Arbella Game 7 Preview: 76ers at Celtics

Arbella Playoffs

BOSTON – One of the most classic settings in all of sports will take place tonight: a do-or-die Game 7 at TD Garden.

The Boston Celtics (7-5) and Philadelphia 76ers (7-5) will meet at 8 p.m. tonight in the Garden to decide which team will advance to the Eastern Conference Finals to face off against the Miami Heat.

The teams have split the first six games of this series, alternating wins each and every game. Boston has won all three odd-numbered games, while Philadelphia has won all three even-numbered games.

Luckily for the Celtics, they’re on tap for lucky game No. 7 tonight.

In addition to that not-so-convincing stat, Boston will also have something else working on its side: the home crowd. Thanks to the Sixers upsetting the Chicago Bulls in the opening round of the playoffs, the Celtics will have the luxury of hosting this winner-takes-all game. There will be 18,624 fans dressed in green and white who will be screaming at the top of their lungs for 48 minutes of basketball.

The Celtics admitted on Friday that they are glad to be playing this game in their home arena, but Doc Rivers and Rajon Rondo also pointed out that it is them, the Celtics, who will decide their fate.

“The fans are going to be there,” said Rivers. “They’re going to help you. They’re going to drive you. But then you have to go play, and you have to play well.”

Said Rondo, “[The crowd] plays a big factor, but you still have to put the ball in the hole.”

That’s something Boston failed to do very often during Game 6. Its offense put up anemic numbers Wednesday night during the team’s first attempt at eliminating the 76ers. The C’s shot just 33.3 percent from the floor and accumulated a total of 14 assists in the game. To highlight how poor that assist total was, Rajon Rondo averaged 13.2 APG during this series by himself.

Rondo, the ringleader of the offense, gave his take on how Boston can get its offense rolling in Game 7.

“Ball movement,” Rondo said before Friday’s practice. “The ball stuck in Game 6. Everyone tried to make the home run plays. We have to continue to try to make sacrifices for each other and continue to make plays for each other.”

On the other side of the ball, the Sixers were aggressive and put the ball through the basket. They shot 45.7 percent rom the field and accumulated 22 assists, which matched their highest output of the series.

Philadelphia’s offense has struggled as a whole in this series, as it has scored just 87.2 PPG during this series. Boston’s defense has been strong but had some breakdowns on the perimeter Wednesday night.

The Celtics have been working to fix those breakdowns over the past two-plus days. They’re ready to bring the heat defensively Saturday night, and they’re hoping the offense comes along for the ride. If the Garden crowd sees its team click on both sides of the ball, it could wind up celebrating a third berth to the Eastern Conference Finals in a five-year span.

Win the Third Quarter

One of the most interesting stats of this series is that in all six games, the team that has won the third quarter has gone on to win the contest. When a trend like that lasts for six games of head-to-head play, it’s a clear indication that it’s not a fluke.

Both of these teams are driven by momentum. When they’re able to come out and play well in the opening moments of the second half, it typically carries over for the remainder of the game.

We all know that starting the game off well is important, particularly for the Celtics, who will be trying to get the TD Garden crowd fired up early. However, this stat tells us that beginning the second half well might be even more critical.

Perimeter Defense

Philadelphia’s guards owned Game 6. They did literally whatever they wanted, from driving past their defenders for shots in the paint to freeing themselves up for open jumpers on the perimeter.

The Celtics are playing without their star defender, Avery Bradley (lost for the playoffs after left shoulder surgery on Friday), and Ray Allen has proven to be a defensive liability thanks to a painful right ankle. The Sixers have taken notice of Boston’s situation at shooting guard and they clearly attacked it Wednesday night. As Doc Rivers said after that game, Allen and others need their teammates to help in those situations.

“We have to do a better job of covering for guys who may not be able to keep some of [their guards] in front of us,” Rivers said. “I don’t think we covered for each other very well.”

Boston’s big men will need to be there to help out, but Allen and the rest of the guards must do a better job of preventing penetration. That is an absolute fact.

Will Rondo be Engaged?

Many people say that as Rondo goes, so go the Celtics. His response to that statement on Friday came with a smile and a laugh.

“That’s a lot of pressure,” he chirped.

Rondo made that statement in a humorous manner, but it’s truly a legitimate statement. Winning Game 7 might rely on his shoulders more than any other player in the game.

No. 9 clearly wasn’t engaged during Game 6. Cameras caught Paul Pierce trying to spark Rondo on the sideline, but Rondo was, for the most part, starting blankly at the court. Additionally, Holiday, Philadelphia’s starting point guard, lit Rondo up to the tune of 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting to go along with six assists.

There’s no way Rondo watched the film of Game 6 and enjoyed what he saw. He should be fired up and engaged as ever when the ball goes up for Game 7, and that means his paws might leave prints all over this contest.