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Fast Break: Rondo, Garnett help Celtics survive 76ers


If it’s possible, the Celtics [1] didn’t even play all that well, yet Rajon Rondo [2] recorded his eighth career playoff triple-double (21st overall) and Kevin Garnett [3] submitted his best back-to-back postseason performance since the 2008 NBA title run, as they escaped Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 92-91 win over the 76ers.

Rondo finished with 13 points, 17 assists and 12 rebounds (oh, and 7 turnovers) while Garnett totaled 29 points and 11 rebounds two nights after amassing 28 points and 14 boards to eliminate the Hawks in the first round.

Leading 92-91 with 3.4 seconds remaining, Doc Rivers [4] took a gamble coming out of a timeout, calling Rondo’s number. The C’s point guard ran to the backcourt and escaped a rushing defender to dribble out the clock.

Paul Pierce [5] had a dreadful shooting night (3-11 FG), but managed 14 points thanks to eight free throws. The C’s trailed by double digits in all four quarter, but outscored the Sixers 25-14 over the final 10:52 of the fourth quarter.


Still not old: Last May, two nights after Garnett totaled 28 points and 18 rebounds in the C’s lone win of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Heat, he managed just seven points (1-10 FG) in an overtime loss. The Celtics had to wonder how Garnett would respond two nights after his epic 28-point, 14-rebound Game 6 against the Hawks. This time, he picked up where he left off, scoring 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the first half alone.

Allen’s ankle: After Thursday’s Game 6 against the Hawks, Allen admitted the bone spurs in his ankle had returned to the pain level that caused him to miss Games 1 and 2 of the first round. A game-time decision prior to Game 1 of the 76ers series, Allen declared himself ready for action despite an abbreviated pregame routine. Not that it mattered, as he got his shooting in during the game. His two 3-pointers early in the second quarter kept the Celtics within striking distance of the surging Sixers. Playing 14:28 of the first half, Allen entered the break with a plus-12 rating despite the C’s trailing by five at the half, 47-42.

Small ball: Outside of starting 7-foot center Spencer Hawes [6], the next biggest guy in the Sixers playoff rotation is Elton Brand at 6-foot-9. Often, Doug Collins [7] has no other choice but to run small lineups, and that’s generally a good thing for a young, athletic team that likes to get out and run. For the final 3:25 of the first half, Doc Rivers countered by subbing Allen in for Greg Stiemsma [8], leaving a lineup of Allen, Garnett, Pierce, Rondo and Bradley on the parquet. Together, they finished the second quarter on a 10-2 run to get back into it.


Rondo-meter on low early: During a first quarter in which the Celtics scored 18 points on 6-of-20 shooting (30.0 FG%), Rondo played all 12 minutes but appeared downright disinterested at times, and the C’s trailed by 10 after one. He had three assists and one of his three first-half turnovers while shooting 0-for-2 from the field. In order to be successful against the 76ers — or anybody for that matter — the Celtics need more of the Good Rondo than Bad, as he’s one of few young, healthy players on the roster. Obviously, the best of Rondo emerged in the second half, when he totaled 11 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.

Forward thinking: The matchup with the biggest spotlight in this series is at small forward, between 34-year-old Pierce and 28-year-old Andre Iguadola. Pierce is the professional scorer and 10-time NBA All-Star, and Iguadola is a returning Second Team All-Defensive selection and first-time All-Star this season, but it was the latter who established his offensive game in the early going of this series. He scored 10 of 12 first-half points in the second half, staking the Sixers to a 47-42 advantage entering the break.

Youth serving: The Celtics are old and tired; the 76ers are young and hungry. So goes the narrative of these Eastern Conference semifinals. And so went the first two minutes of Game 1. Evan Turner [9] got the visitors going on their first possession, and in the opening 1:55 they built a 7-0 lead that stretched to as much as 13 and lasted until an Avery Bradley [10] layup 2:45 into the third quarter. While the Celtics eventually erased the deficit, nine 76ers scored in the first half, and that depth could cause the Celtics problems as the series continues.