INDIANAPOLIS -- Are you ready for some serious spring basketball?
There will be a Game 7 at the Fleet tomorrow, a Game 7 that either should or shouldn't be happening, depending on your point of view. We are having a Game 7 because, for the third time in succession, and fourth time in this inexplicable and practically unanalyzable series, the road team won.
We will have this Game 7 because the Celtics pulled out an improbable 92-89 overtime triumph over the Indiana Pacers at Conseco Fieldhouse last night, evening this whatever-it-is at three games apiece, and thus creating a little side history. This will be the first Game 7 in the Non-Garden, the first Game 7 for the Celtics since Cleveland 7 in 1992 (otherwise known as Larry's last game), and the first Game 7 in a Boston venue since Atlanta 7 in 1988 (otherwise known as the Larry-Dominique shootout).
This has been a Celtics playoff series like no other, and that is the understatement of the new millennium. We had enough crazy stuff go on in Games 1-5, what with the blowouts and the responses and road victories and all, but last night we entered a hoop twilight zone in a game that featured the single most unforgivable, untimely, stupid, and flat-out selfish on-court act in the history of the Celtics.
What? You think I'm exaggerating?
Try this. There are 12.9 seconds left in regulation. The Celtics have a 1-point lead. Paul Pierce receives an inbounds pass and is fouled by Jamaal Tinsley. OK, he is fouled pretty hard by Jamaal Tinsley. OK, he is fouled very hard by Jamaal Tinsley, and he is hit in the face, and that's no fun. But all Pierce has to do is walk to the line, sink the two free throws that will put his team up by 3, engage in a little team defense, and walk off the floor, W in hand.
But nooo. Pierce has to be macho. He lashes out with his left arm and is hit with a technical foul. No, seriously. He is thinking about Paul Pierce instead of the team. Reggie Miller sinks the technical free throw, of course. The game winds up in OT. Oh, and the OT is played without Pierce because it is his second technical. He also exits in a classless manner, pulling off his jersey and waving it at the crowd.
There was also the matter of the two free throws Pierce never got to take. They were taken by the man Indiana got to designate, and that was 20-year-old Kendrick Perkins, who had been watching the festivities up to that point, and who missed the first shot to the left and saw the second, as Indiana coach Rick Carlisle put it, "go two-thirds of the way down and spin out."
"I was nervous," Perkins confessed.
Way to go, Paul.
"I guess I overreacted to a hard foul that I thought was unjust," said Pierce. "I just lost my cool and it almost cost us. I'm just happy we got this win. I'm pretty much speechless. The guys really picked me up. I don't know how I would feel right now if we had lost this game all on a bonehead play. I just have to do a better job of keeping my cool." So now Pierce owes the rest of the lads a very big one. He owes Al Jefferson, who came off the bench for 11 points and 14 rebounds and some honest defense on Jermaine O'Neal. He owes Ricky Davis, who had 22 points and who saved the team from drowning in the first quarter, when the Celtics fell behind by a 10-0 score after taking nearly five minutes to get on the board.
Most of all he owes Antoine Walker, who put together one of those Antoine Specials in which he was all over the box score, although strangely blanked in the FTA department despite attempting 26 shots. But his fingerprints were everywhere else: 24 points, 11 rebounds, 3 steals, and 8 turnovers. Throw in aggressive defense at several different positions, add the game-high 50 minutes, and, yes, he earned the right to take a nice, hot shower when his evening's work was done.
Antoine also happened to hit the tiebreaking 3-pointer in OT (89-86, at 3:04), as well as provide the team with a vital 4-point edge (91-87) on a post-up spinner in the lane.
"Paul has carried us so many times," Walker said. "I wanted to win this one for him."
Walker is still trying to figure out how a man can take 26 shots, half of them in heavy rush-hour traffic, and never once step to the line. "I guess I'm going to have to work on pump fakes or something," he said. He also couldn't help but notice that O'Neal had 18 free throw attempts.
The Pacers shot 37 free throws to the Celtics' 19, which is not to say they didn't earn them. But such a discrepancy is indicative of life on the road in the NBA, particularly in the playoffs. In order to win this must game in the other guys' gym, the Celtics had to make 10 more field goals. This may not be one of the historic Celtic teams, but it is one with a lot of heart, and this clearly ranks as a great playoff achievement.
"This was one of the weirdest games I've ever been involved with," submitted Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "We were down 10, we fought back. We went up, they fought back. I thought we played with a lot of heart and I'm really proud of this team." No kidding.
"Down, 10-0, at the start, but we fought back," Rivers continued. "Then Big Al. Last year he was playing against Billy and Tommy in Mississippi, and now he's playing against Jermaine O'Neal and holding his own. When the incident happened with Paul, I just told the team, `We cannot lose this game, we cannot lose this game.' "
Doc made this one up as he went along, starting Delonte West, yanking him in favor of Davis less than four minutes into the game when the team got off to that slow start (not that it was any fault of The Kid), turning quickly to Jefferson, and then going with a basic seven men for the remainder of the game. Davis and Jefferson rewarded him with superb efforts, and when Davis hit a three to put the Celtics ahead, 37-36, the Celtics would never trail again, although no one would have believed it at the time.
Who knows what to believe or not believe with regard to this series? What Walker knows is that this was a very satisfying evening. "This is my fourth time in the playoffs," he said, "and this is probably my biggest win. It's not easy when you're down, 3-2, to win the way we did."
However we got here, we got here. Game 7. Tomorrow night. The movies, the dinner parties, and all those other social things can wait. There will be a basketball game of some significance at the Fleet. Based on what's been going on in the rest of this series, it will probably go four overtimes.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.