Take it from someone who’s been there a couple times before: Playing in a Game 7 is a big deal, regardless of the outcome.
“I think perspective is probably a word that’s not well-used around here,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said on Wednesday, a day before the Celtics take on the Lakers in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. “You got a team that’s playing for the championship of the world — it’s a pretty amazing accomplishment in itself. [Thursday] night’s a big night. There’s a lot of cities that are very envious, I think, of where the Celtics are. I think people maybe lose sight of how enjoyable the journey can be. You don’t have to wait till it’s over to enjoy it.”
Although Francona has never had to commandeer his troops during a Game 7 of a world championship series – or a Game 5 or 6, for that matter – he knows a little something about how to rally when faced with that all-important do-or-die contest. He led the Red Sox out of a 3-1 hole in the 2007 ALCS against Cleveland, and you may remember the time his squad became just the third team in the history of professional sports to rebound from a 3-0 deficit in a seven-game series, winning the 2004 ALCS against New York.
The Celtics took a 3-2 series lead into Los Angeles on Tuesday night and walked out of the Staples Center with an 89-67 loss. They have one more chance to capture Banner No. 18 against their most bitter rivals.
It’s a storyline that certainly sounds familiar to Francona, but unfortunately, he has no advice to offer Celtics head coach Doc Rivers.
“I don’t know the difference between a zone defense and man-to-man,” Francona said. “[Rivers] doesn’t need advice. They know what they’re doing. Win or lose, they know what they’re doing.”
It’s been a while, but it is all too easy for Francona to remember those days of playing for nothing, of waiting out the last month of the season while across the diamond, the guys on the other side came to the ballpark with a light on the horizon. every day nervous and excited.
Four years before his career in Boston began, Francona spent four years at the helm in Philadelphia, where his teams compiled a 285-363 overall record, never finishing higher than third in the division.
“The thing [I remember] was when I was with the Phillies. In September on a Sunday, when everybody’s tired and you look across at the other team, they’re tired but they’re nervous,” Francona said. “There’s a reason to play, and … we’re kinda playing out the string. I hated that feeling. I just hated that feeling.”
Those teams still had something to play for, and so do the Celtics – an enviable position for an NBA team to be in on June 16, no matter the eventual outcome.
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