Now that the impossible has happened—the best team in the Eastern Conference has beaten a No. 4 seed on the road!—it's time to create the game plan for how Boston is going to bounce back on Saturday to earn a Game 7 victory and a third trip to the NBA Finals since 2008.
It's not going to be easy, particularly if Psycho LeBron comes out instead of Actual LeBron. Fortunately, due to the fact that 45-point playoff performances occur, well, almost never, we can expect to be dealing with the regulation edition of King James on Saturday. But if the mutant form reappears, all bets are off.
Here's how the Celtics can finish off the job in Game 7 (Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Paul Pierce Needs to Find Himself
On Thursday night, the Celtics' heart and soul submitted one of the worst performances of his career at one of the worst possible times. He's still Paul Pierce—one of the greatest Celtics in the history of the world and someone whose three-pointer in LeBron's face put the final nail in Miami's coffin in Game 5—but he was bad on Thursday.
Guarding LeBron is no enviable task, but there's no way Pierce can allow him to shoot 73 percent from the field again. That's a given. Defense aside, though, the captain just looked way off his game from the very beginning on Thursday. He couldn't hold on to the ball and he couldn't hit a shot, and with every miss, his frustration visibly intensified.
When the Big Four have been lights out in this series, the Celtics have won. Particularly on a night when Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo were not at their best, Pierce couldn't afford to be ineffective, too. Fortunately, because he knows LeBron embarrassed him on Thursday, he'll come out to play with a huge chip on his shoulder on Saturday, and hopefully we'll see a lot more of these.
Celtics Need to Rediscover Underdog Mentality
There's one big reason the Celtics always play better when they've been slighted, and it's because Garnett takes everything personally. There is no player in the NBA who channels more emotion into his game, and KG loves it when people doubt him. He made the Hawks pay for it in Round 1 after their owner called him dirty and old; he made the Heat pay for it in Game 3 when the Celtics returned to the Garden after losing the first two games of this series.
One of Garnett's biggest weapons is his intensity, and nothing fires him up more than disrespect. When the Celtics were suddenly up three games to two against the Eastern Conference favorite, everyone stopped doubting them, and perhaps that gave them the opportunity to get a wee bit complacent.
All throughout this postseason, the Celtics have trumped every other team in the league (except maybe OKC) in the heart department. Heart isn't overrated, but they didn't have enough of it on Thursday. Weirdly, LeBron did.
Now that they've been humiliated on their home court and they're heading out on the road for a critical Game 7, they must rediscover the underdog fire that makes them so dangerous. That starts with Garnett.
We'll keep this one quick because it's the most tired footnote in the Celtics' 2011-12 story: This bench needs to find a way to not be terrible. Its one of the shortest units in the league, but that's no excuse. They are professionals and they should be able to score a point sometime before the second half begins.
One more thing: He didn't join the team till April, but maybe it's time to start thinking about using Sean Williams in very, very small spurts. He's the most athletic big man the Celtics have, he can rebound and he can block. This team was so bad defensively in Game 6 that it needs some spark, and maybe Williams can provide that.
Rajon Rondo Needs to Pull a LeBron
During this playoff series, we have seen a couple of different Rondos. We've seen the steely, serious, unstoppable one and we've seen the one who talks trash to sideline reporters at halftime.
Ever since his strange mini-tantrum at halftime in Game 4, Rondo hasn't been at his best. He wasn't bad in Game 6—he led Boston in scoring with 21 points and 10 assists—but he also had seven turnovers, many of which came during a critical first-half stretch when LeBron put up 30 points.
On Thursday, the Heat weren't doing any whining to the refs in transition. They were scoring, and it burned the Celtics. Badly.
Rondo is one of the youngest and by far one of the most athletic players on the court against the Heat, and he needs to be his absolute best to give the Celtics a chance. Though the Celtics outweigh the Heat in terms of veteran talent and championship acumen, the Heat smoke them in terms of athleticism—except when it comes to Rondo.
There aren't a lot of better point guards in the game, and if the Celtics are going to make a trip to the Finals, they're going to do it because Rondo sets the tone and dictates the pace on the floor. No more seven-turnover games.
You can see the full NBA playoffs schedule here.