WALTHAM, Mass. — Kevin Garnett won’t be posting any comments from the 76ers owners on his mental bulletin board. The Philadelphia fans won’t be getting all riled up over comments deriding their loyalty.
“It’s Game 7. There’s no tomorrow,” Celtics captain Paul Pierce said before practice yesterday. “If this is not the most important thing to you right now, there is no way to motivate you as a basketball player.”
The Celtics and Sixers will play tonight for a spot in the Eastern Conference finals, where one of them will face the Heat for the right to play for the NBA title. The 76ers forced the semifinal series to a decisive game by beating Boston 82-75 on Wednesday, keeping alive a surprising run that started when they knocked out the top-seeded Bulls in the first round.
BRING IT ON! This Philadelphia fan, like the Sixers themselves, is ready for a Game 7 war against the Celtics tonight, with the winner getting to face the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.
“I think they’re excited about the chance to go in there and have this Game 7 and see what we can do,” Philadelphia coach Doug Collins said. “I don’t think we have any fear. I haven’t felt that in our guys at all. When we have played poorly, it’s not out of being fearful. I think sometimes we don’t execute well. That to me has nothing to do with whether or not the guys believe they can do it.”
The Sixers have not been to a Game 7 since 2001, and Collins said he was relying on the energy of a young team that has just one 30-year-old, Elton Brand, getting significant playing time. The Celtics, who have three in the starting lineup alone, are 3-2 in seventh games since the new Big Three of Garnett, Pierce and Ray Allen was assembled in 2007.
Brand said his younger teammates are ready. Philadelphia point guard Jrue Holiday, who called Game 6 the “end of the world,” said this would be “The End of the World II.”
“They’re not scared of the moment at all, which is really good for our team,” Brand said. “Some of the older guys are saying, ‘Hey, we don’t get this opportunity too many times. So let’s try to win this game.’ ”
That’s also the mood in Boston, where they are gearing up for the last run of the new Big Three. Pierce is under contract, but Garnett and Allen will be free agents at the end of the season.
Still, Garnett wasn’t manufacturing anything to motivate himself for the game, as he did for the finale against Atlanta when he fixated on comments by a Hawks owner calling him a dirty player. (He then fed the Sixers bulletin board material this week when he said they had fair-weather fans.)
Allen said he wasn’t thinking — yet — about the possibility it could be his last game in a Boston uniform.
“We’ve been so fortunate to do what we’ve done here,” he said. “It seems like we’ve been ruled out so many times before, so many years before. It’s just another opportunity to go out and be who we are, so we’re not worried about what’s beyond tomorrow. We’re worried about more about what we have in the present day.”
The Celtics will be without guard Avery Bradley, who also missed Games 5 and 6. Coach Doc Rivers said Bradley will miss the rest of the season after having surgery on a left shoulder that frequently popped out of its socket during the regular season and playoffs.
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