WALTHAM, Mass. — The Boston Celtics played hard all season for home-court advantage in the playoffs.
They just didn’t expect to need it this soon.
The Celtics are back in Boston and hoping to finish off the pesky Atlanta Hawks today in Game 7. It’s the last first-round series still going — a bit of a shock considering that the Celtics were the best team in the NBA during the regular season, and the Hawks the worst of the 16 to reach the postseason.
"Clearly, we’d have loved to have won in four games. We’d have loved to have won it in five, (or) six," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after a walkthrough at the team’s practice facility on Saturday. "But we have to do it in seven. We earned the right to do it at home."
Paul Pierce did not participate in Saturday’s walkthrough because of a right hip bruise sustained in a collision with Hawks forward Marvin Williams in the fourth quarter of Game 6. Pierce was not available for comment after Friday’s game or at Saturday’s practice, but he is expected to play today.
The Hawks aren’t so sure about Williams, who led the team with 18 points in Game 6 but left the game with a sprained left knee after knocking into Pierce. Williams took part in Saturday’s walkthrough, but his knee was iced and heavily taped and he didn’t try to bend it.
"It’s pretty sore right now," he said.
Joe Johnson hit a 3-pointer with 1:07 left on Friday night to give the Hawks 103-100 victory in Game 6 and force the series back to Boston. In a somber locker room afterward, the Celtics hashed out what went wrong.
"Guys said what they had to say," point guard Rajon Rondo said. "Same as last time."
The mood carried over onto the team plane, but soon the music came on and the team was back to it’s old ways.
"The sixth game is over with. Let it go. You had a chance to vent about it," guard Ray Allen said. "Now it’s all about Game 7."
Allen said he told his teammates that they should now consider themselves in an NCAA tournament-style competition.
But Rivers saw a problem with that analogy.
"You don’t have a home game in the NCAA tournament," the coach said.
"We can look at it all the ways we want to, but at 1 o’clock they are going to toss the ball up and we are going to have to come to play basketball."
Boston went 66-16 in the regular season and won all three games against the Hawks, who were 37-45 and the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. But the Hawks have beaten Boston three times in Atlanta in a week, forcing the Celtics to the brink in the best-of-seven series.
"We have no pressure on us — just go down there, be loose, play basketball and have fun," said Johnson, a former Celtics draft pick who led the Hawks in scoring in the regular season and is averaging more than 20 points per game in the playoffs.
"They were predicted to sweep us in this series. We’ve got nothing to lose. We’ve just got to go out there and fight."
The only sub-.500 team to win a playoff series in the current, 16-team format, was the 1987 Seattle SuperSonics. They were 39-43 when they beat Dallas in a best-of-five, then swept Houston in four games in the second round before losing to the Lakers in the Western Conference finals.
Atlanta, which went 37-45 in the regular season, would be the worst team to advance since the 1976 Pistons, and the first losing team to beat a No. 1 overall seed in a best-of-seven series.
"Nobody gave us chance of winning a game this series," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "I take my hat off to the guys in the Hawks locker room. They believe. They’re playing like that.
"It’s down to a one-game series. ... We’ve put ourselves in position to do something very special."