Are the Celtics ready for looming Game 7?

771680.jpg

Are the Celtics ready for looming Game 7?

First things first: I still expect the Celtics to win on Saturday.

Thats far from a guarantee, but more an educated assumption based on five years of watching this team. Sure, we can sit here and break down each awful aspect of Game 6 and every way that Game 7 might end in disaster. And sure, the C's have given us plenty of ammunition to do just that. But we cant have it both ways. Does this team have unmatched character? Do they possess unparalleled pride? Are they resilient beyond comprehension?

Because we spent the last two days screaming a resounding yes on all three counts, and that doesnt disappear after one game. Either its still there or it never existed. Which one is it?

Are the Celtics going to reach down in front of their home crowd, with their season (and in some cases, careers) hanging in the balance and do what it takes to beat a team they should beat, or will they roll over and die?

For all the ways you can evaluate Wednesdays loss, for all the concerns and negativity that arose from Rondo's timidness and continued refusal to play legitimate defense to KG's sudden allergy to that painted area under the hoop to the absence of Avery Bradley to the sad state of Ray Allen to Elton Brand's awakening to Phillys dynamic guard play, superior spacing, young legs and athletic excellence its still a makemiss league, and the most important take away from Game 6 is that the Celtics couldnt make squat.

As Sean Grande points out: Last night was the second-worst shooting performance in nearly 500 games of Big 3 basketball.

Actually, theres a lot of great info in that Grande post, and its short, so Im going to re-post it (If you don't already, follow Grande over here):

33 shooting is the 2nd worst shooting night in the 479-game New Big Three Era. (31.8 Game 4 2008 ECF at Detroit). They shot an identical 33.3 in the Game 6 Finals loss to the Lakers in 2010. In 394 regular season games, they've never shot below 34. LOW FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE NEW BIG 3 ERA - REGULAR SEASON.342 - @ PHOENIX JANUARY 28, 2011.345 - @ DALLAS MARCH 20, 2008 (W).345 - VS. ORLANDO NOVEMBER 19, 2009.346 - @ INDIANA NOVEMBER 1, 2008.346 - @ ORLANDO DECMEBER 25, 2010.350 - @ PHILADELPHIA MARCH 7, 2012.358 - @ CLEVELAND APRIL 12, 2009.375 - VS. CLEVELAND DECEMBER 2, 2007 (W).375 - @ SACRAMENTO FEBRUARY 16, 2010 (W).375 - @ TORONTO APRIL 13, 2012.377 - @ MILWAUKEE MARCH 15, 2009.377 - @ NEW ORLEANS DECEMBER 28, 2011.378 - @ CHICAGO JANUARY 8, 2011.380 - VS. INDIANA DECEMBER 22, 2009 (W).381 - @ WASHINGTON APRIL 11, 2011.384 - @ CHICAGO APRIL 7, 2011.385 - @ PHOENIX FEBRUARY 22, 2008.386 - VS. MIAMI MARCH 30, 2008 (W).386 - @ INDIANA JANUARY 14, 2012.388 VS. PHILADELPHIA DECEMBER 22, 2010 (W)

OK, so within that text, Grande mentions the three worst playoff and 20 worst regular season shooting performances of the New Big Three Era. Notice anything?

Of the 23 games, 18 came on the road. And of the five games that took place at the Garden, the Celtics were 4-1. It's different at home. It will be different at home.

Of course, what won't be different is that the Celtics are physically in a worse place than they've been all season. And Lord knows that's saying something. They've also put themselves in a horrible position. They've created a scenario where the margin for error is almost invisible, where all it takes is one awkward Rondo fall, one uneven Paul Pierce step or one case of KG foul trouble to bring it all to an end. Game 7 is March Madness. It's the NFL Playoffs. Anything can, and very likely will happen. It's a terrifying predicament, but it's the price you pay for letting a team like the Sixers live this long. For choking away Game 4, and sleeping on Game 6.

But still, right now, gun to your head, do you think the Celtics will take care of business?

I know they're not playing their best basketball, but you could have said the same before Game 5 when they were without Avery Bradley, with a run down Ray Allen, playing against this same scrappy, speedy and athletic Sixers and still came out on top.
Second things second: If the Celtics do win on Saturday night, the traumatizing details of last night will mean very little. The anger, frustration, depression, confusion, nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach and diarrhea that youre dealing with this morning will feel like a bad dream.

Ive used this analogy before but its like a pregnancy scare.

At one point or another, we've all been through it. It doesn't matter if it's because you're not with the right person, or can't afford it, or that your parents will kill you or any number of extenuating facts of life.

When you're not ready for a child, and the possibility arises, panic sets in, and until it's resolved, it's all you think about. After all, there's a chance that your whole life is about to change.

And then

Boom. It's over.

