For the second straight season, the Celtics will need to win a Game 7 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals to face the Miami Heat. The 76ers won Game 1 and the Celtics came back to win Games 2 and 3. The 76ers then won Games 4 and 5 and the Celtics came back to win Game 6 in Philadelphia. Home court has meant very little to either team in this series. The 76ers won 2 games in Boston and the Celtics won 2 games in Philadelphia.
The Celtics have played 35 Game 7’s, which is the most of any franchise in the league. In those 35 Game 7’s, the Celtics are 26-9. They are 21-5 in Game 7’s played in Boston. The 76ers have played in played in 17 Game 7’s over the years and they are 6-11 in those games. They are just 1-9 in Game 7’s played on the road. That one win was in 1982 against the Celtics at the Boston Garden. That is when the “Beat LA” chant was begun as Celtics fans beseeched the 76ers to beat the hated rival Lakers.
This is the 9th Game 7 between the Celtics and 76ers. That is the most between any two teams in the league. The Celtics are 6-2 in the previous 8 games between them. While we can’t apply any success of teams in the past to this current team, we can look at this current Celtics team and their experience in Game 7’s. The core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart are 4-1 in Game 7’s. Jaylen Brown is 5-1 in Game 7’s as he won one before Jayson Tatum was drafted. Last season this Celtics’ team won 2 Game 7’s on their way to the Finals.
The 76ers haven’t made it past the 2nd round since 2001. Doc Rivers is 6-9 as a coach in Game 7’s. He has lost 4 more Game 7’s than any other coach in the NBA. Doc is also 17-32 in potential closeout games. Doc has lost 9 consecutive closeout games in Round 2 of the playoffs, including Game 6 in Philadelphia on Thursday. Joel Embiid is 0-2 in Game 7’s and James Harden is 3-2 in Game 7’s. They haven’t played in a Game 7 together.
Doc is the only coach in NBA history to blow a 3-1 lead three different times. In 2003, he was the coach of the Orlando Magic and they lost a series to the Pistons after going up 3-1. In 2015, as a coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, he lost a series to the Rockets that the Clippers had led 3-1. Finally, in 2020, the Clippers lost a series to Denver after leading 3-1. Doc’s teams have also lost a series after going up 3-2 three times in 2009, 2010 and 2012.
Joel Embiid is no longer on the 76ers injury list. He had missed Game 1 with a knee sprain. He then was listed as questionable before Games 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. However, he played in each of those games, even removing the brace on his knee for Games 5 and 6. The 76ers have no one on the injury list at this time. The Celtics have just Danilo Gallinari who remains out as he rehabs from an ACL tear.
Probable Celtics Starters
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Probable 76ers Starters
Danuel House, Jr
2 Way Players
Robert Williams III vs Joel Embiid
After missing the first game, Embiid has improved with each game he has played. In Game 3, he finished with 30 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 4 blocks in almost 40 minutes and in Game 4, he finished with 34 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal in 46 minutes. In Game 5, he had 33 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 blocks. He shot 43.5% from the field and 42.9% from beyond the arc. In Game 6, with Robert Williams starting, he finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 3 blocks. He shot 47.4% from the field and was 0-2 on threes. I’m expecting Robert Williams to start once again, but we will see Al Horford still guarding Embiid as well.
Marcus Smart vs James Harden
James Harden has been up and down in games so far. In Game 1, Harden took over the game and finished with 45 points, 1 rebound, 6 assists and 2 steals. In Games 2, he finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists. Then in Game 3, he finished with 16 points, 6 rebounds, 11 assists and 1 steal. In Game 4, he was once again dominant, finishing with 42 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists, 4 steals and 1 block. In Game 5 he had 17 points, 8 rebounds, 10 assists and 2 steals. In Game 6, he finished with 13 points, 7 rebounds, 9 assists and 3 steals. The Celtics must once again focus on slowing him down and keep him from having a big game.
