After each home team winning on their respective floors, all tied at three games apiece, it all came down to a Game 7 at the TD Garden. Prior to Game 7, Al Horford said, “As a basketball player or fan, one of the places that you want to be- it’s the Garden. TD Garden for a game 7.” Al stands correct, each of the 18,624 members of Celtic Nation in attendance do their part to make the atmosphere a hostile environment for the opposing team. With that being said, the place was ELECTRIC.
The Celtics took control of the game early and held a 30-17 lead at the conclusion of the quarter one. In quarter two, after just 16 minutes on the court, Jaylen Brown came up limping. He departed the game and made his way to the locker room. This was not a site Celtics fans wanted to see, as Jaylen has been on the verge of stardom this series, averaging 17.9 PPG on 46.7% FG and 37.8% from 3, to pair with his already exceptional defense. At halftime, the Celtics lead dwindled to 8 and Jaylen’s status was unknown.
Marcus Smart entered the lineup to start the second half. Jaylen pedaled the bike attempting to get loose but was ultimately ruled out for the remainder of the game. Although his 2 points off 1-5 shooting were underwhelming, losing him on the court was a major void. The Celtics had already become far too familiar with the Patriots “next man up” approach as Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and Daniel Theis wore street clothes for this highly anticipated Game 7. The rest of the team would have to rise to the occasion.
They did just that. Horford came out of the half on a mission and scored 10 points by the 6:35 mark of the third. He was brilliant in this game, finishing with 26 points on 13-17 shooting, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, and 1 steal. This was not out of the norm for him this series, as he finished with 18.1 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 3.3 APG, while shooting 58.8% from the field, 43.8% from three, and 76.5% from the stripe. Terry Rozier lived up to his “Scary Terry” nickname on the biggest stage of his career as a starter. He tied Big Al with a team-leading 26 points off 10-16 shooting, including 5-8 from 3 point land, paired with 6 rebounds and 9 assists. Jason Tatum was forced to play 39 minutes, contributing 20 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists; but none came prettier than at the 1:07 mark of the third. It was a beautiful sequence, blocking Muhammad at the rim, followed by Larkin finding Tatum for a transition three, while losing Giannis on a fake pass. The rest of the team each chipped in with solid contributions to the win.
The Celtic’s performance in Game 6 and Game 7 was night and day. Brad Stevens made the proper game to game adjustments and the team executed perfectly. In game six there was no flow to the offense. The Celtics shot 37% from the field, hoisting up 36 three point shots, scoring 4 fast break points, and a minuscule 36 points in the paint. There were major improvements in each department in game seven. They shot 53.6% from the field, had 7 fast break points, and scored 60 points in the paint. In Game 6, the Bucks scored 25 fast break points and out-rebounded the Celtics 48-39. In the decisive game, the Celtics held the Bucks to 0 fast break points and out-rebounded the Bucks 51-36.
Up next for the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals is Atlantic Conference for The Philadelphia 76ers. Philadelphia comes in playing some of the hottest basketball in the NBA. Aside from dominating the Miami Heat in five games, they have won twenty of twenty-one games dating back to the regular season by a margin of twelve points. Starting center, Joel “The Process” Embiid sat out ten of those games with an orbital fracture but is now back wearing a mask. The masked-man returned and shot a very low 42% while committing 15 turnovers.
This remarkable run has been fueled by second-year “rookie” Ben Simmons and the buy-out additions of Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli. Simmons sat out his rookie season with an injury, allowing the 76ers to trust their rebuild “process” of tanking. Just ask Utah Jazz rookie guard Donovan Mitchell what he thinks of the NBA’s classification of Simmons as a rookie. Against the Miami Heat, Simmons averaged 18.2 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 9 APG, and 2.4 SPG; while outscoring Miami by 42 points in his 188 minutes on the court. The Celtics will have to make him their primary focus, as they did with Giannis, because of their similar size and skill sets. They also can’t sleep on the remaining 3 starters, 6’10” point forward Dario Saric, 6’9” Robert Covington, and sharpshooter JJ Redick, who shoots 42% from three-point land.
Joel Embiid has already begun the smack talk, directing it at Al Horford. Although he has been impressed with Al this season, he does not understand what it is that makes him so good. He followed by taking a jab at Al by saying “he doesn’t take it to that level”. Those are bold words for a “next level” player who was held to 38% against Boston this season. While being guarded by Horford, the Sixers averaged 12.8 points per 100 possessions less than guarded by another player.
There are other interesting storylines revolving around the two teams this series. As a team, Philadelphia ranks first in the NBA in offensive rebounding, while Boston ranks first in defensive rebounding. Greg Monroe and Aaron Baynes will be crucial in this matchup and their size will be needed. Ben Simmons was taken first overall in the 2016 NBA draft, while Jaylen Brown was taken third. Danny Ainge moved the first overall pick to the Sixers, who drafted Markelle Fultz for a future lottery pick and the third overall pick, where Jayson Tatum was selected. Fultz went on to play 14 games while averaging 7.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG, and 3.8 APG while Tatum averaged 13.9 PPG, 5RPG, and led the NBA with a 43.4 three-point percentage. Marcus Morris grew up in Philadelphia, as we remember him wearing a Philadelphia Eagles jersey during the Super Bowl.
Many have written off the injured Celtics, who will now be without Brown in Game 1. Yes, Philadelphia’s dominance of the Heat was impressive, but their “star” big man Hassan Whiteside played uninspired basketball; so much that Shaq called him out. Dwayne Wade went into the time machine and had an incredible series, but they still don’t compare to the Celtics. The Celtics will have to rely on their elite defense, rebounding, and the execution of Brad Steven’s mastermind game plan. The most important stat that may become relevant in this series: 18,624, the green need to take advantage of the home court advantage resulting from the number two seed. The team feeds off that energy, particularly Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart, and when that occurs, it often leads to success. So let’s get that jungle rocking like old Friend Kevin Garnett loved! Regardless of the outcome of this series, this is going to be the renewal of an old rivalry for the next decade.