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Having failed in the first of two opportunities to extinguish LeBron James’ amazing string of seven consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, the Boston Celtics have one more opportunity.
Which will come in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday night at TD Garden (8:30, ESPN).
With one game to play with a trip to the Finals up for grabs, the Celtics, despite a 109-99 loss in Game 6 on Friday night at Quicken Loans Arena, remain confident, but know a battle will have to be fought and won to move to a perfect 11-0 at home in the playoffs.
“It’s about just winning the game now,” Marcus Smart said after watching James erupt for 46 points, 11 boards, nine dimes, three steals and a blocked shot in 46 minutes in Game 6. “It’s not going to be pretty. You got to be able to get down and get dirty. You can’t go out and try to look pretty. You have to be ready for a dogfight.
“We got to be ready to come up with our nose bloodied, we got to be ready to come out with our mouth bloodied, we have to come out ready to fight.”
Boston point guard Terry Rozier, who led the Celtics with 28 point on 10-of-16 shooting, relishes the opportunity to play for a trip to the Finals.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun, first and foremost,” he said. “Obviously, we came up short tonight. But we need the whole city of Boston to be behind us. We know LeBron is different than a lot of other guys, but we’ve got to get the job done. That’s no excuse, so we’re looking forward to it.”
Though the Celtics are unbeaten in these playoffs, Rozier said simply relying on playing at home will not be enough to win Game 7.
“We can’t just rely on us being at home for an excuse that it’s going to be easy. It’s not,” Rozier said. “But, like I said, we’re looking forward to it. We’ve got to come out aggressive, and we’ve got to make things happen.”
Boston big man Al Horford, the focal point of a revitalized Cleveland defense, went scoreless in the first half Friday night, missing the four shots he was able to get off. Horford finished with six points on 2-of-8 shooting.
“If you were watching the game, I was getting doubled as soon as I caught the ball,” Horford said. “Every time. I didn’t really have one-on-one position. So they did a good job of really doubling me and making it hard.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens remains confident in his team’s chances.
“This group is resilient,” Stevens said. “We’ll be ready to go on Sunday.”