John Smallwood: Only thing we know about Game 7 is that Sixers or Celtics will advance

Posted: May 25, 2012

OK, I CONCEDE that next 20-plus inches of copy will be irrelevant come Saturday, when the Sixers and Boston Celtics tip off for the decisive Game 7 in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Anyone who tells you they know what will happen in Boston is making things up as they go along.

This could be the most confounding series I have ever covered.

Nothing has gone to script and little has made any practical sense.

There’s been no logic to what has happened game-to-game, quarter-to-quarter, minute-to-minute.

Just when you thought you had a read on how things might swing, each team has done a 180-degree shift and brought back a ball of confusion.

There is no reason to think Saturday will be different.

"Game 7s are what they are," Boston coach Doc Rivers said while trying to get a grasp on how his veteran-laced team could come up so small in a close-out Game 6 against an inexperienced squad of Sixers who looked ready to go home after the Game 5 beat-down the Celtics laid on them.

Rivers sounded just like Sixers coach Doug Collins speaking after Game 3. It seems like a lifetime ago, but that was after the Sixers came to South Philly all jacked up after having won Game 2 in Boston to steal homecourt advantage.

The C’s pounded them, 107-91, to suck the air out of the Wells Fargo Center and leave the Sixers scratching their heads.

The Sixers evened the series with a win in Game 4, then got run out of the gym again, 101-85, to set up Wednesday night’s dramatics.

"Only thing I told them, we watched the film sessions," Collins said after winning Game 6, "is that in Game 5, we weren’t ourselves in a lot of different ways and we can be better."

Better has been such a relative term during this series.

The Celtics have been solid in their three victories – particularly in Games 3 and 5 when they flat-out schooled the Sixers.

As far as the Sixers are concerned in this series, better has usually meant simply not being as brutal as the Celtics.

The Sixers shot 45.7 percent in Game 6, nearly four points more than they’d shot through the first five games.

Still, despite holding Boston to 33.3 percent shooting, they won by only seven. The Sixers have averaged 87.2 points in this series, but are only 1-3 in the games when they have scored more than 82 points.

The Sixers are getting a lot of credit for playing tough defense in this series, and they have in the two games in which they needed only 82 points to win.

In three of the other four games, the defense was not up to the standards the Sixers played during the regular season.

The Sixers were third in field-goal percentage defense at 42.7 percent, but before Wednesday’s clunker, Boston, which ranked fifth at 46.0 percent in the regular season, was shooting 46.3 percent against the Sixers.

During the regular season, the Sixers ranked third in scoring defense at 89.4 points and had a differential of plus-4.2 points.

Boston has scored more than 100 twice in this series and is a plus-4.6 in this series.

The Sixers were the team with the young, fresh legs.

Both teams have lauded the defense being played in the series, but I’m not sure how much good defense has to do with guys consistently missing wide-open looks for 6 to 15 feet, which has been the running theme of this series.

I’m not knocking the Sixers, because the bottom line is that, in the playoffs, the only statistic that matters is how many games you win.

And in this series, the Sixers have won just as many games as the Celtics and are heading to a Game 7.

It’s just that few things about the way things have played out so far make sense.

A lot of people will break down Game 7 and tell what’s supposed to happen.

And most of them will conclude that the Celtics will win and move on to the Eastern Conference finals.

But they don’t know. They won’t be making more than educated guesses based on reading a book written in an undecipherable language.

Precedent says that the Celtics have been here before, are at home and should win.

Precedent has meant nothing in this series.

"It’s been a tough series," Celtics forward Kevin Garnett said. "It’s down to a Game 7. We’ve played well at times. They’ve played well at times.

“But now, we’ll take it home and see what we can do."

Contact John Smallwood at smallwj@philly.com. For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/johnsmallwood.

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