BOSTON (AP) — Will the banners, the history, save the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals?
Or will the Washington Wizards, who are trying to reach the conference finals for the first time since 1979, come into TD Garden and record the first road win in 11 games this season between two teams that have exchanged all kinds of unpleasantries throughout the year?
The answer will come Monday night, when the series comes down to one game. The winner moves on to oppose the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East finals beginning Wednesday.
“We believe we should be playing against Cleveland, and beat Cleveland and go to the championship,” Boston’s Avery Bradley said.
Celtics great Bill Russell, arguably the greatest winner in the history of the four major sports, never lost one a winner-take-all game. In fact, he was 10-0 in Game 7s in the NBA and also won two NCAA titles and an Olympic gold medal — and his banner will be looking down on the Red Auerbach court for this rather important contest.
The Wizards pulled even with a 92-91 victory Friday that was easily the best game of the series. It came down to the final seconds, and the NBA admitted that the Celtics should have had an extra second for a final shot.
That can’t be fixed — so Boston, aiming for its first conference finals appearance since 2012, will have to win it at home.
This is a week that is fairly important in the current and future history of the Boston franchise. In addition to Game 7 on Monday, the draft lottery in which the Celtics will receive no worse than the fourth pick via the Brooklyn Nets is Tuesday, ahead of what they hope will be Game 1 of the conference finals against the champion Cavaliers.
The Wizards, who won Game 6 after the Celtics showed up at the arena wearing black funeral clothing, have other ideas.
They come in determined to win at TD Garden for the first time since 2014. Washington has endured eight consecutive losses, five this season, on the Celtics’ home floor.
The Wizards go as their two guards — John Wall and Bradley Beal — go. Wall has overcome some shooting droughts to be outstanding throughout, and he hit the 3-pointer that won Game 6. He is averaging 27.9 points in the playoffs, and Beal is averaging 23.8 points. Both are tough to stop.
“Now those guys are not babies anymore. They’re closers,” teammate Ian Mahinmi told the Washington Post. “They’re proven closers.”
Mimicking what the Wizards had done before a regular-season game, the Celtics wore black into the Verizon Center for Game 6, and it may have backfired and helped add fire to the home team. Still, the Wizards were facing elimination and needed a 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds left and the added drama of the final seconds to finish it off and bring it back to Boston.
“Don’t come to my city wearing all black talking about it’s a funeral,” Wall said on ESPN after that game. “We worked too hard for this.”
And there’s more work to be done by both of these teams. One will advance Monday night, the other will go home and watch.
“Man, I don’t believe in pressure,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, who has ridden an emotional and physical roller coaster while averaging 25.1 points in the playoffs. “I work too hard to be scared of any type of pressure.”