The Boston Celtics have lost their last two Game 7s, an important fact to consider as their decisive meeting with the Philadelphia 76ers approaches later tonight. They are not invincible in clutch situations, bowing meekly at home to the Orlando Magic in 2009 (albeit without Kevin Garnett) and falling in devastating fashion on the road to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2010 Finals. But the Celtics do have a wealth of experience to draw from, or at least the nucleus does, having appeared in five of the NBA’s 12 Game 7s since the inception of the Big Three era in the summer of 2007.
Since it’s unlikely that Doug Collins will look at Boston’s experience and politely decide to forfeit Saturday’s game, the Celtics will need to beat the 76ers on the scoreboard. It’s been discussed in many places that Rajon Rondo will need to improve on his weak Game 6 performance, or Kevin Garnett will need to control the painted area, or Paul Pierce will have to provide his normal postseason heroics, or Ray Allen will have to arise from his brief hibernation, or the Celtics defense will have to do a considerably better job stopping Philadelphia’s dribble penetration. Any or all of those occurrences would surely help the Celtics claim victory, but there are a million ways to secure postseason triumphs, not all of which are conventional. Take Game 5 at the TD Garden, when Brandon Bass erupted for 18 points in the third quarter and totaled 27 for the game.
Not every big playoff game is won thanks to a superstar performance from a superstar. Every once in a while, a team survives a 6-for-24 shooting effort from its go-to guy because the Artist Formerly Known As Ron Artest hits huge jump shots down the stretch. If Boston doesn’t get huge efforts from its New Big Three (Rondo, Garnett and Pierce), they can still win with strong defense and contributions from the supporting cast.
Potential unsung heroes for Boston include:
Mickael Pietrus — My uncle always told me one piece of advice: “If you’re hot, keep shooting. And if you’re not hot, keep shooting until you are.” Pietrus must have had a similar uncle, because he loves to fire long-range attempts even when his right hand is cold enough to become frostbitten. Pietrus’ shot selection probably makes Doc Rivers occasionally want to nudge him into oncoming traffic. But the thing about streaky shooters is this: Once they start hitting, the basket opens up and they might drill three or four in a row. If Pietrus gets hot, he could win a game for the Celtics. In the aforementioned Game 7 between the Magic and the Celtics, Pietrus shot 6-for-7 from the floor and 3-for-3 from the arc for 17 points. It’s too bad he was wearing the wrong colors, but that’s the type of impact Pietrus can have when he randomly catches fire.
Brandon Bass — See: Sixers series, Game 5, second half.
Greg Stiemsma — The Stiemer aggravated an old foot injury in Game 6, which kept him from returning in the second half. But he was pivotal to Boston’s Game 5 victory, helping the Celtics stay within shouting distance with an uncharacteristic first-half scoring explosion before Bass applied the finishing touches. If the Stiemer’s healthy, Rivers knows what to expect: a couple blocked shots, perhaps a mid-range jumper or two, and otherwise solid play. If he’s not healthy, two words: Ryan. Hollins. And two more words: Uh. Oh.
Ryan Hollins — Probably not, but ya never know. Hollins plays quite hard, even if I sometimes want to offer him a compass because he seems a little lost.
E’Twaun Moore — There’s no way Rivers gives a rookie his first significant playing time in a decisive Game 7, right, even if Keyon Dooling is sick and might not be close to 100 percent? You’re probably more likely to see Kobe Bryant in attendance at the TD Garden tonight, wearing all green, holding one of those foam finger thing-a-mabobs and shaking his pom-poms.
Ray Allen — We are six games into this series. Allen has played 185 minutes without making any legitimate impact. The G.S.O.A.T. (Greatest Shooter Of All Time) is hitting 25.9 percent from downtown in round two and doubles as Boston’s worst perimeter defender. He’s been so bad on both sides that I can sometimes be heard in my sleep shouting, “Sasha Pavlovic, Doc!!!!!!!!” But despite his bone spurs, Allen felt like he got a little better rhythm in Game 6. And that lid covering the basket has to disappear at some point, right? Game 7 would surely be a nice time for Allen to start resembling himself, although it seems unlikely given his last several performances.
Obviously, the Celtics world would love to see Rondo snatch another triple-double, KG flash back to the year 2004 and Pierce give Philadelphia a dose of The Truth which they can’t handle. But playoff games, even the most important ones, don’t always come down to the stars.