia team, the Celtics will know how to handle the pressure and manage the game as only savvy veterans can.
Even though Boston may be older and a bit banged up, with age does come wisdom. This is a team that is been battle tested and tried and a team that knows exactly what it needs to do in order to win this series. The Sixers on the other hand, with the exception of Coach Doug Collins and Elton Brand, have no one that has been in this situation before, playing in a playoff Game 7. As much as their young legs give them an advantage over Boston, it is Boston's experience that could ultimately win out.
Key to the game: The Sixers will need to take advantage of their speed off of the dribble as the injuries and age of some of Boston's stars have made it very difficult for the Celtics to compete with the Sixers quickness.
Five years ago in 2007, the Celtics brought in 31-year-old Kevin Garnett and 31-year-old Ray Allen to Boston to join 29-year-old Paul Pierce in what marked the first modern day Big Three and the first big three the Celtics had since the Larry Bird days.
Five years ago in 2007, Lavoy Allen, Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday, Spencer Hawes and Jodie Meeks were still in high school. Lou Williams, who was drafted out of high school in 2005, was just 20 at the time. The eldest Sixer, Elton Brand, was just 27.
It is obvious that the Sixers are a much younger team than the Celtics and with this youth has come quickness and explosiveness. The Sixers in the past few years have been one of the best teams when it comes to the fastbreak offense. In terms of dunks, Andre Iguodala is typically in the top ten around the league and when at his best, has the ability to go coast-to-coast as well as anybody.
The Sixers have the guys to execute this kind of offense. As it has shown in the past few Sixers wins, that when they have gotten off on the fastbreak, gotten offensive rebounds and beaten the aging Celtics off of the dribble, that is when the Sixers have had the most success.
With Avery Bradley out of the lineup, Williams and Holiday had a clear path from the line right to the basket. In Game 6 not only were the Sixers getting these easy shots, but they were making them.The Celtics are beatable but only if the Sixers can continue to drive the basketball and make their shots in the paint.
Key to the game: Despite injuries, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen need to find a way to summon past greatness. For the Celtics to win, both of these guys will have to contribute both offensively and defensively.
With Avery Bradley out for season-ending surgery, Ray Allen will once again be given the start. Allen, who is currently suffering from injuries to both of his ankles, has been but a shell of himself for this entire series. The career 40 percent three point shooter has only shot a hint under 26 percent in this series and has only averaged 9.8 PPG.
Paul Pierce has had inspired moments of greatness in this series, but it is obvious that he is being hampered by the strained MCL he is playing with. Pierce has been huge for the Celtics including recording three 24 point games this series. Unfortunately for the Celtics, Pierce has not been enough as two of these 24 point performances have ended in Celtics losses.
Keeping the Celtics from being blown out in Game 6 was Pierce's ability to drive past Iguodala and get to the line. In Game 7, he will likely be asked to do more of the same as it seems his offense will be key to a Celtics victory.
As mentioned however, Pierce cannot do it alone.
Allen, who defensively has not been able to stop the quicker and more agile Evan Turner, Lou Williams and Jrue Holiday, will be in the game for his offense. He could very well be looked upon to hit a few clutch three point shots and the difference between a Celtics win or loss could depend upon his ability to hit those shots.
Key to the game: When the lights are on and all eyes are watching, Rajon Rondo has been nothing short of magnificent. In order for the Sixers to win Game 7, they need to keep Rondo away from postseason glory.
One of the Celtics better and younger players, Rajon Rondo has been inconsistent during this Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. It is no surprise that when Rondo has struggled, so too have the Celtics, as he has emerged as one of the leaders of this team.
Along with Garnett, Rondo has been the Celtics main scorer in this series. He is averaging 15 points and 12.5 assists per game. The problem has been that Rondo has been non-existent in two of the Celtics three losses, only scoring eight and nine points respectively. In their wins he has come up with 23, 13 and 13. He has been a part of the offense and has double digit assists in all but Game 6.
Defending Rondo in Game 6, the Sixers really kept him off of the stat sheets. With only nine points and six assists, Rondo was basically a non factor. The Sixers also played great defense on Garnett and with these two limited in scoring, Philadelphia pulled out the win.
If the Sixers can manage to keep Rondo off the stat sheets again, the Sixers should have no problem winning this game. The task won't be easy as Rondo has ten postseason triple-doubles and always seems to come up big when his back and his team's back are against the wall.
Key to the game: A fast paced game will not bode well for the Celtics chances at victory. To win this game, they have to slow down the pace and keep the Sixers away from easy buckets.
As I mentioned earlier, the Sixers are a lot younger and have much fresher legs than the Celtics. As a result, the Sixers play a more fast paced and high energy kind of offense. They have the most success when they control the pace of the game and when they can get good penetration in the lanes.
