In 2010, the Boston Celtics had a 3-2 lead in the NBA Finals. After a win in Boston, the Celtics were going back to Los Angeles for Game 6 and Game 7. Immediately after Game 5, Paul Pierce was quoted, “we have two games to win one.” That’s when I knew it was over. Because it wasn’t two games to win one. Theoretically yes. Practically no. The Celtics had to take Game 6 because a game 7 is fraught with all kind of landmines.
In Game 6, the Celtics didn’t score 70 points and lost by 22 setting up a game 7, a game that still haunts Doc Rivers because Boston had a 13 point lead but lost. Had they approached Game 6 like it was a do or die must have instead of being lazy about it Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen may have a second Celtics title; Ray Allen may have stayed put. But they put themselves in a tight situation knowing Kobe Bryant was on the other side willing his team to a victory on their home floor. It was a devastating loss for Boston who many considered the better team. But the better team often cries at the end.
The Celtics are the better team facing the best player and how they approach the closeout game will tell you everything about their cast of young players. This iteration of the Celtics- minus Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward- struggles on the road because they don’t have a superstar to calm everything down and to stand in line behind. The Celtics have to be individual superstars as well as team players, a juxtaposition on the fly. When to iso? When to share?
The young Celtics are still developing as NBA talents but what they can control is effort. They can play harder than the Cavs, can want it more, can be more willful than Cleveland. If they lose, which many expect, then a Game 7 with one of the games greatest talents who co-opts a Moses leading his people out of Egypt persona from time to time awaits Boston on Sunday. It’s a game where LeBron is more than willing to drop 60. He has been here before.
The Celtics have not tasted the NBA Finals since that heartbreaking loss in Los Angeles eight years ago. The they are not supposed to be here narrative is ridiculous at this point. They are here. They are on the cusp of a tremendous upset, stopping one of the greatest streaks in modern NBA history, the end of LeBron James march to the NBA Finals. A Celtics win will do more than send LeBron on vacation but it may precipitate an eviction notice: from him to Dan Gilbert.
Tonight may be LeBron’s last game in Cleveland. In 2010, a month before that horror story Game 7, it was LeBron’s last game in Cleveland, ushered into exile by the Celtics.
We’ve been here before- the NBA public. But not these Celtics.
It’s been a tough series for Boston these past three games. They have won 1, lost 2. They have struggled shooting the ball. 39%. 41%. 36%. Their three ball is just as unwatchable. 27%. 32%. 33%.
In the playoffs, the Celtics have taken 30 or more threes ten times. Their record in those games are 8-2 despite making threes or missing them badly. The three point shot opens the game and floor for driving lines and for their athleticism to determine pace. They’ll need that and more.
A lot more to send LeBron James home with more questions than answers and the Celtics the shocking history breaker and maker, four games away from being called NBA champion.