It’s time for a Brad Stevens team to step up and win a gut-check game. The 2020 Celtics will be defined by what happens in Game 7 against the Toronto Raptors Friday night in the Orlando bubble.
Six games have established that the Celtics are better than the Raptors. It’s been clear throughout this series. Boston won the first two games, and led Game 3 by 2 points with 0.5 seconds left. The Celtics were a half-second away from a de facto sweep of the defending NBA champs.
OG Anunoby’s miracle three gave Toronto new life, but the Celtics recovered and thoroughly pantsed Toronto in an easy Game 5 win. The Raptors needed two overtimes and some critical calls Wednesday to force a seventh game.
So here we are. To advance to the NBA’s Final Four, all the Celtics have to do is beat a clearly inferior Raptors team.
This is it. No excuses. No complaining about Nick Nurse complaining (maybe Brad could find his inner Red Auerbach and get in the ears of the officials now and then). It’s time for these Celtics to demonstrate that they are as good as their blindly loyal fan base says they are. Time for the Celtics to put on their big-kid pants and fulfill the great expectations fans have for them.
This is Stevens’s seventh season, and the affable coach has enjoyed a free ride. Celtics fans love him and the local sports media cover him the way Fox covers President Trump. Swell. But now it’s time.
Stevens got the Celtics into the conference finals in 2018 only to lose Game 7 at home to LeBron James and a staggering Cleveland team that got swept in the Finals. Last spring, the Celtics rolled over and died in Round 2 against the Bucks.
It’s all there for the taking. There is no home-court advantage in these playoffs. There is no grueling travel. The team with the best regular-season record, the Bucks, has been sent home.
To get to the NBA Finals, the Celtics merely have to beat the Raptors Friday, then conquer the fifth-seeded Miami Heat. The path has been cleared for the Celtics — much the way the path to the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals was cleared for the Bruins.
Historically, the Celtics own Game 7. Boston is 23-8 all-time in Game 7s. Stevens is 2-1. His Celtics beat Washington in a conference semifinal in 2017. Then in 2018, they beat the Bucks in the first round before the loss to the Cavaliers.
Game 7 is when reputations are made. Bill Russell was Mr. Game 7 the way Reggie Jackson was Mr. October. The way Billy Crystal was Mr. Saturday Night. Russell was 10-0 in Game 7s.
Game 7 is when rookie Russell snatched 32 rebounds while fellow rookie Tommy Heinsohn scored 37 points with 23 rebounds as the Celtics won their first championship in double overtime at the Garden against the St. Louis Hawks in 1957.
Game 7 is when the Lakers' Frank Selvy missed a shot that would have won the championship for Los Angeles at the Garden in 1962. Russell scored 30 points with 40 rebounds in an overtime win for Boston’s fifth title.
Game 7 was Havlicek Steals The Ball against the Sixers in 1965. Game 7 was Red’s last game on the bench, beating the Lakers, 95-93, in 1966 for Boston’s eighth straight championship. Game 7 was Russell winning his 11th championship in 13 seasons, beating Wilt Chamberlain and the Lakers at the Los Angeles Forum in 1969 (LA owner Jack Kent Cooke didn’t need the balloons that had been stored in the rafters for the victory party).
The Celtics didn’t lose a Game 7 until 1973, when John Havlicek played with one arm (separated right shoulder) in the conference finals at the Garden against the Knicks.
Game 7 was Larry Bird breaking a tie with a hideous bank shot to beat the Sixers and complete a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit en route to Bird’s first championship in 1981. One year later, Game 7 at the Garden was where the “Beat LA” chant was born as gracious Celtics fans conceded defeat and sent Philly west with a message from Boston.
Game 7 was Bird scoring 39 with 12 rebounds and 10 assists to send Hubie Brown and Bernard King’s Knicks back to New York in 1984. A month later, Cedric Maxwell said, “Hop on my back, boys,” and beat the Lakers in Game 7 at the Garden.
Game 7 was Vinnie Johnson and Adrian Dantley cracking skulls, paving the way for a Celtic win over the Pistons in 1987. It was after that Game 7 that Isiah Thomas said Bird “would be just another good guy” if Bird were Black. Game 7 was Larry vs. Dominique in 1988.
Game 7 was Paul Pierce and LeBron James going mano-a-mano in a 97-92 Celtics victory in 2008. Bron scored 45 while Pierce settled for 41. The Celtics went on to win their 17th banner a few weeks later. Those were the days when Kevin Garnett said, “Anything’s possible.”
Anything’s possible again. In the Bubble. In 2020. But first the Celtics have to win Game 7 Friday night against the Toronto Raptors.