Lessons from Celtics-Sixers

Looking at the first six games to identify Game 7's deciding factors

Updated: May 26, 2012, 11:58 AM ET
By Bradford Doolittle | Basketball Prospectus
Celtics/SixersGreg M. Cooper/US PresswireThe Celtics will need a big game out of Kevin Garnett in Game 7.

The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers are gearing up for a Game 7 in a series that has been as competitive as hoped, if not always aesthetic as we'd like. It's a classic experience versus youth matchup, at least in terms of recent playoff experience. The Celtics will be playing in their sixth Game 7 during the five years of the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce-Ray Allen era. They're 3-2 so far, with the last one a defeat against the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2010 NBA Finals.

The Sixers, meanwhile, haven't been in a Game 7 since 2001, when they knocked off the Milwaukee Bucks to earn a trip to the Finals. Philly's Doug Collins has never led a team to a Game 7 as a coach and experienced only one as a player -- he scored 10 points when the Sixers knocked off Boston in the seventh game of the 1977 Eastern Conference semifinals.

For Philadelphia to overcome the experience deficit, it'll have to break some patterns in this back-and-forth series. The teams have alternated wins for six games, and the last two Boston victories have been very similar. In each case, the Celtics broke out of the defensive tug-of-war that has marked the series to put up big numbers on the offensive end.

If the Sixers can keep the Celtics' shooters from gaining confidence early, the balance swings their way. Both teams have played a number of close games in the postseason, but it's the upstart Sixers who have fared better. Philadelphia is 6-1 during the postseason in games that have been within five points during the last five minutes, and only the San Antonio Spurs have put up a better offensive efficiency in those situations. That's not really what you'd expect, but Philly's egalitarian offense has held up well during crunch time.

What else have we learned so far that might indicate how the deciding game could go? Here are five keys: