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Celtics have been going long

It's a 2d straight playoff Game 7

Paul Pierce drives against Tony Allen during yesterday's practice for today's decisive Game 7. Paul Pierce drives against Tony Allen during yesterday's practice for today's decisive Game 7. (Jay Connor/Special to the Globe)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / May 18, 2008

WALTHAM - It could take the Celtics 28 games to win an NBA title if their odd trend continues. Sure, that's far from the conventional way to get the coveted Larry O'Brien Trophy. But as long as the Celtics win a title, coach Doc Rivers wouldn't mind the lengthy road.

The Celtics will play a deciding Game 7 for the second straight playoff series this afternoon in a second-round matchup against LeBron James and the Cavaliers at TD Banknorth Garden.

The winner will play Detroit in the Eastern Conference final, starting Tuesday.

"The worst-case scenario is you play 15 more games," said Rivers after practice yesterday. "That's not a lot. I think our guys will take that right now. If you told our guys we were going to play 15 more games, they would take it right now . . .

"If you win it and you do it the hard way, what's the difference? You know what I'm saying? There is a good basketball team that we're playing. We knew that coming into the series. And, yeah, we would love to win them all in four. But that hasn't happened, so why worry about it? We're in a seventh game and you have to take care of business."

Although the Celtics' active playoff roster has seven first-year players, one thing they have done is play in a Game 7. The Eastern Conference's top seed routed the eighth-seeded Hawks, 99-65, in a Game 7 in the first round May 4. Forward James Posey said Boston hopes to have the same focus, determination, and will to win against Cleveland, which is seeded fourth, that it did against Atlanta.

"We've battled in this situation [before]," Posey said. "We have the confidence to go out and play it."

Said Cavaliers coach Mike Brown, "Any time you can go through an experience as a group, it benefits you the next time because you kind of know what to expect. There probably won't be as much pressure because there's not as much unknown. So going through that Game 7 in the first round for them was a nice experience."

Because of his respect for Cleveland, Paul Pierce didn't put too much emphasis on the Game 7 experience with Atlanta.

"It's all psychological," he said. "Yeah, we played in a Game 7. But just because you played in a Game 7 doesn't mean anything. You're playing a completely different team, the Eastern Conference champions from a year ago, a whole different monster. They're going to be mentally tougher than the Atlanta Hawks were, and everybody expects a game."

The Cavaliers last played in a Game 7 in 2006, losing to the Pistons in the second round. James, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anderson Varejao, Damon Jones, Sasha Pavlovic, and currently inactive Eric Snow are the only Cavaliers on the roster who played on that team.

"There is always attention going into a Game 7 for both teams either way, whether you've been in one or not," Rivers said. "They've been in one before as well, not the same group, but a lot of the same guys. It comes down to plays."

The Celtics, who have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, are 7-0 at TD Banknorth Garden in the postseason. The Cavaliers are 0-5 overall in Boston this season, including three playoff losses.

Even so, Rivers has warned his team not to get too comfortable at home.

"You don't want them thinking, 'Oh, we're home in Boston and everything will take care of itself.' We have to go out and make things happen. We have to have trust in that," Rivers said.

Said Pierce, "We're a confident group, especially at home. We've played well there throughout the playoffs. We have to play one more great game there in order to advance."

The Celtics had a hard time sleeping the night before their Game 7 win over the Hawks. Rivers took a sleeping pill. Veteran Ray Allen sent teammates text messages at midnight. Guard Rajon Rondo didn't get any shut-eye at all.

"I'm going to try to [sleep]," Kendrick Perkins said. "I didn't sleep [Friday] night. I'm going to try to get some [Saturday night]."

Said Rivers, "If they can play like they played the last one, I hope they can do the exact same thing.

"I'm probably going to do the same thing, too. It's an Ambien night, no doubt about it."

Marc J. Spears can be reached at mspears@globe.com

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