It's a given that if the Celtics have any aspirations of facing the Thunder in the NBA Finals, they need to make sure they close out the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday night (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). End of story.
Going back to Miami for a decisive Game 7 (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN) is not a risk the Celtics can afford to take. They have the Heat exactly where they want them—doubting themselves, desperate—and another momentum swing will spell doom for the underdogs.
The Celtics haven't had anything easy this postseason. Their first two playoff series, against Atlanta and Philadelphia, went six and seven games, respectively. Against the Hawks in Round 1, though—when they didn't have home-court advantage—they closed out the series on their home floor in six. They allowed the Sixers to stretch the series to seven, but they closed things out at home.
This is a team that has played remarkably better on its home court, with the support of the fans behind it. We all know how Kevin Garnett feels about the impact of the Jungle. The Celtics have the Heat cornered, they have them believing that not even Chris Bosh can swing the momentum in the right direction and they've outplayed Miami for four straight games.
Now is the time to finish them.
The Celtics don't necessarily shoot any better at home than they do on the road; most of their individual statistics this postseason are, in fact, slightly better away from the Garden. But in a Game 6, the stats don't matter and the emotions do. The Celtics are staring down a game that is going to be their most challenging to date. It is against the best team, with the most pressure, with the most at stake.
Fortunately, though, this is a veteran team that knows how to win under pressure, and it knows how to feed off the energy of the home crowd, just as it did with its back against the wall in Game 3 of this series.
I won't dare call the Celtics old, because we all know how Garnett feels about that, but there's no denying that they have one of the shortest benches in the league, and Ray Allen—who's been playing 10 more minutes per game in this series than he has throughout the rest of the playoffs—could use some rest.
Boston is so close to proving the world wrong—excruciatingly close—and the worst thing that could happen would be to lose on Thursday. The worst thing would be flying back to Miami on Thursday night instead of sending the Heat there all alone, not because it means one more game but because it means the Heat will once again believe they can win.
According to ESPN.com's Ernest Tolden, the Celtics' Big Three—Garnett, Allen and Paul Pierce—are only 11-13 in clinching opportunities since the 2008 postseason, but that's not the most important statistic. Despite the fact that they're 0-2 in their first opportunity, they're 9-2 in chances at home.
Tolden adds that LeBron James has trailed 3-2 in a series four times in his career, and each time his team has lost. When his team is trailing, his shooting percentage drops from from 47.6 percent to 42.8 percent. The Celtics cannot give him the opportunity to reverse that trend.
It's not that the Celtics can't win in Game 7—it's that they don't even want to have to try. They need to just kick Goliath when he's down.
You can see the full postseason schedule at ESPN.com.