BOSTON – Isaiah Thomas used to imagine what it would be like to play in a Game 7 as he watched some of the NBA’s biggest names cement their legacies on the league’s biggest stage.
The Celtics All-Star will get his first chance to do the same Monday night when Boston hosts the Washington Wizards with a trip to the Eastern Conference finals at stake.
Thomas is eager for the opportunity, but he won’t be nervous.
“I don’t believe in pressure,” Thomas said. “I’ve worked too hard to be scared of any type of pressure.”
Maybe not. But neither is a Washington team that pulled out a one-point win in Friday’s Game 6, becoming the first home team to stave off elimination on its home floor this postseason. Teams had been 0-10 during the 2017 playoffs.
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The Wizards will try to be the first team in this matchup to win on the opponent’s home floor in 2016-17. All 10 meetings this season have been won by the home team.
“A lot of guys doubted us winning (Game 6) at home,” Wizards point guard John Wall said. “The last two years we were in the playoffs we lost Game 6 here, and we just had a lot of heart.”
Monday’s winner earns an Eastern Conference finals matchup with the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers, who have been awaiting an opponent since sweeping Toronto on May 7.
For the Celtics, an opportunity to face the Cavs would validate the No. 1 seed for which Boston outlasted Cleveland in the final week of the regular season.
It would also be the Celtics’ first trip to the conference finals since 2012, the last such run made by Boston’s since-departed Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
In Washington, the drought has been much longer. The Wizards haven’t been out of the second round since 1979, when the then-Bullets beat the Spurs to advance to the NBA Finals. That series was Washington’s last time in a Game 7.
Game 7 will also – at least for now – settle the score between teams that haven’t hidden their dislike for one another. The Wizards wore all black to a regular-season matchup with Boston in January before soundly beating them.
Several Boston players showed up wearing black for Game 6, but the Celtics were unable to end the Wizards’ season.
Washington center Ian Mahinmi, who was part of the 2014 Indiana Pacers team that eliminated Washington in the East semifinals, said Wall and Bradley Beal have matured a lot since then.
“Now, those guys are not babies anymore,” Mahinmi said. “They are closers. They are proven closers.”
The Wizards are 6-2 in the playoffs when Wall and Beal combine for 50 or more points. They combined for 59 in Game 6.
Thomas has received advice this postseason from Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce after the Wizards won Game 4.
Pierce’s advice was ringing in his ears Sunday.
“Winning’s hard, it’s not for everybody,” Thomas recalled Pierce telling him. “If it was easy, it would be.”