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Veteran Celtics win with old reliable: Defense

05.22.12 at 1:50 pm ET
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As 76ers center Spencer Hawes discovered Monday night, the Celtics can be intimidating when playing their usual solid team defense. (AP)

In the new Big Three era, when the moon is large, the food is prepared properly, and whatever other wacky Kevin Garnett-ism you want to use to describe the Celtics playing to their potential, there has been one constant. If unsure of the answer, let Mickael Pietrus spell it out for you:

“D-E-F-E-N-S-E,” Pietrus said. “That’s the key. When offensively things aren’t going well, you can always count on everybody to play great defense. That’s our coach’s mentality. That’s the Celtics’ mentality.”

The Celtics have finished in the top five in points allowed every year since the 2007-08 season. This year has been no different. During the regular season opponents scored 89.3 points per game against the C’s, good for second-fewest in the NBA. Through 11 games of the playoffs, Boston has allowed just 84.9 points per game. But in the first half of the pivotal Game 5 Monday night, the Celtics struggled to execute defensively and the 76ers took advantage, shooting 54.8 percent while taking a three-point lead at halftime.

“Understanding what got us here,” Garnett said about the keys to the Celtics’ success. “Riding out our defense. I think when we get erratic and we get away from being disciplined defensively, it makes it hard on us. When we stick to our principles and our schemes, it’s hard to score on us.”

What transpired over the course of the second half proved Garnett is absolutely right. The Celtics regained some semblance of control in a wildly unpredictable series with their 101-85 victory. Some analysts will point to the Celtics getting to the free throw line 17 more times than the Sixers; others will speak about Brandon Bass outscoring the entire Philly team, 18-16, in the third quarter. And those are valid reasons why Boston prevailed, but they also are anomalies.

However, the C’s defense binding together and holding the 76ers to just 35 second-half points on 37.1 percent shooting is hardly surprising. As Garnett said, it is what Boston is built on. The C’s active hands served as a catalyst to completely reverse the feel of the game. In the third quarter alone, the Sixers had six turnovers and the Celtics had four steals, turning what had been a three-point deficit into a nine-point lead entering the fourth quarter. From that point on, the Celtics never looked back.

“It’s due to their adjustments,” Elton Brand said. “The first two games they were playing our pick and roll and our drag screens a certain way, now they are playing it a different way, and it doesn’t always bode well for us to execute. We’ve been turning the ball over. They’re long and athletic, so we’ve been going into those traps.”

Added Doug Collins: “You can’t give the Celtics 11 steals. That’s 11 live-ball turnovers. That’s eight points off turnovers. That’s the difference there. … They anticipate, their big guys are very aggressive. Bass and Kevin Garnett were very big on the pick and rolls. You’ve got to be very strong with the ball. [I] didn’t think we were strong with the ball. We made a lot of one-handed passes, and you can’t play one-handed against this team. They’re just too good. Once they get into the passing lane, you can’t get that pass back.”

Going into Monday night’s game, Ray Allen was asked about the loss of Avery Bradley, who was ruled out of action due to a shoulder injury. Allen smiled and simply said, “We’ve won a lot of games with this unit.” And just like Garnett, Allen is absolutely correct — 323 victories to be exact. Before they’re finished, though, the Celtics would like that number to read 331.

“We create with defense,” Allen said after Game 5. “In this particular situation, we’re not worried about who’s scoring or who’s doing whatever on the floor. Let’s just win the game.”

Read More: 2012 NBA playoffs, 2012 Playoffs, Brandon Bass, Elton Brand
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