CLEVELAND - Celtics coach Brad Stevens will have a simple message for his team leading up to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Cavaliers on Sunday.
"Prepare well and have a great time," Stevens said. "Enjoy it."
Stevens appeared upbeat in the aftermath of a 109-99 Game 6 loss in which LeBron James scored 46 points on Friday to set up a winner-take-all situation for a trip to the NBA Finals. The strength-on-strength narrative is obvious. Cleveland has James, the best player in the NBA, who is coming off his seventh 40-point game in these playoffs.
Boston, meanwhile, has TD Garden. The Celtics are 10-0 at home in the playoffs and have defeated the Cavs by an average of 17 points in three wins in the series.
"It's going to be a lot of fun, first and foremost," Celtics guard Terry Rozier said. "It's going to be a lot of fun. We're looking forward to it. Obviously, we came up short tonight. But we need the whole city of Boston to be behind us. We know LeBron is different than a lot of other guys, but we've got to get the job done."
Will Boston be enough to offset James? No place embodies home-court advantage quite like Boston, whether it was the original Boston Garden or TD Garden, which was built in 1995.
The Celtics are 20-4 at home in Game 7. You'll see the highlights of Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Larry Bird and Paul Pierce. James' only Game 7 in Boston came on May 18, 2008, when he scored 45 points in a shootout with Pierce, who scored 41 in Boston's 97-92 victory. That came in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
A decade later, the stage is much bigger. James is looking to carry a team to the NBA Finals for the eighth consecutive season, and he's the biggest challenge for the Celtics. This is an opportunity for another notch in a growing legacy for James.
"They're 10-0 on their home floor, and they've been very successful against us, obviously, at home," James said. "But if you love challenges, then this is a great opportunity."
This is also an opportunity for Boston to end that streak and re-affirm the home dominance that's carried the franchise to so many NBA Finals in the past. This marks the eighth time the Celtics have played a Game 7 at home in the conference finals if you count the four division finals victories during the Red Auerbach era. The Knicks beat Boston in 1972-73, and Philadelphia split a pair of Game 7s at the Boston Garden in 1980-81 and 1981-82.
Boston hasn't hosted Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals since 1986-87, a 117-114 victory against Detroit. Under Stevens, the Celtics beat Washington in Game 7 in the second round last season and Milwaukee this season.
"It's an absolute blast to prepare for as a coach and play in as a player," Stevens said. "It'll be a heck of a challenge, playing a really good team with obviously a tremendous individual player who put on a tremendous show tonight."
James likely will put on another show, and the Celtics will have to stand that, but Rozier expects the Celtics to come out with the same approach that has led to that 10-0 record at home.
"It's a whole different feeling when you're playing at home," Rozier said. "You're just so amped. Our crowd is unbelievable, one of the best in basketball."
It sets the stage for a memorable moment when something will have to give between the game's best player and the league's most hallowed home court.
At this point, we suggest you take up Stevens' advice - prepare and have good time. This could be the most enjoyable of the game of the playoffs.
Celtics in Game 7 at home
|1956-57||NBA Finals||St. Louis||W 125-123 (2 OT)|
|1958-59||Division Finals||Syracuse||W 130-125|
|1959-60||NBA Finals||St. Louis||W 122-103|
|1961-62||Division Finals||Philadelphia||W 109-107|
|1961-62||NBA Finals||L.A Lakers||W 110-107 (OT)|
|1962-63||Division Finals||Cincinnati||W 142-131|
|1964-65||Division Finals||Philadelphia||W 110-109|
|1965-66||NBA Finals||L.A. Lakers||W 95-93|
|1972-73||Conference||N.Y. Knicks||L 94-78|
|1983-84||NBA Finals||L.A. Lakers||W 111-102|
|1983-84||Second Round||N.Y. Knicks||W 121-104|
|1986-87||Second Round||Milwaukee||W 119-113|
|1987-88||Second Round||Atlanta||W 118-116|
|2004-05||First Round||Indiana||L 97-70|
|2007-08||Second round||Cleveland||W 97-92|
|2007-08||First Round||Atlanta||W 99-65|
|2008-09||First Round||Chicago||W 109-99|
|2008-09||Second Round||Orlando||L 103-90|
|2011-12||Second Round||Philadelphia||W 85-75|
|2016-17||Second Round||Washington||W 115-105|
|2017-18||First Round||Milwaukee||W 112-96|