Why the Celtics will win Game 7
LOS ANGELES -- When the Celtics' audio-visual wizards sit down to craft the team's 2009-10 championship DVD, might we suggest Coldplay's "The Scientist" as a backing track for the montage of highlights that accompany Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
We envision lots of black-and-white footage and slow-motion shots of pained expressions as Chris Martin sings, "Nobody said it was easy / No one ever said it would be so hard."
It's the perfect couplet for a season in which very little came easy for the Green. And while the team entered the year with championship aspirations, they couldn't have known how hard it would be to accomplish that goal, especially after how easy much of the 2007-08 campaign came.
So after weathering all the injuries, countless second-half collapses, head-shaking losses to lowly opponents, 17 defeats on the Garden floor, and pundits' persistent claims that they were too old, the Celtics remain in position to collect Banner 18 on Thursday night at the Staples Center.
In fact, here are a handful of reasons why the Celtics will defeat the Lakers in Game 7 (ABC, 9 p.m.):
At home on the road
Oh sure, history tells us the Lakers are monster favorites considering that, of the 16 previous Finals Game 7s, the home team won 13 times (81.3 percent).
And it really doesn't matter that two of the three road winners were the Celtics. The accomplishments of the 1969 and 1974 teams have absolutely no bearing on what happens Thursday night.
The Celtics are simply a phenomenal road team. Celtics coach Doc Rivers has never quite been able to explain it, but Boston typically shows improved focus on the road, and it's part of the reason the Green posted a better record away from the Garden (26-15) than at it (24-17) this season.
You say the Lakers are 10-1 at home this postseason? The Celtics politely note that the lone loss came courtesy of Boston.
It would almost be appropriate if the Celtics clinched on the road. A fitting end to a season in which the road often galvanized this team when it struggled so mightily at home.
Winning one for the Gipper
Pick a Gipper, any Gipper. Kendrick Perkins? Doc Rivers? Tom Thibodeau? The Big Three? The Celtics don't need to search far for motivation.
The Celtics admitted they were feeling bad for themselves when Perkins went down midway through the first quarter of Game 6. Don't expect them to have that same "woe is me" mentality this time around.
No, the mere sight of Perkins on crutches ought to inspire every player to give a little extra. It's a reminder of how fragile any NBA season is. Perkins can't be out there for the biggest game of the season -- potentially the biggest game of his career -- and his teammates will draw inspiration from that.
And if not from Perkins, there's no shortage of reasons to be motivated with such an uncertain future looming. Thibodeau, the team's associate head coach and defensive architect, is bound for Chicago and his first head coaching job as soon as the clock strikes zero. Rivers remains noncommittal about his future and could walk away to spend time with his family. Ray Allen is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, so this could be the final hurrah of the Big Three.
Patriots fans will recall the group hug shared by head coach Bill Belichick, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel after they won Super Bowl XXXIX. As ESPN's Michael Smith wrote at the time, "It will be the lasting image a reminder that nothing lasts forever, that all things must end."
Going out on top eases the pain of going separate ways.
Pierce cements his legacy
Few players are as aware of their potential place in history as Paul Pierce. This isn't just a chance at another championship for Pierce. This is the type of moment that can elevate him to another stratosphere in the history of the Celtics and of the NBA.
Winning one title can often be chalked up to luck. By winning two in three seasons, Pierce and his teammates will be regarded as a mini-dynasty. After enduring all the trials and tribulations as Boston struggled to be a contender in the early stages of his career, the lasting image of Pierce could be of his clutching a pair of Larry O'Brien trophies.
Then there's the location. It seems practically impossible that Pierce, playing in the shadow of his hometown of Inglewood, departs the Staples Center without a trophy in hand -- and he'd like to have two if he can make a last-minute bid for his second Bill Russell Finals MVP award.
On Wednesday, Pierce sounded ready for the moment.
"I just love the pressure, truthfully, man," he said. "I love the fact that I get to play against the Los Angeles Lakers in a Game 7 on the road. I love the fact that if I don't win multiple championships that I probably won't be mentioned amongst the other guys in Celtic history that's done it before. That type of stuff motivates me. That type of stuff, I think, helps me play at my best when I'm put to that type of test. To win another championship would be the best thing that can ever happen."
Rondo's got the keys and uses them
Boil down Boston's success this season, and one theme is more prevalent than any other: Rajon Rondo.
When the Celtics are at their best, their fourth-year point guard is at his. Rondo has saved some of his most spectacular performances (see the triple-doubles in Game 4 versus the Cavaliers and Game 2 versus the Lakers) for the most critical moments. It's almost as if he's driving in one gear, and when the situation requires, he's able to find another one.
Which is a decent analogy, considering all the chatter about how the Celtics tossed Rondo the keys to their car this season. Argue all you want about whose team this is -- the Big Three's or Rondo's or both -- but it's clear that Boston cannot win if Rondo doesn't play well.
Rondo hasn't been spectacular this series. Against Cleveland and Orlando, he averaged 17.5 points, 9.9 assists and 4.9 rebounds a game. Versus the Lakers, he's at 13.5 points, 7.2 assists and 6 rebounds.
But this just feels like the sort of night when he could produce a 12-18-10 effort and nobody would blink. You can almost picture him taking the tempo, cranking it to 11, then ripping off the knob.
That starts with Boston getting stops on defense, but then it's on Rondo to make this team run.
"[Rondo] has to create a pace," Rivers said Wednesday. "I thought he was looking for too much stuff instead of being aggressive [in Game 6]. One of the things we told him -- Rondo has the best instincts that I've ever coached in the open court, and he has to allow those instincts to take over [Thursday]. I thought he allowed his thinking to take over yesterday. He was trying to run stuff, trying to get guys in stuff. And with Rondo, he has great instincts, and he has to let those take over [in Game 7]."
This is what they've done all season
Often during the playoffs, the message on the whiteboard inside the Celtics' locker room before games is simple: "Do what we do."
When you're 106 games into the season, you probably don't need a reminder about the intricacies of the game plan. The Celtics know the playbook, the strategies and the schemes. It's all about execution.
Sure, this is the first true Game 7 the Celtics have played in this season, but the Celtics have played plenty of Game 7s to this point. In fact, hardly a playoff game went by when one player or another didn't suggest that the latest game was Game 7.
And when it mattered most, Boston always found a way to win. It seems almost unfathomable that they can let it slip away at this point.
The Celtics have never made it easy on themselves -- that's why they're in this position, having to play Game 7 on the road while coming off a brutal loss.
But whenever the odds have been stacked against them, the Celtics have shown the heart of a champion. Their season has defied all logic. Historians will look back in the future and be baffled by how it all played out.
In the end it comes down to desire. Throw the statistics out the window. Who wants it more? The Celtics have been that team throughout the playoffs, and they don't plan to let it slip away at this point.
This team simply has too much heart.
Which brings us back to Coldplay's "The Scientist," which includes this appropriate verse: "I was just guessing at numbers and figures / Pulling the puzzles apart / Questions or science, science and progress / Do not speak as loud as my heart."
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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