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Sevens clearly rank as No. 1

Page 2 of 2 -- The Celtics are 17-4 in Game 7s and were 14-2 at Boston Garden. They were also 4-0 in Game 5s of best-of-five series (all at the Garden), but Game 5s simply do not have the cachet of Game 7s, even though they are just as final. They just don't. Seven has turned out to be the perfect number to satisfy both the competition factor and the psyche of the American sports fan. There is a reason baseball (which started out with nine), hockey, and basketball have all settled on seven as the appropriate number to decide a series. Seven allows everything to play out fairly. When you play seven, there is little room for excuses. If you play any more, you lose some of the urgency. No, seven is absolutely perfect.

And a Game 7 is the only appropriate destination for the Celtics and Pacers, who have engaged in a series that has included three blowouts, four road victories, long stretches of domination by one team or the other, very few lead changes, the complete inability of the Celtics to play well in successive games, and a Game 6 that featured the inexplicable sight of a man with the same captain's title once carried by the likes of Russell, Havlicek and Bird engaging in a selfish and boorish mini-drama with the game's outcome resting in his hands. Paul Pierce would have to outlive Methuselah to issue sufficient thank-yous to his teammates for bailing him out in Conseco Fieldhouse Thursday night after he chose self over team with 12.9 seconds remaining in regulation in what would turn out to be a gritty Celtics' overtime triumph.

That's without even getting into his ludicrous postgame act, in which he wound a brown something-or-other across his face, looking like a cross between a guy who'd just had a tooth pulled by a pair of pliers in a Western and one of George Washington's troops at Valley Forge, and announced that he'd had his "face torn off" and that he had a "broken jaw."

This from the man who is supposed to be a team leader. I tell ya', folks, things just ain't what they used to be.

But, praise the Hoop God, a Game 7 is eternal.

The funny thing, of course, is that playing in a Game 7 means something has gone wrong. You need a Game 7 because you couldn't get the job done before that. Michael Jordan, with six rings, has no Game 7 legacy in the Finals -- don't mention him and Game 7 to Cleveland fans -- because the Bulls took care of Finals business in six or fewer every time. It may be an honor and a kick to play in a Game 7, but on the whole, you'd rather be home on the couch with a nice 4-1 triumph in the books watching some other guys duke it out in a Game 7. In other words, the Pistons are going to be relaxed televiewers tonight.

"Game 7 is a great opportunity," says Indiana coach Rick Carlisle. "You never want to play one if you can close it out earlier, but hey, this series has been very unusual. But playing in a Game 7 is one of the great opportunities you can have in this league. It's the ultimate game."

It's a game we haven't had around here for a while, and this one has its own peculiar charm. Ordinarily, you'd be hearing a lot about the value of the home court and about how this is why you play for the home-court advantage, so you can play Game 7 at home, and all that. After all, in the last 25 years, home teams are 38-5 in Game 7s.

With the road team having won the last three games, it's a different tune this time. This game could be played in Larry Bird's rec room or Danny Ainge's attic and no principal seems to think it would make much difference. This is strictly a may-the-best-team-win scenario.

"Our backs are against the wall," says Doc Rivers, "and so is theirs."

Welcome back, Seven. We've missed you.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is 

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 PISTONS, 96, PACERS 81: Pistons unrivaled in series opener
 SUNS 127, SONICS 102: Suns trample Dallas
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