“So you’re telling me there’s a chance! ‘’— Jim Carrey, Dumb and Dumber
PHILADELPHIA — Actually, the resilient Philadelphia 76ers have a much better chance beating the Boston Celtics in a decisive seventh game Saturday at the new Garden than the one-in-a-million shot Jim Carrey’s character did of getting the girl. You might not normally think that.
You might think Doug Collins’ team, which staved off the executioner by grinding out an 82-75 Game 6 victory before a packed house that included franchise icons Julius Erving and Allen Iverson, should save itself the hassle of trekking back to New England one last time.
You might think there’s no way a team which has never been in this position won’t shrink under the glare of playing for such high stakes.
You might think they’ll see that sea of green filling the arena, gaze into the rafters and see all those championship banners and retired jerseys, and essentially be beaten before the game even starts.
Perhaps they will.
Or just maybe they’ll scoff at all that tradition and simply defy it.
“All we wanted was to win tonight and give ourselves a chance to go into Boston and see what happens Saturday in Game 7,’’ said a jubilant coach Doug Collins after a decisive 27-20 third quarter turned the momentum squarely in Philadelphia’s favor, and the Sixers took it the rest of the way. “Now I want more.
“We’re going to get greedy. We’ve fought. We’ve worked and we’ve grown as a team.
“I don’t want to go in with that `no matter what happens everything’s okay,’ mindset. I want to go in with the idea, `Let’s see what we can do. Let’s see if we can go get us a win.’’’
The Celtics, who eased the Sixers’ way by turning the ball over 17 times, while shooting a sorry 26-for-78, 33.3%, will have something to say about that. Undoubtedly, being at home, where the franchise is 17-4 in Game 7s through the years, will give them a huge lift. Even bigger will be getting that critical extra day of rest for mainstays Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen.
But that hardly makes them invincible.
If the Celts offense remains as sluggish as it was in this one, nothing will come easy. “It’s nice we have it at home,’’ said Rivers, whose club managed only 14 assists on the night—just six by Rondo—and placed only Pierce (24 points) and Garnett (20) in double figures. “but you have to still go get it
“At the end of the day you have to go play.’’
Which was the issue that haunted them last night.
“The ball movement we had in Game 5 was not there,’’ said Rondo, who scored just nine and pulled down nine rebounds, but also committed four turnovers. “We made some bad decisions and they had good defensive rotations.
“But give them credit.’’
Credit for playing the kind of frenetic defense that made it difficult for the men in green to run their offense, often having to fire poor percentage shots against the shot clock … Credit for shaking off a stretch in which they missed nine straight and 11 of 14 shots while digging a 36-33 halftime hole, then came back shooting 10-for-17, 58.8% while seizing a 60-56 lead after three … And credit for not buckling down the stretch when the Celtics made their final desperate run after the spread swelled to 70-59 with 7:33 left. Boston got no closer than 78-72 at the 1:41 mark, missing three of its last four shots.
“It was a one possession game at the end of the half and we felt good about that,’’ said guard Lou Williams, one of five Sixers in double figures with 11 while handing out six assists. “We had good energy in the third and came out of it with the lead.
“We never looked back after that.’’
And looking ahead, they say they won’t be scared regardless of the stakes. “Obviously it’s gonna be a madhouse in Boston,’’ conceded Williams. “but it’s one game.
“We feel like we have the same chance they have.’’
Seventh games seldom go according to script. Often there’s an unlikely hero. That tidal wave of emotion carrying the home team can backfire if things don’t go smoothly early, creating angst among the fan base that this might not be going their way.
And if Sixers fans are looking for omens apart from the day Philadelphia exorcised those Boston ghosts behind Andrew Toney in 1982 to claim the East, leading to those “Beat L.A. Beat L.A. ‘’ chants reverberating throughout the old Garden, there’s this: The Celtics have gotten blow out twice—losing by 27 vs. Indiana (2005) and by 19 against Orlando (2009) in their last five Game 7s at the Garden.
“It’s going to be tough,’’ said Elton Brand, who responded to the challenge with 13 points and 10 rebounds in 34 minutes. “They’ve been through it a few times. We haven’t.
“But when our backs are against the wall we usually rise to the occasion.’’
Perhaps form will prevail. The Celtics will live up to their hype. Those shots that wouldn’t drop last night will fall. And the Sixers, realizing the enormity of the occasion, will go belly up.
Or perhaps this Philadelphia team which had to pull itself together in the final week just to make the playoffs as a No. 8 seed will continue to make the experts look bad. Perhaps they’ll be the ones making the plays down the stretch the way they did coming from behind to win Games 2 , 4, and 6, this time taking care of business in the biggest game of their lives.
Just imagine then, victory assured, the clocking winding down, as Garnett, Pierce and Rondo slump on the bench while a new battle cry fills the Garden. “Beat the Heat. Beat the Heat.’’
For the Sixers and the Celtics, two storied rivals who’ll put the finish on another memorable chapter of their rivalry Saturday, it doesn’t get any better than this.
And yes, I’m telling you there’s a chance.
Jon Marks has covered the Philadelphia 76ers from the days of Dr. J and his teammate, Joe Bryant (best known as Kobe’s dad). He has won awards from the Pro Basketball Writer’s Association and North Jersey Press Club. His other claim to fame is driving Rick Mahorn to a playoff game after missing the team bus. Follow him on Twitter.