WALTHAM - Game 7 at home used to be an advantage for the Celtics, virtually a guaranteed victory. That was before electronically programmed prompting of crowds and other virtual advancements.
The Celtics had a 13-2 record in Game 7s at Boston Garden. Since TD Garden opened in 1995, the Celtics have a 4-2 mark in Game 7s at home, and only one Celtic player - Paul Pierce - has participated in all six of those games.
Coach Doc Rivers knows his team should not count on fan enthusiasm, institutional memory, or even tradition when it meets the 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday night.
“I think our crowd is terrific, but you can’t rely on that,’’ Rivers said before Friday’s practice. “The fans are going to be there, that’s a guarantee. Whenever you play a Game 7, they’re going to support you and they’re going to help you, they’re going to drive you. But then, you have to go play and you have to play well.
“Only a few of us have [Game 7 experience]. I say that all the time, it’s not like the whole team has it. The few guys, the key guys that have it, hopefully it’s an advantage. I find every Game 7 is an individual game in itself and the game will dictate if experience comes into play or not.’’
Composed competitors and screaming supporters, plus an extra night’s sleep, are pluses for the Celtics. The minuses include the loss of Avery Bradley, who was scheduled to undergo shoulder surgery Friday, the questionable status of Keyon Dooling, who missed practice because of illness, and the seemingly unlimited resiliency of the Sixers, who won Game 6, 82-75, Wednesday in Philadelphia.
“I think we do,’’ Rivers replied when asked if the Celtics had enough in the tank. “The couple days have helped, there’s no doubt about that. Listen, you never know what you have in the tank until you start, and then you find out.
“It didn’t look like we had a lot [Wednesday] night, I can tell you that. I made a comment to the coaches in the first quarter when I saw about six jump shots hit front rim early, and I said this is not a good sign. But I was hoping they were just missed shots.’’
The Celtics missed shots just about every way possible in going 33.3 percent from the field in Game 6. Maybe they just did not have the legs to get into their jumpers, or to run the floor to create easy baskets.
Rivers believes the Celtics will be ready this time, maybe.
“I think I know, but you’re always curious, no coach ever knows exactly,’’ he said. “I do expect us to come out and play with, you know, we have to get up and down the floor offensively. I think we have to be better defensively, as well. And we have to play with a free spirit.’’
Pierce was in a free-spirited mood as he engaged Ray Allen, Greg Stiemsma, and assistant coach Tyronn Lue in a lefthanded free throw shooting contest before practice.
“Of course, we’re at home and they’ve beaten us on our home court,’’ Pierce said. “But, you know, we’ve still got to go out and play the game. But I feel good, couple days’ rest, for a veteran team much needed, and I like our chances.
“I think we’ll come out with a great sense of urgency. I mean, it’s Game 7, there’s no tomorrow. In order for us to advance we’ve got to give it our all, everything we have from everybody. Whoever steps out on that court, understand this is it, this could be the season.
“That’s how we have to play. We have to play like a desperate team, regardless if we’re home or not. The team that wants it the most is going to get it.’’
The Celtics’ last home Game 7 resulted in a 101-82 loss to Orlando in the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals. Then, the Celtics were probably even more vulnerable than now, having lost Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe to knee injuries. And their championship window was closing, as it is now.
“I mean, I like challenges,’’ Pierce said. “I like being in pressure situations, you know? Game 7, I’ve been there before. I understand what it takes and I’m ready for it.
“It’s got to be a motivated group, what else is there? It’s Game 7, what more can you ask for? If there’s not a more important thing to get you motivated, nobody wants to end their season right now. We’ve got a great opportunity to advance, on our home court, that’s all the motivation we need.’’Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at email@example.com.