With one game on their home floor separating them from the Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics are where they want to be.
Boston missed an opportunity to fire the first shot on the road and close out the fiery series with the Washington Wizards in Game 6, but with the deciding contest in their backyard, the Celtics remain in prime position to earn a meeting with Cleveland in the next round.
The home team has won all 10 of the regular season and playoff match-ups between the teams, with both sides performing dramatically different depending on location.
Boston failed to steal a win at the Verizon Center, while struggling with averages of 94.0 points, 40 per cent shooting and a minus-15.7 point differential.
Back home, however, the Celtics are unbeaten in the series, putting up 125.0 points per game on 51.7 per cent shooting and outscoring the Wizards by an average of 14.7.
With Boston and Washington both boasting strong starting lineups, Game 7 may come down to the benches and at TD Garden, the Celtics’ reserves boast a plus-7.5 plus-minus, compared to minus-8.7 for the Wizards.
While home-court advantage doesn’t skew to these extremes, it’s common for teams to shoot better and get more from their role players in their own building. But geography isn’t the only factor favouring the Celtics in Game 7.
After getting walloped in Game 2 and 3 in Washington, Boston has been the better team. They blew out the Wizards at home in a pivotal Game 5 and were a deep John Wall pull-up 3-point miss away from wrapping up the series on the road in the previous outing, despite getting all of five points from their second unit.
Isaiah Thomas hasn’t been the same since dropping 53 points in Game 2, with Washington throwing multiple defenders at him when he’s coming off ball screens. He’s gradually improved at becoming more of a playmaker throughout the series and when he’s not throwing the ball away – like he crucially did up five and close to a minute remaining in Game 6 – he’s been finding open shooters on the perimeter.
Thomas may not need a big effort in Game 7 for Boston to close it out, but Al Horford will almost certainly need to keep playing at a high level. The big man has been nothing short of extremely efficient through the six games, shooting 68.9 per cent overall and 57.1 per cent from deep. When Thomas has been trapped, Horford has helped alleviate pressure with his spacing and passing. Washington has had no answer for him and he, along with back-up big Kelly Olynyk, have the ability to beat Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi off the dribble when played aggressively at the top of the arc.
The Wizards will play in a Game 7 for the first time since the 1979 Eastern Conference Finals (won, 107-105 over the Spurs). pic.twitter.com/MKIwdcZz1B— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 13, 2017
John Wall and Bradley Beal present their own problems, especially in regards to who Thomas will have to defend, and Gortat was a terror on the glass in Game 6 to buy his team extra possessions, but it feels as if the Celtics have made the necessary adjustments over the course of the series.
The issue with a Game 7, however, is that those adjustments may not matter in the same way they would over a multiple-game series. Game 7s can bring out high variance and often, it’s just about execution and making shots. Home court affords Boston the edge, but they still have to make good on that.
“That’s where all the great players make their name,” Celtics star guard Isaiah Thomas said of Game 7. “You gotta give it everything you’ve got. I guess that’s where legends are born. I’m excited.
“To have Game 7 back in Boston in the Garden. If you had said that back in October, that there’d be a Game 7 in the second round, a lot of people probably wouldn’t even believe that. So we’re excited.”