PHOENIX (AP) — The NBA’s long regular season can be tedious, but make no mistake, it’s important.
Just ask the Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns — two teams that have home-court advantage in Game 7 of their respective NBA second-round playoffs on Sunday thanks to superior regular-season records.
The Celtics host the Milwaukee Bucks hours before the Suns host the Dallas Mavericks in what could be a drama-filled day.
“That means everything,” Celtics forward Jayson Tatum said of Game 7 in Boston. “The best atmosphere in the NBA. Games 7 are the biggest and best games. I can’t wait to be there, really.
“It’s basketball – the biggest moments, the biggest stage. What it boils down to now is going out there and having fun.
Suns All-Star guard Devin Booker echoed those sentiments.
“We’ve been working all season to get the home court advantage and get the last game in our house,” Booker said. “It’s exciting. It’s Game 7. I’ve never been in a Game 7, so it will be fun.
The Mavericks have a particularly difficult task in their game against the Suns. The home team won each of the first six games of the series, and many of those games were blowouts.
“Our fanbase is great for us, their fanbase is great for them,” Mavericks goaltender Jalen Brunson said. “Home advantage is a real thing. Respect to both fan bases, which makes it difficult for the away team.
It’s the second straight year the Mavericks have played a Game 7. Dallas lost to the Clippers in Los Angeles in last year’s contest after the visiting team won the first six games of the series.
The Celtics and Bucks have alternated wins throughout their streak. According to this pattern, it should be the Bucks’ turn to win. But there’s no doubt the Boston field will be loud and hostile on Sunday.
“For me, I just have to go play,” Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “I want my teammates to enjoy the moment.”
BUCKS AT CELTICS
Series tied 3-3. Game 7, 3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC
-NEED TO KNOW: These teams have alternated wins throughout the series, with the Bucks winning odd games and the Celtics winning even games. Road teams are 4-2 and have won each of the last three games. Boston’s Jayson Tatum and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo were spectacular. Antetokounmpo is averaging 35.3 points, 13.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists in this series, while Tatum is averaging 28.3 points, 6.3 points and 5 assists. Tatum had 46 points and Antetokounmpo 44 in the Celtics’ 108-95 Game 6 win at Milwaukee, marking only the fifth time opponents have scored at least 44 points in the same playoff game. The Celtics are 24-9 all-time in Game 7, compared to the Bucks’ 3-8.
—KEEP AN EYE ON: The 3-Point Comparison. In Boston’s three wins, the Celtics shot 41.5 percent from 3-point range and outscored the Bucks 153-57 from beyond the arc. In the Celtics’ three losses, they have a much narrower 111-102 3-point advantage and have made just 32.5 percent of their attempts.
— INJURY WATCH: Bucks F Khris Middleton has missed nine straight playoff games with a medial collateral ligament sprain in his left knee. Celtics F/C Robert Williams III has missed three straight games with pain in his surgically repaired left knee and is questionable for Game 7. “It’s a matter of pain tolerance,” said Boston coach Ime Udoka. “The pain, the swelling is down. It’s just a matter of extension, inflection, and whether the pain is essentially gone with the bone bruise. Nothing structural. It’s legitimately day to day.
— THE PRESSURE IS ON: Bucks G Grayson Allen: After delivering a 22-point explosion and 27-point performance in back-to-back games when the Bucks beat the Chicago Bulls in the first round, Allen wasn’t as effective in this streak despite entering a starting role in Game 3. He has scored a total of 23 points in his last five games and shot 2 of 14 from 3-point range during that streak. Allen shot 1 of 7 overall and scored three in Game 6.
MAVERICKS IN THE SUN
Series tied 3-3. Thu 7, 8 p.m. EDT, TNT
—NEED TO KNOW: The home team has won each of the first six games in this series, which now returns to Phoenix for the final game. Although the series was tight, the individual games were often explosive: three of the six were decided by at least 20 points. Mavs star Luka Doncic averaged over 32 points per game in the series despite shooting just 29.6 percent from 3-point range. Doncic was productive, but his supporting cast struggled on the road against the Suns. Phoenix is shooting close to 50% for the series but struggled with turnovers. Devin Booker leads the Suns with 25.5 points per game.
—KEEP AN EYE OUT: Suns PG Chris Paul. The 12-time All-Star is having a tough streak, averaging just 6.5 assists, which is well below his regular-season average. The 37-year-old has had a handful of spectacular playoff performances over the past two years and the Suns may need another on Sunday.
— INJURY WATCH: Doncic appears to have a left thigh injury but he downplayed the severity. It’s something worth watching in Game 7. Says Doncic: “I just felt like a little pop at first, then when I warmed up it was pretty good. Now it’s a little worse. But it’s nothing serious. »
—THE PRESSURE IS ON: Suns. Phoenix is trying to return to the NBA Finals for a second straight season and has the league’s best regular season record. Losing in the second round of the playoffs would be a big disappointment. Dallas doesn’t have that many expectations.
AP sportswriters Schuyler Dixon, Steve Megargee and Kyle Hightower contributed to this story.
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports