We’re only hours away from game 7, so here’s a quick look back at six things we’ve learned from the first six games of the series. Or that we hope the Celtics have learned. As the saying goes, those who don’t learn their history are doomed to read dozens and dozens of blog posts about the breakup of their Big Three and how their legacy is tainted because they only won one title.
6. Pace counts. Through five games, the Boston offense had been firing on most cylinders despite uneven, inefficient production from Paul Pierce and minimal or negligible contributions from the bench. The withering Boston offense, which we’ve covered repeatedly at the Hub the last two years, sprung to life.
In game six, Miami shut the down the Celtics but not, I’d argue, as much as the Celtics shut down themselves. Part of the problem was that the C’s simply missed shots they would normally make but a bigger concern were the possessions when the Celtics would meander upcourt and get into their first actions with around 10-12 seconds left on the shot clock. When this is happening, when Rajon Rondo is walking the ball up the court, instead of seeking holes in Miami’s transition defense, Boston handicaps itself.
This is not a team with great halfcourt shot creation. It can afford to overlook no advantages. There’s a reason we’ve seen 3,203 separate sideline clips of Doc Rivers begging his team to push the tempo, even after makes: that’s the easiest way to catch a defense napping or to find a beneficial matchup on the break (Miami’s made enough mistakes in transition that the Cs need to exploit this whenever they can). And by now, we’re all familiar with the advantages of applying pressure with quick actions on the secondary break, or with big men or shooters trailing the initial attack.
On a conference call yesterday, Doc told reporters “I thought they hit first the entire game. I thought they were the instigator the entire game.”
Here’s an area where the Celtics can hit all game long. First, last and otherwise.
5. Paul Pierce is the C’s true X-factor. Early in the series, Pierce handled double teams badly and fouled out. Late in the series, he’s shot the ball abysmally. In between, he put up some points. He has a well-earned rep as a big game player, but with both his sprained MCL and LeBron James hindering him, game 7 will tip with no assurances that Pierce will be a positive influence on the outcome.
If Pierce is able to attack the rim and force rotations with his penetration, Boston’s offense will be in good shape. If he’s running with Rondo on the break, even more so. But if he’s missing jumpers or sitting on the bench in foul trouble, that will put enormous pressure on Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo to carry this team.
Pierce has a suite of skills he could use to impact the game even on bad shooting nights. A dozen rebounds, ten free throws and physical defense would be a great night’s work and that’s not the only palatable contribution he could make. But he’s got to come out on the positive side of the ledger for the Celtics to win game 7.
4. Bench can’t suck. On that same conference call yesterday, I asked Doc if the Celtics needed more production from their bench and after conceding he had gotten sporadic offense from his bench, he emphasized that what he wants from them tonight is energy and to affect the tempo of the game. So, we’re talking defense and rebounding here.
Doc might be right to temper his expectations but these game sevens are often defined by big offensive plays from unlikely sources. Think Ron Artest during Game 7 in 2010, if you haven’t banished that memory to the darker reaches of your mind.
If Mickael Pietrus, Marquis Daniels, Keyon Dooling, Greg Stiemsma or Ryan Hollins wants a place in Celtics lore, tonight would be a good time to “go off” for 10 points.
Why does that seem like a completely unattainable number for any of those guys?
If I had to bet on one of them, I’d take Pietrus, but that’s more because he’s going to get real run tonight and the others might not.
Check back later this afternoon for part two.