They had just been on the wrong end of a LeBron James tornado that left several casualties in its wake, but already the Boston Celtics were planning for what comes next.
A whiteboard in the locker room explained that the team’s flight would be at 12:30.
“Pack for a week,” it read.
“You can see their resolve in the locker room,” explained Doc Rivers. “They’re not just going to pack for [Saturday]. They’re going to bring suits for Tuesday, and they’re going to bring suits for Thursday. And that’s the way we’re going to plan to do it.”
The Celtics still plan to fly straight to Oklahoma City from Miami, straight into the NBA Finals after the Game 7 they wish was never required. They had received a dozen bruises from James’ latest dance with NBA history, from his 45-point, 15-rebound, five-assist assault the likes of which haven’t been seen since Wilt Chamberalin, but the Celtics were far from willing to admit a likely Game 7 defeat.
“Saturday is going to be a great day for us. We have to wake up with a big smile. It’s what they call game 7. Be excited about it. Life is short, you have to enjoy it. So we’ll have to enjoy Saturday,” said Mickael Pietrus.
“I’m not interested in going fishing. I’m not a big fishing guy,” he continued. “I’m more of an OKC guy.”
This has been Boston’s M.O. for years: When things go well, they are confident. When adversity strikes them like a sack of bricks thrown from the Empire State Building, they are perhaps even more confident. The Celtics stumbled into the All-Star break at 15-17, and Doc Rivers chuckled. Wait until we work ourselves back into shape, he thought to himself. We still have enough to win.
The resounding theme out of Boston’s locker room Thursday night was that, yes, LeBron was great, greater than he had ever been against the Celtics, and that includes the Game 7 duel with Paul Pierce in 2008, but the Celtics believe they could have done better and will do better. James was greater maybe than every Celtics opponent since Michael Jordan hung 63 during the 1986 playoffs, prompting Larry Bird to describe him as “God disguised as Michael Jordan.” Maybe James was even better than Jordan considering the fierce efficiency with which he drilled 19 of 26 shots, the cold manner with which he strutted into the TD Garden for an elimination game and dispatched the Celtics with one devastating move after the next. The Celtics were forced to try everything on James — they single-teamed him, they sent doubles, they used Mickael Pietrus, Marquis Daniels, Paul Pierce and even Brandon Bass to defend him. Nothing worked, but the Celtics swear they can and will improve.
“He’s the greatest player in our game. He can have outbursts like that. What we have to do is make it hard on him, give him nothing easy, no dribble pull-ups catching the ball very deep. He had his way with us tonight, but I think our team defense has to be better. Not the guy guarding him, but our team defense,” said Keyon Dooling.
Rivers added, “Listen, it’s one loss against tonight a great player against our defense. And I think our guys should take that very personal.”
For better or worse, this is who the Celtics are. They were on the wrong end of an unstoppable display of human achievement, but they felt they should have stopped it. They depart today at 12:30 for a Game 7 in Miami, on the road, against a team suddenly swelling with confidence, and they reminded themselves to pack for a week.
“It was all them. They outplayed us in every category. Bottom line,” said Dooling of Game 6.
But, he added, “Adversity has been our theme. We’re confident, we feel we can win in Miami. We know it’s going to take a team effort, a lot of aggressiveness, and we just have to go out there and grind it out like we’re capable of.”