Before you proclaim this an idiotic reactionary declaration after one bad game, please note that I am making this prediction in full awareness that the Celts had a very poor shooting night in Game 6 and still only lost by 7. And, the Celtics have a 17-4 record in Game 7s in Boston. History, veteran leadership, and home-court advantage would seem to be on their side.
However, I have a bad (actually, it's a rather sad) feeling about all this...
Thirty years ago, Celtics fans humbly serenaded the victorious 76ers in Boston after Game 7 of the ECF with the unforgettable "Beat L.A.! Beat L.A.!" [The 76ers did not, in fact, beat L.A. in the Finals; they lost 4-2.] I see history repeating itself, as Celtics fans will have to locate the proper humility to once again serenade a victorious 76ers team on our court, however this time the chant will be "Beat the Heat! Beat the Heat!"
Reasons I believe Philly will win:
1) Doug Collins is a darn good coach, and he has this Philly team believing in themselves and their system. There is very little quit in this team, and even less fear. They KNOW they can beat Boston by simply employing their system and playing with energy. They also know...
2) All the pressure in the world is on Boston. Not only the pressure of the series and the season, but possibly this era of Celtics basketball. A loss Saturday will most likely spell the end of an era in Beantown. Everyone knows this. So, which players will show up to play? They had their chance yesterday, and so few showed up. This may be it. And, these 76ers are playing entirely with house money now. There is no pressure on them, but don't expect them to show up not caring. They care. Doug Collins has them caring deeply. Do the Celtics care as much? After Games 4 and 6, maybe not. I know they care (I would never deny their passion and gamesmanship), but can they come out Saturday playing with the necessary level of passion? I don't know. Heck, Doc said before Game 6 that he never even knows which Celtics team will show up or what his players are actually thinking. That's got to be tough on him as a coach.
3) The injury see-saw may have finally tipped into the black. Bradley is most likely out, and though he wasn't spectacular during these playoffs, he was very useful on defense, and he spelled both Rondo and Allen, allowing them to conserve energy. Stiemsma's feet seem to be one bad step away from breaking off. Here's hoping Doc can get 12-15 terrific minutes out of him before sticking him back in his cryogenic chamber. Pierce is getting better and better as the games go on, but it's obvious that his ailing knee has robbed him of a half-step, negating a couple extra points (usually from 3-pt land) and defensive stops each game. Allen is doing irreparable damage to his feet/ankles by continuing to play. Pietrus is still bothered by his knee. Who else?
4) The 76ers are younger and their legs will be decidedly fresher. They can attack the basket again and again and again, and if the Celtics don't properly game plan and execute on defense, the 76ers will do to them in Game 7 exactly what they did in Game 6 - drive past the initial defender for either a layup or a nice dish-off for a 8-ft jumper. Also, these 76ers play a lot like the Celtics, so, in a way, we should fear them even more. They're tenacious defensively and they share the ball on offense. The only two differences between these two teams are that the Celtics have veterans who rely on a well-run system and the 76ers have guys who can create their own shots and drive to the basket. Which difference will prevail on Saturday?
5) The enigmatic (and infuriating) Rajon Rondo. Which Rondo will show up in Game 7? The team NEEDS an aggressive Rondo on offense and a disciplined Rondo on defense. No more getting to the rim and passing it out for a 16-ft jump shot. Take the damn layup. No more gambling for steals and letting Holiday drive into the lane for an open layup (which, he takes). Rondo must play up to the level of Mr. Triple-Double, or this Celtics team will be watching the rest of the playoffs from their couches.
Now, it's not all bad in Celtics Town.
Reasons to doubt my own prediction:
1) These are the veteran Celtics, and though they often play down to their opponents, when their backs are to the absolute wall they more often than not find a way to win. The league, the media, and us fans have been doubting this team in one way or another all season long (the media for the past three seasons), but they're still here, and they're one win away from the ECF.
2) The Celtics cannot possibly shoot worse than they did in Game 6, and they only lost by 7 points.
3) Doc (and KG) will tighten up the Celtics' defense prior to Game 7. How frustrating was it to watch Holiday, Turner, and Williams fly by their initial defender time and time again? Rondo gambled too often and was quite lazy at the top of the key. Pietrus, Allen, and Pierce were all a half-step too slow, and the interior rotations were off all night. The 76ers run a simple system of pick-and-rolls, and the Celtics are one of the best teams in the league at defending the pick-and-roll. I have to believe they'll prove that again on Saturday. When the 76ers pick-and-roll fails, they simply go mano-a-mano and attempt to get by their man and into the lane. The Celtics simply need to snuff out the pick-and-roll and stay IN FRONT OF THEIR MAN. I believe with a heightened energy level, they will do just that.
4) Home-court advantage. Has to mean something, right. If the fans and the Celtics aren't up for this game, then they don't deserve to win and they can only blame themselves.
5) The enigmatic (and amazing) Rajon Rondo. This guy can single-handedly win the game. He can (and probably will) throw up some ridiculous stat line and carry his team to victory.
As a fan, I have a very sad feeling about Game 7 and the potential end of a great era. The players in the Celtics' locker room cannot afford to feel that way. They need to be vicious and passionate and disciplined to be victorious. They have to snuff out the 76ers will to win, and believe me, the 76ers will show up believing they can (and should) win. It just feels like so much has to go right for the Celtics to win, and not entirely on the court, but rather in their heads. The Celtics have to get their heads right before this Game 7. They cannot show up with mediocre energy and lackadaisical discipline and expect to win. They have to go out there and EARN THE WIN. I guess it all comes down to that KILLER INSTINCT we've all been searching for since Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals.