BOSTON – Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens had three words for his team following the Washington Wizards’ Game 6 victory.
“Game 7 Monday."
It’s just the second Game 7 of the 2017 NBA playoffs, and much is on the line for both teams, starting with vindication or vacation.
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The finale of this Eastern Conference semifinals series is Monday (8 p.m. ET, TNT). The winner plays the Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference finals.
For the Celtics, it’s a chance to prove the regular season had meaning, that they were the best team in the Eastern Conference and should be playing in the conference finals.
For the Wizards, it’s a chance to remove, or at least reduce, the sporting gloom left by another early NHL playoff exit by the hometown Capitals and remind opponents they had the second-best record in the East from Dec. 1 through the end of the regular season.
The participants agreed this series needed a seventh game. No need to argue. Here are five things to watch in Game 7:
The backcourt battle
The four best players on the court are the starting guards: Washington’s John Wall and Bradley Beal and Boston’s Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley.
Beal and Wall, who combined for 59 points in Friday’s Game 6 victory, need to be on their game from the start. If Wall has four or more assists in the first quarter and Beal is making threes, which he hasn’t done so well in this series, you know the Wizards have their offense going.
The Wizards have tried to make scoring difficult for Thomas, sending two players – sometimes three – to prevent him from shooting. That puts pressure on other players, and Bradley has responded. But it will be hard – not impossible – for Boston to win if Thomas doesn’t score at least 20 points.
By this point, the Celtics know what the Wizards want to do, and the Wizards know what the Celtics want to do. Players will decide the outcome, but it doesn’t mean Stevens and Washington coach Scott Brooks – two Coach of the Year candidates – won’t have an impact on the result:
A well-designed play after a timeout that yields a made shot. A timeout to stop a run. Finding the right lineup against the opponent’s lineup. Finding a play that works and exploiting the defense.
The Wizards need to make threes and can’t avoid a repeat performance of Game 6 when they were 3-for-21 at one point late in the fourth quarter. Granted, Beal and Wall each a made a three in the final 69 seconds. But it will be difficult to win Game 7 on the road shooting like that.
Who – after each team’s starting guards – is going to have a game that makes a difference? Boston’s bench scored just five points in the previous game. Will it be Celtics guard Marcus Smart or forward Jae Crowder? Washington forward Otto Porter didn’t score in Game 6. The Wizards need offense from him – or even forward Bojan Bogdanovic, who can provide a spark with his three-point shooting off the bench.
Game 7 history
Home-court advantage only means something if there’s a Game 7, and the team with home-court owns an overwhelming success rate in Game 7s: 101-26 (79.5%).
However, Washington shouldn’t be hopeless. In the NBA’s last two Game 7s, the road team won: Utah over the Los Angeles Clippers this season and Cleveland over Golden State in last season’s NBA Finals.
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