For the Celtics, their offense is best when Rondo is dishing out assists and when they pass the ball around so that Pierce or Allen can shoot deep buckets from the perimeter. The Celtics excel with their perimeter shooting but also when Pierce can still drive the lane and get to the line.
Keeping the Sixers from fastbreak points will help Boston get off to their style of offense. They will be able to slow down the pace of the game. The longer the Celtics have the ball, the better they will be in terms of their chances to win the game. Keeping the Sixers out of the lanes and off of the boards is the best way to slow this team down. If the Celtics can manage to do this, then they should be well on their way to a collision course with the Miami Heat in the Conference Finals.
Key to the game: The importance of making free throws cannot be understated. The Sixers will have to convert on more than 50 percent of their free throws if they hope to win the game.
The 76ers have struggled from the line all season long and these struggles have carried over to the postseason. Even Lou Williams, who shot 81 percent from the line is down to around 76. Jodie Meeks who shot 90 percent from the line during the season has only seen playoff action this year late in games when the Sixers know they will be fouled. Getting the ball to Meeks gives them the best shot at converting on these free throws.
The problem for the Sixers is that Meeks has faltered on offense and defense this season. His clutch three-point shooting faded toward the end of the season and his defense is not good enough to have him in late game situations. That is, unless the Sixers are in a position where they will be shooting free throws.
Since the Celtics know the ball will be going to Meeks, they are best suited to make sure the ball goes anywhere else. Andre Iguodala is a great choice. He has struggled all season with his free-throw shooting and this struggle has continued in the playoffs. The problem for the Celtics is that Iguodala seems to have ice in his veins as he has converted on two separate occasions, free throws to ice the game and the give the Sixers victories, both in Game 6 against the Celtics and in the series clincher against the Chicago Bulls.
With the way the Sixers like to play basketball, they will likely get their fair share of opportunities from the line. They got lucky that their defense was good enough to overshadow their horrid struggles from the line in Game 6. Chances are that in Game 7, if they can't convert from the line, that they will not win this game. If they are making their shots from the line however, the Celtics should be a little worried.
Key to the game: Knowing this might be their last chance to win a championship together, the Celtics must pull together this sense of urgency and use it to their advantage in Game 7.
Paul Pierce has said it, Michael Pietrus has said it and everyone else on the Boston Celtics team has known it. This could and likely will be the last season that the Big Three of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have of winning a championship together.
"We realized that from day one of training camp,” Pierce said. “I think pretty much the last couple of years we’ve been feeling like that. But the influence is to try and win another championship, regardless of whether this is going to be our last time together. We don’t know what the future is going to hold for all of us, with KG in the last year of his contract, Ray in the last year of his contract. Trade speculations have been going on, there’s talk about rebuilding. There is a sense of urgency with us.”
Read more: http://aol.sportingnews.com/nba/story/2012-05-25/boston-celtics-76ers-game-7-kevin-garnett-ray-allen-paul-pierce-rajon-rondo#ixzz1vvszKzsj
Wanting to cement their legacy with the Celtic greats, the Big Three know that this very well could be their last run at a title. As all of them are aging, not only is it likely the Celtics won't bring back all three, but also that retirement could not be far off. If they stay in the league, KG and Allen specifically, they will likely only see time off of a NBA bench.
Far gone are the days of this Celtic team's glory and all they hope is that there is one last championship run left in them.
Key to the game: As important as the bench is to this Sixers team, they will need contributions both offensively and defensively from their starting five.
Elton Brand, Andre Iguodala, Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday and Spencer Hawes. Two of these guys are veterans in the league who have not quite been as advertised. Two of them are young upstarts who are trying to establish themselves as stars in the league. One of them is a center who most probably hadn't even heard of before this year. And all of them will be needed in order for the Sixers to win Game 7.
The Sixers have not made it this far in the playoffs to go home now. Sure, luck has played its way helping them past an injury riddled Bulls team and has so far helped them even out a series and force a Game 7 against a limping Celtics team. It seems to me however, that in Game 7, the Sixers are going to need more than luck.
Iguodala and Brand have come up big in various games this postseason but neither has really been the consistent scorer the Sixers need. However, their defense has been stellar as both Iggy and Brand have kept the Celtics at bay. Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner have really gotten the majority of the points for this team as they have taken advantage of favorable defensive match ups against the elder Celtics. Hawes has also come up big both offensively and defensively, averaging a tick under 10 points and seven rebounds in these playoffs.
I'm not saying all five of these guys will need to score in double figures, but they all at least need to be involved in the offense. Holiday can make plays happen and he will have to be front and center for this offense. Iguodala can create his own opportunities and opportunities for his teammates. Turner, Hawes and Brand can all muscle their way past the Celtics first line of defense and to the basket. Each of these players has their own unique skill set and they will all need to come out and play for the Sixers to be the team advancing to the Conference Finals.