WALTHAM -- With a decisive Game 7 tonight at the FleetCenter, Paul Pierce wondered why everyone wanted to talk about the past. More specifically, why everyone again questioned him about his ill-timed exit from Thursday night's Game 6 against the Pacers and subsequent antics.
Pierce couldn't make the connection between his overreaction to a hard foul by Jamaal Tinsley with 12.9 seconds remaining in regulation and the emotional minefield that might await the Celtics in the first-round series finale.
"I'm not even worried about [becoming overly emotional]," said Pierce. "I'm just thinking about the game, going out there and playing my game and helping my team win Game 7."
But neither Boston nor Indiana can afford to lose composure in such a critical contest. No matter how physical the play becomes, how much trash gets talked, how slow the start or tempo, the Celtics must avoid overreactions. Boston cannot take out its frustration on opposing players or the officials. Coach Doc Rivers has talked to his players about not letting the Pacers prompt a costly emotional outburst.
"You talk about it all the time," said Rivers. "One action doesn't make a bad guy. It makes a bad five seconds. And that five seconds is magnified and talked about by us, by you guys for days, weeks, and years. It makes it look like it was worse. It [Pierce shoving Tinsley to pick up his second technical] was a terrible thing. It was just not a good play, obviously.
"But at the end of the day, as a coach you show it again, you talk about it, and you get through it. We talked about it again that we have to play basketball. Basketball. That's all we need to focus on. That other stuff is not part of the game of basketball and we've got to keep that out of our game.
"But I've been emotional as a player. I've been guilty as a player and so has probably every other player. You just hope it's not in a deciding playoff game. But we learned from that."
Between Antoine Walker being suspended for Game 4 and Pierce being ejected in Game 6, the Celtics have received two big lessons in the first round. In both cases, they played through adversity and won. But that does not mean the message was lost or diminished.
"You learn from your mistakes," said Walker. "Hopefully, we keep our composure [tonight]. All 12 guys have got to keep their composure and do whatever it takes to win this Game 7."
When asked if he was prepared for more physical play, Walker added, "That's why I said we have to keep our composure. A veteran group like [the Pacers], with me getting suspended and Paul's incident, I'm sure they're going to try any little thing to get us going, to get [technical fouls]. We've got to be focused for 48 minutes on just winning the game and nothing else. If we can do that, then we can come out victorious."
In conjunction with staying composed, the Celtics must also play smart. That's easier said than done. When the Celtics compete intelligently, they move the ball on offense and take the best shot available. Simple. But too often during this series, one player has taken it upon himself to win the game, putting an end to ball movement and raising questions about trust.
In the Celtics' three wins, they averaged 19 assists per game; in their three losses, they averaged 15. That should provide some motivation for Boston to move the ball, and the importance of that was undoubtedly reinforced when the team watched film yesterday.
On the defensive end, the Celtics look best when applying pressure. Although that has become more challenging since Tinsley returned from injury for Game 5 to be the Pacers' starting point guard, the Celtics must maintain a high level of intensity on the defensive end, regardless of strategy. In the Celtics' wins, they have held the Pacers to 32 percent shooting from the floor and 83 points per game. In the Celtics' losses, the Pacers have shot nearly 45 percent.
"At this time, how you win doesn't matter, as long as you win," said Walker. "We've got a chance [tonight] to do something very big, and that's to get out of the first round and move on to Detroit.
"We've just got to play smart. We've got to look at film and understand why we win games, why we won the three games that we won this series, and try to duplicate that. We've been very good defensively throughout the whole series, so I don't think that's really our problem. We have to continue to be very good defensively, but whatever we have to do offensively to keep different guys involved in the game, that's going to be the big difference. We know they're experienced. We know they're going to come to fight."
Of course, Walker was speaking only figuratively.