History won’t help.
The Celtics own Game 7. With Bill Russell running the floor alongside guys named Cousy and Jones, the Celtics won the first 10 Game 7s in which they participated.
Bob Pettit and the Hawks? Dolph Schayes and the Nats? Jerry West and the Lakers? Oscar Robertson and the Royals? Wilt Chamberlain and the Sixers? Wilt, West, and Elgin Baylor together playing at home at the Forum?
It did not matter. The Celtics won every time.
The Knicks finally punctured Boston’s Game 7 perfection in 1973, but the Celtics are still kings of the Ultimate Game. Boston is 21-7 lifetime in Game 7s.
It’s a stretch, but we can find a connection between those indomitable Celtic Game 7 warriors and the Green Team that takes the floor at AmericanAirlines Arena in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals Saturday night. As ever, it goes back to Red Auerbach.
Red assembled the Game 7 teams that won every time. Auerbach never lost a Game 7 as coach of the Celtics. And he’s also the man who brought Danny Ainge to the Celtics.
In the spring of 1981, Red drafted Ainge, a Toronto Blue Jays infielder, with one of his second-round picks. Then he persuaded Ainge, a star guard at Brigham Young, to give up baseball for the NBA. (Wonder if Will Middlebrooks could help the Celtics tonight?) The Celtics had to go to court to get their man, but Ainge came to Boston and started alongside four Hall of Famers, playing a big part in two championship teams.
Today, Ainge is the fearless president of basketball operations for the Celtics. He is the man who hired Doc Rivers, drafted Rajon Rondo, and made the deals that brought Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to Boston. Ainge assembled this New Big Three, which has a chance to make it to the NBA Finals for the third time in five years.
We’ve been talking about the “expiration date’’ on these old Celtics for the entire five seasons. They won a championship in their first year together, got to Game 7 of the Finals in Year 3 (losing to the Lakers in LA), and tonight can punch a ticket to Oklahoma City (hello, Kendrick Perkins, and what have you been up to?).
Ainge played in six Game 7s with the Celtics and came out on the winning side five times. He’s not a particularly sentimental guy and knows that history won’t help the Celtics Saturday night. They have to figure out a way to stop LeBron James, just as the Russell Celtics always seemed to find a way to beat the 50-point-per-game Chamberlain.
Bob Cousy, who went 6-0 as a Celtic point guard in Game 7s, Friday said, “I would love to see these Celtics win and uphold our glorious Game 7 legacy, but I’ll be surprised if they’re able to do it. They’ve finally gotten LeBron’s attention.’’
Keeping the game close will be crucial. The Heat are professional sports’ best front-runners. They are masters of style over substance; guys who can stand on a smoking stage and talk about winning “not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six’’ championships before they ever play a game together. It’s well documented that James and his copilot, the struggling Dwyane Wade, can crush the Celtics in any transition game. But we all know that when things get tight, the “Heatles’’ turn into Herman’s Hermits.
Winning any Game 7 on the road is daunting, and the Celtics haven’t won a Game 7 on the road since 1974 (Bucks, Finals). Saturday night’s task is especially difficult because the Celtics are older than the Heat, don’t rebound much, and have little help coming from the bench.
James is the big problem. Say what you want, LeBron has had a tremendous series. James successfully restored his reputation in Boston Thursday, and the Heat know they have a chance to finally win a championship if they can get past the old guys in Green Saturday night. We’ve got a sneaking suspicion that David Stern would like to see LeBron vs. Kevin Durant in the Finals.
No one knows what is going to happen. The Celtics and Heat have made jokers and clowns of all of us. I predicted the Heat would sweep this series, or win in five. Thursday afternoon, most fans on Causeway Street believed the Celtics were destined to win it in six at home. Now LeBron’s dominance in Game 6 has shifted the momentum and mood toward Miami. ESPN analysts have whiplash from playing both sides of this matchup. Me, too.
“If I were a gambler, I’d be in the poor house,’’ said Cousy. “I was wrong about the last three games.’’
The Celtics are in Miami, but have their bags packed for Oklahoma City.
“They’re going to bring suits for Tuesday and they’re going to bring suits for Thursday,’’ said Rivers after Game 6.
Great. Pass the string ties, Stetsons, and Buddy Lee shirts. Let’s all go to Oklahoma.