If you're a guy, you get the call. Or if you're a girl, you . . . um, get the call. The scare was only a scare and in a second, everything's as it was. Your life returns to normal and that panic seems a little silly. All that time spent worrying and stressing and imagining every worst case scenario . . . for nothing? You wish you could take back those days or weeks of restlessness, but then again, how were you supposed to act? Who out there is actually strong enough to ignore or more, remain entirely unaffected by such obvious signs of trouble?

That's where we are with the Celtics. We're so afraid that this might be it. That they'll take the court for Saturday's pregnancy test, the result will come out "positive" and, whether or not we're ready, we'll have to turn the page and start a new chapter of our lives. It's only natural to panic. But if the Celtics can step up and close out the Sixers on Saturday, we'll look back on the way we feel right now and laugh. For that, while there's a definite urge to look towards Game 7 with a sense of unbridled fear and start outlining those Big 3 obituaries, I'm holding off. We all know what's on the line. More importantly, the Celtics know. They feel and understand much more than we do. They'll be ready.

Of course, if the Celtics do win, there's the reality of what comes next. Given the all that's happened to this team over the last five months, and more, the last week, our once legitimate dreams of seeing them upset Miami or Indiana have become increasingly far-fetched. Having enough pride and resiliency to bounce back for one more win at the Garden against a beatable Sixers team is one thing. But hitting the reset button and starting from scratch against a more talented and physical Miami or Indiana squad, and doing without Avery Bradley, most of Ray Allen andor home-court advantage? Ehhh

Eh.

It doesn't look promising, but there's no point in going there until the Celtics are there.

We'll find out on Saturday. Pride. Character. Legacy. Seasons. Careers. Pregnancy!

It's all the line. And while last night's performance might have you questioning if the Celtics can step up, five long, unforgettable years of Big 4 basketball have me trusting that they will.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

BOSTON –  Terry Rozier was having a rough stretch where his minutes were limited and when he did play, he didn’t play particularly well.
 
Among the voices in his ear offering words of encouragement was Avery Bradley who knows all too well what Rozier was going through.
 
For all his time as a Celtic, Bradley has let his work on the floor do the talking for him.
 
But as the most tenured Celtic on the roster, his leadership has to be about more than just getting the job done, but servicing as a vocal leader as well.
 
For a player whose growth from one year to the next has been a constant, being a more vocal leader has been the one dynamic of his game that has improved the most during this past season.
 
And it is that kind of leadership that will carry into the summer what is a pivotal offseason for both Bradley and this Celtics franchise which was eliminated by Cleveland in the Conference finals, the first time the Celtics got that deep in the playoffs since 2012.
 
He is entering the final year of the four-year, $32 million contract he signed in 2014. And it comes at a time when his fellow Tacoma, Wash. native and backcourt mate Isaiah Thomas will likely hit free agency where he’s expected to command a max or near-max contract that would pay him an annual salary in the neighborhood of $30 million.
 
At this point in time, Bradley isn’t giving too much thought to his impending contract status.
 
Instead, he’s more consumed by finding ways to improve his overall game and in doing so, help guide the Celtics to what has to be their focus for next season – a trip to the NBA Finals.
 
While Celtics players have said their focus has always been on advancing as far into the playoffs as possible, it wasn’t until this past season did they actually provide hope and promise that Banner 18 may be closer than you think.
 
It was an emotional time for the Celtics, dealing with the unexpected death of Chyna Thomas, the younger sister of Isaiah Thomas, just hours before Boston’s first playoff game this season.
 
And then there were injuries such as Thomas’ right hip strain that ended his postseason by halftime of Boston’s Eastern Conference finals matchup with Cleveland.
 
But through that pain, we saw the emergence of Bradley in a light we have seldom seen him in as a Celtic.
 
We have seen him play well in the past, but it wasn’t until Thomas’ injury did we see Bradley showcase even more elements of his game that had been overlooked.
 
One of the constant knocks on Bradley has been his ball-handling.
 
And yet there were a number of occasions following Thomas’ playoff-ending injury, where Bradley attacked defenders off the dribble and finished with lay-ups and an occasional dunk in transition.
 
Among players who appeared in at least 12 playoff games this year, only Washington’s John Wall (7.9), Cleveland’s LeBron James (6.8) and Golden State’s Stephen Curry (5.2) averaged more points in transition than Bradley (4.7).
 
Bradley recognized the team needed him to be more assertive, do things that forced him to be more front-and-center which is part of his evolution in Boston as a leader on this team.
 
“It’s weird but players like Al (Horford) definitely helped me get out of my shell and pushed me this year to be more of a vocal leader,” Bradley said.
 
And that talent combined with Bradley doing what he does every offseason – come back significantly better in some facet of his game – speaks to how he’s steadily growing into being a leader whose actions as well as his words are impactful.