THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

This conclusion isn't foregone

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / May 17, 2009
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With the fans, it's always about the history, which is fine for the fans.

But the fans don't actually play the game.

"Yeah, we've been through Game 7's," says Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "Too many of them. It's nice to hear your own crowd, but it all comes down to execution."

The Celtics are 20-5 lifetime in Game 7's, 17-3 at home. They are 3-0 in Game 7's during this Big Three Era, if you like. That, more than anything, concerns Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy.

"I don't think what happened in the old days means anything," says the voluble Magic mentor. "They've won Game 7's with this group. What it does is give them tremendous confidence, especially in their own building."

As nice as it is to be at home, there's no such thing as a lock. How useful was the crowd on that Sunday afternoon four years ago when the Celtics totally pigged it up in Game 7 against the Pacers, losing by - ugh - 27?

State of mind entering a Game 7 is interesting. The Magic have to know they should be preparing for a Game 1 today against Cleveland. They should have wrapped up this series in five.

Then we have the Celtics, who are borderline apoplectic about their own Game 6 performance. The other guys shoot 36 percent from the floor? The other guys shoot 55 percent from the line? The other guys have a laughable half-court offense? And you bequeath them 28 points on 22 inexcusable turnovers? And they help themselves to 24 second-chance points? Why not just hand them a letter of surrender before the opening tip? It would have saved a lot of aggravation.

Anyway, the Celtics are likewise thinking about how they, too, should be getting ready to play the Cavaliers (memo to everyone: Be careful what you wish for).

But the truth is the Celtics are showing grave signs of wear and tear. They appear to be hanging on. Perhaps they have one big game left in them before they face the inevitable, or perhaps they don't. God love him, and I say this with all due respect, but when your first frontcourt substitute is Brian Scalabrine, you are, at the very least, vulnerable.

Viewed from the eyes of a neutral, this has been a pretty awful series. It has been a series of giveaways and lost opportunities. The best affair was Game 4, otherwise known as "All About Baby," but even that one looks good because what preceded it and followed it has been so artistically dreary. The best you can say about Game 4 is that each team brought its B/B-minus game.

Perhaps the rest will help give us a game in which each team brings the ol' A game. By the time the ball is thrown tonight, the teams will not have competed for something like 69 1/2 hours. Presumably, the teams will have used their down time wisely.

Lord knows the Celtics welcome the gap. Doc is even talking wistfully about how lucky they are in football, with all that time off before the Super Bowl. He's actually down two "bigs," as he likes to call them, and is employing a severely short rotation up front because he has apparently decided there simply is no place for Mikki Moore in this series.

(By the way, anyone wondering just what P.J. Brown is up to these days might be interested to learn that he was spotted at Chuck Daly's funeral.)

In the NBA, there is short, shorter, and Division 3. The Celtics aren't very big to begin with, but there were times in Game 6 when Doc had to go absurdly small. Ray Allen guarding Hedo Turkoglu? Whoa. But Doc preferred that to sticking Mikki in there. That's not just being sent to the doghouse. That's being locked in the pooch's attic.

Though younger and deeper, the Magic were also welcoming the break.

"We're a long-ball team," reasons Rashard Lewis, "and this may help us get our legs back."

Then again, does any of this really matter in a Game 7?

"Being tired now is a state of mind," opines Paul Pierce. "Game 7 is where we all want to be. This is why you go through the regular season, knowing you may have an opportunity like this."

One area of technical concern is the play of Ray Allen, who, that one big shot in Game 5 aside, has had a very subpar series. He's had three single-digit games. He's had shooting nights of 2-12, 3-13, 3-11, and 2-11.

While acknowledging that the Magic have done a good job on Allen, Doc still thinks there are things his team can do to help the struggling veteran.

"In the halfcourt, we're at our best when we've got offensive patience," Rivers points out. "And nobody benefits more from the patience than Ray, because he needs time to get open."

Remember, Allen went through an even worse stretch last year. There was a 13-game stretch from Atlanta 1 through Detroit 4 in which he shot 9 for 51 on threes. But the shot returned in Detroit 5, and life was good once again for the remainder of the playoffs.

Every last one of the Celtics knows what this Game 7 thing is all about.

"The crowd will be as loud as it's been all year, and that will give us a boost," says Pierce. "It's like a heavyweight fight. Get knocked down. Get up. Get knocked down. Get up."

Pierce can also speak from the vantage point of a man who has scored 41 points in a Game 7.

"It's not for everybody," he says. "Some guys play well under that pressure. Some don't."

At the other end of the spectrum is a large young man who has never been in this situation.

"Everything's on the line for both teams," says Dwight Howard. "I guess this is going to be my college experience right here. One and done."

Back to the history. Over and above the 20-5 record in Game 7's, the Celtics are also a dazzling 32-0 in series in which they have taken a 3-2 lead. That intrigues Van Gundy.

"There's a lot of things that never happen until somebody does them," he reasons. "People in Boston should know. No one had ever come back from 0-3 in baseball until the Red Sox did it.

"It's going to happen someday. Whether it's in two years or three years or 20 years. I don't think they're going to go through their entire history not losing after they get up, 3-2. It's going to happen."

He stops short of an outright prediction, but he's feeling good about his team. That much I can tell you.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of the Globe's 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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