Defense will mean more than decibel level when the defending NBA champions try to control the Orlando Magic’s powerful center Sunday night.
The Celtics are in their second straight seven-gamer. They beat Chicago in the first series and bobbled themselves into the Game 7 against Orlando by blowing a 10-point, third-quarter lead and losing 83-75. Howard had 23 points and 22 rebounds Thursday night.
“Game 7 is the ultimate players’ game. I’ve always thought that,” said Boston coach Doc Rivers, who feels their will and execution mean more than coaching tips. “If you need a rah-rah speech for Game 7, your team’s probably in a little trouble.”
So he plans to forego any inspirational pre-game words. The fans will be loud enough.
But the Celtics don’t want to hear about home-court advantage.
The Celtics beat Atlanta and Cleveland at home in Game 7 of the first two rounds last year. They did it again against the Bulls, a series in which four games reached overtime.
They’re 17-3 in seventh games at home.
“You can’t think about the aura of Boston while you’re playing them,” Magic guard Rafer Alston(notes) said, “but the days before, leading up to it, you have a thought in your mind about it. There’s nothing bad about it. The history of that organization to me is fascinating, the fact that they consistently get it done in their building in decisive games.”
The Celtics did lose the opener there when Howard had 22 rebounds. He was even more dominating in Game 6 in Orlando after he complained that he didn’t get the ball enough.
So he got it himself with 10 offensive rebounds.
“His performance the other night was remarkable. His energy and intensity were off the charts,” Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. “His athleticism is so great when he’s playing that hard, it’s really, really difficult for people to keep up with him.”
Rivers said he won’t change the way the Celtics defend Howard but they must do a better job of keeping dribblers from penetrating and drawing center Kendrick Perkins(notes) away from Howard to help out.
The key is “to be physical with him, try to get him off the block as much as possible,” Paul Pierce(notes) said. “Just limit his easy opportunities. You’ve got to keep him off the offensive rebound because he does a lot of damage there.”
Howard is hungry for his first trip to the conference finals.
“Just being dominant is going to be key for my team. That’s the word of the week. Dominate!” he said with a laugh. “I woke up and ate some alphabet cereal and the first scoop I picked up was `dominate.’ So I stirred the bowl up, picked it up again, and it was `dominate.’ So I ate it.”
The word for Allen is “shooting.”
Against the Bulls, the veteran marksman hit a winning 3-pointer with 2 seconds left in Game 2 and scored 51 points in Game 6. But in four of the games against the Magic—three of them losses—he’s 10-for-47 from the field.
“Every shot that I put up there, it always looks good to me,” Allen said. “You see the ball rattling around the rim and then sometimes it toilet bowls and goes down and sometimes it pops out and you just never know until that ball goes all the way through.
“So I’ll be making sure that ball goes all the way through (Sunday).”
The Celtics say they’re comfortable playing in a Game 7. The Magic say they won’t feel added pressure.
It’s been close all season between the two Eastern Conference powers. The Magic and Celtics split four games in the regular season.
“Obviously, it’s the end of the road for one team, but … you can only do what you’re capable of doing,” Allen said. “You’ve seen a team 10 times already that year so there’s not too many surprises.”