On His Shoulders
WHEN KG IS ON, SIXERS DON'T HAVE AN ANSWER
Nothing changes in Game 7.
The play of Garnett in Saturday's decisive game will be the biggest key to whether the Celtics advance to the conference finals. Boston absolutely needs one more turn-back-the-clock effort in order to dispatch these pesky 76ers and set up a showdown with the potentially Chris Bosh-less Miami Heat (not to look too far ahead, but KG would have an advantageous matchup yet again).
Let's face it, Garnett has been spectacular this postseason. He's already recorded six games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds -- this after accomplishing that feat just three times in the previous two postseasons, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
When Garnett has played his most inspired ball this series, the Celtics have won. Just look at his numbers in wins vs. losses. In three victories, Garnett is 32-of-54 shooting (59.3 percent) while averaging 25.3 points per game. In the three losses, Garnett is 19-of-44 shooting (43.2 percent) and averages just 14.7 points.
Garnett took 20 shots in Wednesday's Game 6 loss, but not a single one came within 10 feet of the basket. That's unacceptable. The Celtics have to find a way to get him the ball near the basket and turn those into easy points, particularly with his size advantage against these smaller Sixers.
Said Celtics coach Doc Rivers: "[We] really never established Kevin [in Game 6]; even though Kevin had points, it wasn't the type of points that we needed. So we have to do a better job there."
Sixers center Elton Brand admitted his squad made a conscious effort to prevent Garnett from getting quality looks around the basket. Expect Philadelphia to continue to trap him near the hoop and foul him to prevent easy buckets. Garnett and the Celtics have to fight through that frustration better than they did in Game 6.
When the Celtics landed the knockout punch on the Atlanta Hawks in Round 1, it was Garnett throwing (and landing) the haymakers. Garnett was 10-of-19 shooting with 28 points, 14 rebounds, 5 blocks, and 3 steals in that Game 6 win over the Hawks at TD Garden. Boston wouldn't mind a repeat performance.
Garnett certainly can't do it alone, and the Celtics need the other members of their Big Four to step up -- Rajon Rondo needs to be aggressive; Paul Pierce needs to be crafty; and Ray Allen needs to up his defensive play -- but Boston's success will hinge on the play of Garnett.
AS RONDO GOES, SO GO THE CELTICS
Rajon Rondo could not have picked a worse time to deliver his poorest performance of the series on Wednesday, when the Celtics fell to the 76ers in Game 6. He opened up nearly every aspect of his game to waves of criticism, and he's currently serving as the chief scapegoat for Boston's Game 7 predicament.
Will this change anything when these two clubs meet for a final time on Saturday night? Absolutely not. When the opening tip is tossed up, Rondo will be the most important player on the floor, same as he was for Games 1 through 6.
The good news? Whenever this series has been tied, Rondo has come through with a stellar performance in the tiebreaker game. In Game 3, he delivered a masterful 23-point, 14-rebound, 6-assist effort with 9-of-16 shooting from the field (4-of-4 from the free throw line). He came back five days later in Game 5 and had 14 assists to go with his 13 points (6-of-10 shooting). His seven assists in the third quarter of Game 5 were instrumental in helping the Celtics pull away from Philly and cruise to one of their easier victories in the series.
Rondo impacts virtually every aspect of the game, and the Celtics will need that versatility Saturday. His tendency to come through with triple-double efforts on the big stage has been well documented, and Game 7s have a tendency to turn up the spotlight an extra notch or two -- something that should cater to Rondo's psyche and sense of urgency.
Although Rondo has had to help compensate for the injuries Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are dealing with, particularly on the defensive end, it'll be more important for him to gamble less on Saturday, rely on the team's defense as a whole to secure the necessary stops, then break out in transition from there. He didn't seem to push the pace with his usual fervor in Game 6 -- something that will have to change on Saturday. Rondo is the only player really capable of creating easy transition looks for himself and his teammates, and doing so has to be a priority for him throughout Game 7.
More important than anything will be a consistent and focused effort from Rondo from start to finish. When he's locked in, slashing through the lane, setting up his teammates in their favorite spots, wreaking havoc defensively (without gambling too much) and even knocking down a few jumpers, the Celtics rarely lose. Not only will Rondo have to put his team on his back in terms of statistical production, he'll have to carry with him the effort, the intensity and the focus it will take to send Philly packing.