Jaylen Brown vs Tyrese Maxey
In Game 1, Maxey finished with 26 points, 1 rebound 2 assists and 4 steals. In Game 2, he finished with 13 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 block. In Game 3, he finished with 13 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks. In Game 4, he had 14 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assists, and 1 block. In Game 5 he finished with 30 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists. In Game 6, he had 26 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals. With the return of Robert Williams to the starting lineup, Jaylen Brown will now be starting at shooting guard and will be tasked with slowing Maxey down. The Celtics need to play him tough in this game and limit his scoring once again as if he gains confidence, he can have a big game.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense will always be key to winning every game, especially in the playoffs. Defense wins championships. The Celtics lost Game 1 because they failed to play defense. They won Games 2 and 3 because they limited the 76ers with smothering defense. Once again in Game 4 and 5 the defense was inconsistent. The Celtics allowed 92 points in the 1st 3 quarters but then finally clamped down on defense in the 4th quarter and limited them to 15 points in the final period. The Celtics made it to the Finals last season on the strength of their defense but that defense has been very inconsistent this season. Their defense once again came through in Game 6 when they held the 76ers to 86 points. The Celtics have to come into this game with that same defensive mindset. They have to make defense their priority for every possession of the game because that is how they are going to win.
Rebound - Rebounding is second to defense as a key to winning. It takes effort to get rebounds and the Celtics must go all out in their effort to beat the Sixers on the boards. The Celtics need to keep the Sixers, who are 5th in the playoffs with 15.3 second chance points per game, from getting extra points around the basket and they need to give themselves extra possessions by rebounding on the offensive end. The 76ers out-rebounded the Celtics 49-36 in the Celtics’ Game 5 loss but the Celtics came back and out rebounded the 76ers 50-38 in their win in Game 6. The Celtics can’t allow them to out work them on the boards in this game. If the Celtics want to win this one, it is crucial that they go all out to crash the boards.
Intensity and Effort - It’s Game 7. No one should have to tell these guys to play with intensity and maximum effort. In Game 1, the Celtics lacked both intensity and effort. They allowed the 76ers to play harder than them. The Celtics were hitting shots -58.6% from the field, but they slacked off on defense and the 76ers played with much more effort on defense. In Games 2 and 3, they flipped the switch and came out ready to play tough defense and to put out more effort than the 76ers. In Games 4 and 5 the lack of effort was back. Then in Game 6, we saw the Celtics once again play with effort and intensity. They have to come into this game with the same mindset that they had in Game 6 and be aggressive and play with maximum effort.
Stay Focused - The Celtics need to stay focused on playing the game the right way. The Celtics have to stay focused on taking and making good shots and that includes going to the basket if their 3’s aren’t falling. They have to be focused on making crisp passes and not get sloppy because the 76ers averaged 17.5 points off turnovers in the first round. In Game 6, the Celtics had 18 turnovers and 14 of those were 76ers steals. The Celtics must be focused on their ball handling and passing to avoid those turnovers and steals. The Celtics have to keep their focus on playing hard and on playing the right way. They must stay focused on their defensive assignments and not allow the 76ers easy baskets. They must stay focused for the full 48 minutes and not lose focus down the stretch as they did in Game 4.
Coaching - Former Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who is in his third year as the Sixers coach, is one of the top 15 coaches in NBA history. Joe Mazzulla is in his first season as a head coach, having been given the job just a couple weeks before the season. Both coaches have made adjustments from game to game and both coaches have been out-coached in games. Which coach will come out on top in this one? Doc is going to want to shed his reputation as a choker in the playoffs and so will throw everything he has at the Celtics and Joe needs to be ready.
Matinee Home Game - The Celtics were a good home team during the season with a 32-9 record at home in the regular season. However, in the playoffs, they are just 7-9 over their last 16 home playoff games. The 76ers are a good road team, with a 25-16 record on the road in the regular season and 4 road wins so far in the playoffs, including 2 games in Boston already in this series. Teams strive to get home court advantage for a reason and the Celtics need to take advantage of having the crowd behind them and being on their home court. Hopefully the 76ers are distracted by the travel, hotel stay, and hostile crowd. Also, this is an early game and the Celtics are 3-2 in games that start at 3:30 or earlier this season.
Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor. Every crew calls the game differently. Some call it tight and call every bit of contact while others allow more physical play. In the playoffs so far they have been allowing more physical play. Some favor the home team while others call both sides evenly. The Celtics have to adjust to the way the refs are calling the game and not allow the no calls and bad calls to affect their focus on playing the game.