Arbella Game 7 Preview: Celtics at Heat

VP, Digital Media
Arbella Playoffs

BOSTON – Two teams will take the court at 8:30 p.m. tonight in Miami, but only one team’s season will continue after the final buzzer. Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals is on tap for the Boston Celtics (11-8) and Miami Heat (11-6), and boy, it should be a good one.

Game 6 was not a good one, at least for the guys wearing green and white. Boston had an opportunity to advance to the NBA Finals in front of their home crowd in Game 6 but fell to the Heat in TD Garden, 98-79.

Many are speaking of doom and gloom for the Celtics after that blown opportunity, but the Celtics won’t hear anything of it. By winning Game 5 in Miami and taking a 3-2 series lead, they guaranteed themselves two opportunities to move on to the Finals. The C’s may have failed on the first opportunity, but they’ll get another crack at it tonight.

“Sometimes it doesn't happen, even when you want it to happen,” said Doc Rivers. “The good news is we get to do it again.”

That second opportunity arrives tonight in Miami, a place where the Celtics have seemed to play very comfortably over the past few seasons. This year, for example, Boston has accounted for two of the Heat’s seven losses in AmericanAirlines Arena. The Celtics nearly grabbed another two victories down there, too, first on Dec. 27, a 115-107 loss without Paul Pierce, and then a controversial 115-111 loss in a Game 2 overtime thriller of this series.

The two players on Boston’s team who have had the most success down in Miami are Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo. In the three games played in Miami thus far in the series, Garnett has averaged 22.3 PPG and 9.7 RPG. The Heat have simply not had an answer for him. Likewise, Rondo has dominated with averages of 22.3 PPG and 10.0 APG. His performances were highlighted by a 44-point effort during that devastating overtime loss in Game 2.

While the Celtics are confident that they’ll compete at a high level Saturday night, they must be concerned with the fact that LeBron James looked like a different player in Game 6. He didn’t just look like the league’s MVP, he looked like the best player ever.

James totaled 45 points Thursday night and was utterly unstoppable. He had accumulated 30 points on 13-of-14 shooting by halftime and finished the night having made 19 of his 26 attempts.

Boston didn’t play well during Game 6, but James was the reason why. As Rivers alluded to after the game, James hit his team with a haymaker.

“Listen, when a guy comes out and throws a barrage on you like that, that takes some energy out of you,” said Rivers. “And maybe it's as simple as that.”

It wouldn’t be a shocker if James attempts to do the same thing tonight in Game 7. This time, however, the Celtics plan to avoid James’ punch and throw a haymaker of their own. That scenario could result in Boston being the last team standing in the Eastern Conference.

Need the Captain

The Celtics have been able to squeak out three victories in this series without Paul Pierce being himself. He is having one of the worst-shooting series’ of his career, making just 33.6 percent of his attempts through the first six games of the Conference Finals.

Boston can get by with Pierce not hitting his jumper at a 50 percent clip, but it cannot likely win Game 7 if Pierce scores less than 10 points, which he did in Game 6. The Truth shot just 4-of-18 Thursday night en route to nine points. It was just the seventh time in 80 games this season in which Pierce has scored in single-digits.

Pierce came through in the clutch in Miami at the end of Game 5, and his coach expects him to be prepared for tonight’s Game 7.

“He'll bounce back,” said Rivers. “Paul is a big‑game player. Game 7s are the biggest that you can possibly have.”

Ball Movement

When Rivers addresses his offense, you know there were some serious issues. He typically picks apart his defense after losses and blame’s any offensive issues on his team’s inability to get stops. That wasn’t the case Thursday night.

“I just didn't like it. Didn't like the way we played offensively,” Rivers said after Game 6. “And we have to do – first start with me, I have to get us some better stuff – but we have to trust the pass. We didn't do that tonight at all. I thought we did a fabulous job in (Game 5 in) Miami in the fourth quarter of doing that, and for whatever reason tonight we didn't.”

Boston needs to trust the pass. No hero ball, just team ball. If the Celtics offense can accumulate around 20 assists, we’ll know that they should be in the game.

Play Like It’s Your Last, Because it Might Be

When the Celtics walked off of the parquet floor Thursday night after losing by 19 points, they weren’t showered by boos. Instead, Boston’s faithful treated them to chants of, “Let’s Go Celtics!”

The reasons were twofold. First, Celtics fans wanted to let this group know that they are still behind the team and believe they can get it done in Game 7. Secondly, these fans understand that Game 6 could potentially have been the last time they ever saw the current Big Three (or Big Four, if you prefer) together in TD Garden.

Boston’s top players have openly discussed the fact that this could be their last run together. They need to have that thought at the forefront of their mind heading into Game 7. Leave it all on the court Saturday night. Don’t worry about what might be left for Game 1 of the Finals. Only worrying about emptying the tank and making sure that this group will live to fight another day.