PHILADELPHIA — As the Philadelphia 76ers were preparing for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Boston Celtics, head coach Doug Collins showed them film of the 1982 conference finals series between the two teams.
The Sixers actually lost Game 6 at home in ’82. In fact, they were up 3-1 in the series and dropped two straight and it was the second straight year they had done that. In 1981, the Celtics came back from a 3-1 deficit in the conference finals, won by a point in Game 7, and went on to win a championship.
So as the Sixers were heading back to Boston for Game 7 in ’82, they were getting trashed by the Philly fans and media. And few believed they could win a Game 7 in the Boston Garden.
But they did. Andrew Toney earned his “Boston Strangler” nickname with 34 points, the Sixers won Game 7 by 14, and the “Beat L.A.!” chant was born.
So Collins used that tape as motivation for his team, asking them, “How bad do we want to get back to Boston and Game 7, when all the odds say that you’re not going to win a Game 7?”
Yes, the odds seem to be stacked against Philly. There have been 108 Game 7s in NBA history, and the home team has won 87 (80 percent) of them. Furthermore, the team that has won Game 6 to force Game 7 has only won the series 35 times (32 percent).
This will be the seventh Game 7 between the Celtics and Sixers, including one in 1959, when the Sixers were the Syracuse Nationals. Boston has won four of the previous six, but the last Game 7 between these two teams was that Philly win 30 years ago.
Celtics-Sixers Game 7s
Five of the six winners above went on to win the next round, with the lone exception being those ’82 Sixers. In four of the five cases, that next round was The Finals. The ’77 Sixers went on to beat the Rockets in the conference finals, but then lose to the Blazers 4-2 in The Finals.
Of course, neither Andrew Toney nor Larry Bird nor Bill Russell will have anything to do with this Game 7. This is the sixth Game 7 in the last five years for the current Boston core, and they’re 3-2 in the previous five, 3-1 at home. The lone home loss came in the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals against Orlando, with Kevin Garnett out with a knee injury. The other loss came in L.A. in the 2010 Finals, with Kendrick Perkins out.
This time, the Celtics are missing Avery Bradley. And with the way this series has gone so far, you never know what’s going to happen. Each team has a small margin of error, and one scoring drought may just determine the game.
And in case you were wondering, the record for fewest total points in a Game 7 in the shot clock era is 140, set when the Pistons beat the Cavs 79-61 in the 2006 Eastern Conference semifinals. Let’s hope these teams don’t threaten that record on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ABC).