Playoffs on the Line as Game 7 Looms

WALTHAM, Mass. - Game 7 is the steel cage match of the NBA. Two teams enter, but only one team survives.

For the 2011-12 Boston Celtics, a loss Saturday may not only end their season, but it could also mean the end of an era. That idea’s been discussed throughout the postseason, but for the first time in the playoffs, the Celtics are facing elimination with their Eastern Conference Semifinals series with the Philadelphia 76ers tied at 3-3.

Pierce and Allen

Paul Pierce and Ray Allen share a laugh before Friday's practice, a day before Game 7 against the Sixers.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty

The prospect of the end is suddenly near, and very real. The Celtics are only nine wins away from a championship, but at the same time, they stand just one loss away from an early, unplanned and unpleasant vacation.

Before Friday’s practice, Paul Pierce told reporters that he’s confident his team is ready to face the challenge, even if they have to do it with a wounded sqaud. Ray Allen continues to battle a balky right ankle, and Pierce’s knee (left MCL sprain) has been problematic throughout the postseason. Meanwhile, Avery Bradley is out for the remainder of the playoffs; he went under the knife on Friday to repair a pesky left shoulder that’s been prone to dislocations. And those are just the documented injuries.

“We’re banged up, but that’s playoff basketball. You do what you have to do to go out there and be ready for the game,” Allen said, noting that seven games into a series, teams have to minimize mistakes when everything is on the line.

Pierce, the 2008 NBA Finals MVP, has always been a player who seems to respond when the stakes are at their highest and the odds are against him.

“I like challenges, I like being in pressure situations. I’ve been there before, I understand what it takes and I’m ready for it,” Pierce said. “We’ve got a great opportunity to advance, go to the Eastern Conference Finals. That’s all the motivation that we need.”

Pierce himself is 3-3 in Game 7s over his career dating back to 2005, but he’s lost the last two he’s been involved with, the most recent of which was Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals in Los Angeles.

Of course, that game was slightly different. That game was for all the marbles on the road against the Lakers. Saturday night’s game against the Sixers is in the friendly confines of TD Garden, and as Pierce knows, these chances don’t come around every year.

“I think we’re going to come out with a great sense of urgency. It’s Game 7. There’s no tomorrow,” Pierce said, noting that the Celtics need to play like a "desperate" team. “This is it. This could be the season.”

Having home court for the final game of a series provides an edge, although it’s an advantage that’s hard to quantify. Doc Rivers maintained that the crowd can’t do all the work.

“The fans are going to be there. 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,” Rivers said.

As for Game 7 experience? The Celtics have a decided edge in that department, but as Rivers noted, sometimes, experience is rendered meaningless in a Game 7.

“I’ve learned that every Game 7 is an individual game in itself. The game itself will dictate if experience comes into play,” said Rivers, who’s gone out of his way to get his team as much rest as possible during the postseason. “You never know what you have in the tank until you start the engines and you find out.”

The Celtics will empty their collective tank on Saturday night. The only question is, will it be enough for them to advance?