Posted Jun 9 2012 12:54AM
MIAMI -- LeBron James had an epic performance in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday. But what happens in Game 7 on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) will cement exactly where that performance stands in history.
If the Miami Heat win Game 7, James' performance means more and he moves on to a duel with Kevin Durant in The Finals. If the Boston Celtics win, Game 6 is just a footnote to another disappointing postseason finish for James and the Heat, while the Celtics get a shot at banner No. 18.
The home team has won 88 (exactly 80 percent) of the 110 Game 7s in NBA history. But this series has followed no script, the Celtics won Game 5 in Miami, and a road team (the Clippers) has already won a Game 7 in these playoffs.
And really, the previous 110 Game 7s have little to do with this one. Even the six Game 7s that the Celtics' veteran core has played together can be forgotten. This is a different series and a different opponent. And with the end of the Big Three era seemingly near, this is a new level of urgency.
The Celtics will be packed for a trip to Oklahoma City and are certainly stubborn enough to believe they can win Game 7. Their most stubborn star, Rajon Rondo, has the ability to almost single-handedly win any game he plays in.
"They beat us on our home court before," the Heat's Udonis Haslem said after Game 6 on Thursday. "You know we're going to have the crowd, we're going to have the energy, but the game is going to be played between the lines. So we've got to go out there and take care of business."
Here are five things to watch for in Game 7 ...
Who's guarding whom?
Both teams have had some defensive success in the series when switching on screens, Boston in Game 5 and Miami in Game 6. But both teams also have the talent to take advantage of mismatches created by switches.
The Celtics should look to get Kevin Garnett into the post against smaller defenders. He had four post-ups against James on Thursday, producing two turnaround jumpers, a travel and a Paul Pierce missed three.
On the other side of the floor, James had four post-ups against either Rondo or Ray Allen in Game 6. Those possessions produced two buckets, a foul on Rondo, and a turnover.
Mismatches typically produce good shots or elicit an extra defender. And double-teams create open shots elsewhere.
James had an incredible game on Thursday, but the Heat don't want to be taking the same shots again in Game 7. Only 14 of their 76 shots came from the restricted area and 32 came from mid-range. Typically, those aren't good numbers.
The Celtics also need to get into the paint. They need Rondo penetrating and Garnett getting position down low. Those are Boston's two matchup advantages, and they need to exploit them.
"We have to do a better job of getting Kevin the ball in the right spots," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Friday.
Both Rondo and Garnett are more apt to get near the basket in transition. Miami's transition defense has been lacking at key moments in this series, and Rondo has been happy to take advantage.
Though they've scored just 13 fast break points over the last two games, the Heat are obviously dangerous in transition as well. So both teams must get back in transition and make their opponent play as many possessions as possible in the half-court.
On the flip side, even if a fast break isn't available, both teams must continue to push the ball and look for secondary-break opportunities.
Take care of the ball
Transition defense goes hand in hand with turnovers. Both teams have cut down on their turnovers in the postseason, but the Heat have been a bit more sloppy (77 turnovers to Boston's 70) in the series. And incredibly, 22 of their 27 turnovers over the last two games have been live balls.
Miami has, however, done a better job of converting the opponent's turnovers into points on the other end of the floor. They have 84 points off of Boston's 70 turnovers, while the Celtics have just 66 points off of the Heat's 70.
Make use of the corners
The corner 3-pointer is the most efficient shot on the floor outside of the restricted area. And against both of these defenses, the corner three can be available if the ball moves crisply from side to side.
In this series, the corner three has been critical. The Celtics have shot 12-for-24 (50 percent) from the corners in their three wins and 3-for-14 (21 percent) in their three losses. The Heat have shot 11-for-31 (35 percent) from the corners in their three wins and 2-for-19 (11 percent) in their three losses.
All numbers courtesy of NBA.com/stats.
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