April 19 marked an obscure anniversary in NBA history. Exactly 50 years earlier, the Celtics beat the 76ers in Philadelphia, 100-96, in the Eastern Conference finals to claim the first road victory in a Game 7 in the shot-clock era.
From 1954-55 through 1966-67, 14 straight Game 7s were won by the home team. It wasn’t until 1968 that the Celtics — one year after Philadelphia had won the NBA championship — defied the Philly-wide “Boston’s dead” chants by erasing a 3-1 series deficit and invading the Spectrum to become the first team in the league to celebrate a Game 7 win in hostile territory.
Now, 50 years after the myth of home-team invulnerability in Game 7 was punctured, the Celtics hope that home-court advantage helps them advance to the conference semifinals against the 76ers. Odds would appear to be on their side.
In the shot-clock era, the home team in Game 7s is 99-25 (.798). Since the introduction of the 16-team playoff format in 1983-84, the home team is 64-15 (.810).
Obviously, home court has made a significant difference in the first six contests of the Celtics-Bucks series, with Boston and Milwaukee each winning the three contests in their arenas.
In the 16-team playoff era, in series where the home teams won each of the first six games, the home team has a 13-2 record (.833) in Game 7. The only exceptions came when a No. 4 seed had to go on the road to beat a No. 5 seed in 2007 (Jazz over Rockets in the first round) and when a No. 3 seed vanquished a No. 2 seed on the road in 2008 (Spurs over Hornets in a conference semifinal).
The greater the difference between seeds, the more home court has made a difference in Game 7. In first-round series since the introduction of the 16-team playoff format, the home team is 17-6 (.739) in Game 7. Of those six home-court losses, four came in matchups of the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds (including the aforementioned Jazz/Rockets series in which the lower seed hosted Game 7), and the other two came in series between the Nos. 3 and 6 seeds.
There is no precedent for a No. 1 or No. 2 seed (such as this year’s Celtics) losing a home Game 7 in the first round. No. 2 seeds — including the 2008-09 Celtics — have gone 4-0 in first-round Game 7s.
The franchises involved in this series likewise have histories that would seem to bode well for Boston Saturday. The Celtics own a 22-8 record (.733) overall in Game 7s, including 20-4 (.833) at home. The Bucks, meanwhile, are 2-7 in franchise history in Game 7s (.222), with an 0-6 road mark.
Of course, precedent doesn’t account for the fact that the Celtics are without their best player, nor, as the 2004 Yankees can attest, does precedent offer any sort of guarantee. Still, for a team that has made 45.8 percent of its shot attempts at home in this series and just 39.5 percent in Milwaukee, the return to the TD Garden for Game 7 seems likely to offer a measure of reassurance to a team that looked homesick in Thursday’s loss.
Home sweet home
Home teams in Game 7s since the introduction of the 16-team NBA playoffs in 1983-84:
|No. 1 seed||4-0|
|No. 2 seed||4-0|
|No. 3 seed||6-2|
|No. 4 seed||3-3|
|No. 5 seed||0-1|
|No. 1 seed||11-1|
|No. 2 seed||8-4|
|No. 3 seed||6-1|
|No. 4 seed||2-0|
|No. 5 seed||1-0|
|No. 1 seed||11-2|
|No. 2 seed||2-0|
|No. 1 seed||4-1|
|No. 2 seed||2-0|