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 on Friday. “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 Saturday night for a spot in the Eastern Conference finals, where one of them will face the Miami Heat for the right to play for the NBA title. The 76ers forced the series to a decisive game by beating Boston 82-75 on Wednesday, keeping alive a surprising run that started when they knocked out top-seeded Chicago in the first round.
“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 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 Ray Allen are free agents at the end of the season.
Still, Garnett wasn’t manufacturing anything to motivate himself for the game, like 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. Rivers said Friday that 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.
Bradley has been a key part of the Celtics’ defense. Without him, Allen moves back into the starting lineup and Rajon Rondo will be expected to cover the best Sixers’ backcourt player in the game.
“It’s disappointing when a player goes down. Especially what Avery has given us this year,” Rivers said. “He’s a very valuable part of our team. Not having him makes Rondo have to go back to that role — and run the team. Rondo doesn’t have a lot of breaks.”
Rondo, who had an off-night in Game 6 with nine points, six assists and nine rebounds — the first time these playoffs he has failed to reach double-digits in any of them — laughed at the suggestion that the added responsibility will be too much for him.
“Oh man, it’s a lot of pressure,” he said with a chuckle. “We’re a team. We’re one of the few teams in the NBA where all five guys contribute. We’re not a one- or a two-man show. We play great as a team.”
It’s not the first injury for the Celtics, who lost Jeff Green to an aortic aneurism before the season began and got just 25 games out of starting center Jermaine O’Neal. During the playoffs, Allen has struggled with bone spurs in his ankle and Paul Pierce has a sprained MCL in his left knee.
“We need everything from everybody,” Pierce said. “Whoever steps out on that court has to understand: This is it. This is our team.”
Before practice, Rivers was presented with the Rudy Tomjonavich Award from the Professional Basketball Writers Association for excelling at his job while also helping the media do theirs.