In the absence of single elimination or sudden death, any Game 7 in the NBA, by its very nature, is intriguing. It ain’t Russell and Wilt, or Bird-McHale-Parish v. Doc-Moses-Toney, but Saturday night will feature two squads on the verge of rising to heights unforeseen for either when the season tipped off on Christmas Day.
On the one hand, we’ve got the Celtics, a once-fading, star-laden empire resuscitated by the return of a veteran stalwart to his Hall of Fame best and the postseason’s best remaining pure playmaker. Should the Celtics emerge triumphant, they will move on to author yet another (perhaps the final) chapter in their saga with LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, in their respective twilights but hardly over the hill, will be fighting further cement their legacies among the game’s greats, while Rajon Rondo… yeah, I have no idea what goes through his head. But dude can ball, and he’s got an incredible knack for doing so on the big stage.
Philly, meanwhile was this season’s whole > sum-of-the-parts story. That is, until a second half swoon saw them forced to fight tooth and nail to simply gain entry into the playoffs. Their first round matchup dealt them a fortuitous hand, as Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah were nipped by the injury bug – and Carlos Boozer remained. Led not by one man, but by an eclectic collection of talents, the Sixers are single victory away from becoming just the third #8 seed in NBA history to reach the conference finals.
Given the defensive focus – and offensive limitations – personified by these teams – along with Boston’s edge in high end talent and postseason experience – the buildup to Game 7 has a decent shot at outstripping the excitement of the game itself. That is of course, unless you’ve got your action elsewhere…
Andre Iguodala –Under 13 Points
On the surface it would appear that Game 7’s great value play is in Iggy scoring 14+. In the series’ first six games Iguodala has averaged 15.6 points per game and scored 13+ three times – all in Boston. He’s shown an ability to avoid foul trouble while guarding Paul Pierce (no more than 4 fouls in a game this series and 4+ just three times in his last 17 v. Boston) and is certain to see the floor, having logged 35+ minutes in five of six in the series, and in 10 of 12 playoff games. Iggy will be live on Saturday.
However, I’d strongly suggest a glimpse behind the numbers before getting’ down on Iggy. Yes, he’s averaged 16 per in three trips to Boston this series, but he’s made just 43.6% of his shots en route (sadly an upgrade over his 40.9% mark for the series), relying on an unsustainable run from beyond the arc for his points. In the three games, Iguodala has made 7-of-12 (58.3%) 3-point attempts, including an unreal 6-of-8 in Games 1 and 5, the only times he’d have actually won on the over.
Kevin Garnett – Over 27/27½ Points + Rebounds
So you remember how Vintage KG crashed 2012’s playoff party in Boston’s opening round defeat of the Hawks? Well, he got comfy and is still passed out on your parents’ couch.
His worst game (by some margin) of this series still saw him combine for 20 points + rebounds. He’s managed 26+ in each of the other five, eclipsing 40 three times. It’s worth noting that two of these five (15 and 12 in Game 2, and 20 and 6 in Game 5) would fall painfully short of victory tonight, but when one of the greatest ever to play his position is playing like one of the greatest ever to play his position, it pays to take notice. This is not quite a slam dunk win, but it’s tough to imagine this iteration of KG not making a run at 20-10 with the season on the line.
Rajon Rondo Over 27 Points + Assists
Statistically, this looks like full retail.
In 11 postseason games, Rondo’s handed out 10+ assists in nine times, with 13+ six times, including five in this series. In those same 11 playoff games Rondo has failed to score at least 13 points just twice, and has topped 15 five times. He’s combined for at least 27 P+A six times, four of them in the last six games.
In three regular season meetings with the Sixers, Rondo (who’s attempted 10+ shots in every playoff game thus far) attempted just 16 shots en route 18 points (seriously, that is excellent) and posted 15+ assists twice. The Sixers have done precious little to stop Rondo in this series, and given the things we’ve seen him do with the eyes of the nation on the Celtics, (gut feel alert!) look for monster outing.