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Hoping for heaven in Game 7

Celtics fans run gamut from queasy to cocky

By Marissa Lang and Alex Katz
Globe Correspondents / June 17, 2010

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BRAINTREE — For Boston Celtics fans, there’s no more room for uncertainty.

While some Boston fans have no question in their minds that the Celtics are going to come out on top, others have resigned themselves to what they say is unavoidable: that Team Green will flounder in the NBA Finals’ Game 7 against Kobe Bryant and his Lakers.

“LA is going to win. That’s what I think. And what I think is not what I want,’’ said Mark Ryan, 51, a Trump Enterprises employee from Hyannis who was eating lunch in the food court of the South Shore Plaza in Braintree. “I’m not feeling too great about it right now.’’

Some Bay Staters have gotten used to their teams’ winning ways in the past decade.

“We always win; we’re Bostonians!’’ said Anita Sheriff, 34, a nursing assistant from Boston. “And, of course, because we always win, we always want to win.’’

And the Celtics, especially, have a history to live up to.

The Celtics and Lakers have faced off in the NBA Finals a dozen times since 1959. Boston has beaten Los Angeles four times in Game 7, and the Celtics hold a 9-to-2 advantage in championships won. It is one of the most storied rivalries in NBA history.

“We’re going to do it; it’s destiny,’’ said James O’Neill, a Dorchester resident who has been a Celtics fan for more than 50 years.

But some longtime fans said this year’s Celtics aren’t the same as the team that brought Boston glory so many times before.

Growing up in Worcester, brothers Denis and Terry Hickey were raised as diehard Celtics fans. Years later, the two have not only moved to opposite ends of the country — Denis now lives in Oregon, Terry in Maine — but they’re also on polar opposite sides of the Game 7 debate.

Although both Hickey brothers said they were disappointed after LA’s 89-67 trouncing of Boston on Tuesday night, Denis said that winning in seven games is part of destiny’s grand plan for the Celtics. But Terry isn’t keeping the faith.

“I’m very skeptical we’re going to get this done,’’ he said, standing in front of the Red Auerbach statue at Faneuil Hall.

Reminiscing about the legendary Celtics coach and the three championship teams of the 1980s, Terry said the current Celtics pale in comparison with the Celtics of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish.

“They had their games as well and their issues, but you always felt that somehow they were going to get it done,’’ he said. “I don’t feel that way anymore. I’m thinking, maybe the Lakers are the better team.’’

Celtics fans have a long memory. Young or old, Boston natives or international transplants, they can all list the historic greats and fan favorites.

They all remember Red.

Going into Game 7, many fans invoke the coach who led the Celtics to 11 NBA Finals showdowns (including 10 in a row from 1957 to 1966), and nine NBA championship titles — seven over the Lakers.

Some are wistful.

“The Boston destiny went away when Auerbach went away. There was an attitude back then; it’s not like when they win now,’’ Ryan said. “There have been some great teams. But this team is just an OK team that all of a sudden, at the end of the season, they got it together.’’

Others are hopeful.

“It feels almost exactly the same,’’ said Susan Barker of Belmont, who was outside Faneuil Hall. “The talent, passion, and desire to win is still there.’’

Barker said she sees similarities with the glory teams of the Bird years; she recalled that as a graduate student at University of California, Los Angeles from Boston, she cheered the Celtics as they captured two NBA championships against the Lakers.

But retrospect doesn’t always help, said Mike Neil, 27, a Comcast traffic coordinator from Cambridge who wore a Celtics T-shirt as he shopped in Braintree. He is still reeling from Tuesday night’s loss, he said, but not enough to convince him there is no hope left. “They play better on the road, and after a 20-point loss like that, they’re going to come back hard,’’ Neil said.

George Krall, 48, of Duxbury agreed. He said in the end it comes down to which team wants it more — and that team is the Celtics.

“I’m 100 percent confident they’re going to win,’’ he said. “They haven’t played two bad games [in a row] all season. They’re a good team and they want it. They’re going to do it.’’

Marissa Lang can be reached at mlang@globe.com; Alex Katz at akatz@globe.com.

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