They call them ‘the two best words in sports.’ They can also be the most nerve-racking and pressure filled, depending on who you ask. For the Boston Celtics, who now find themselves facing their second Game 7 in three weeks on Sunday night, they’re trying to stay level-headed.
“We’ve won a closeout game, obviously. Game 7 [against Milwaukee],” Celtics head coach Ime Udoka noted after Friday night’s loss, when asked about his team’s approach for Sunday. “And for us, we’ve won two in Miami. So that’s the positive of it. We know we can go there and win, but we just have to make it harder than it is, and at times it feels like we’re doing that – not taking advantage of what’s in front of us.”
“You’ve just got to breathe. You’ve got to get ready, prepare mentally, but come into the game loose. Come into the game free. Come into the game with a clear mind,” Jaylen Brown said. “You don’t want to put unnecessary pressure on yourself. Come and be ready to hoop, come and be ready to play basketball. At the end of the day, that’s what it is. We understand the severity, the game is on the line, we’ve just got to come out and play Celtic basketball.”
“It means you’ve got to come out and play, come out and respond,” Brown continued. “Back’s on the wall. Game 7. Loser go (sic) home. We’ve got to come out and find a way to win.”
“I mean, it’s no secret. It’s Game 7. A trip to the NBA Finals – there’s a lot on the line,” Jayson Tatum added.
Asked his confidence heading into Sunday’s game, Tatum replied “Scale of 1 to 10? 10. It shouldn’t be any less than that, right? It’s the last game, This is what it’s all about.”
While Brown and Tatum set the tone as leaders, Derrick White may have had the best answer to the question of what Game 7 means to him. And although he’s only been with the team since the trade deadline, he may have summed up the 2021-2022 Celtics experience in the process.
“We’re frustrated,” he said when asked the mood in the locker room, “but if it was easy it wouldn’t be us. So, we’re going to get on this plane, were going to go down to Miami, and try to get the big win in Game 7. We’ve been here before, and we’ve got a lot of confidence in our group.”
“Overall, frustrated,” he continued. “But get some rest, learn from it, get on this plane, and go to Miami and get a win.”
Sunday will be the Celtics’ first Game 7 in the Conference Finals since 2018, when they faced a LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers team. A number of the Celtics’ current core players including Tatum, Brown, Marcus Smart, and Al Horford were all a part of that group, albeit much younger. They’d go on to lose that game 87-79
“A couple of us have been in this situation before,” Tatum, who was a rookie for that series, noted after Friday night’s game. “We know what’s at stake. We know how much this means to everybody. We know that going into the game.”
In their 76-year history, the Celtics have played in 34 Game 7s, the most of any team in the NBA. They’re 25-9 in those games. Six of those games have come in the Eastern Conference Finals, with the team going 2-4 in those six.