|Irish Coffee: How this Celtics team fares in Game 7’s||05.24.12 at 1:03 pm ET|
The last and only time Mickael Pietrus played in a Game 7, he played for the Magic and scored 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting (3-3 3P) in a 101-82 blowout of the Celtics in the Garden to win the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals. (Our own Paul Flannery reminds us of the similarities between that series and this one.)
Keyon Dooling hasn’t played in a Game 7 since 2005, when he scored six points on 3-of-6 shooting coming off the bench for the Heat in an 88-82 loss to the Pistons during the Eastern Conference finals. Greg Stiemsma, Ryan Hollins and even Brandon Bass have never played a Game 7, not that it matters much.
How the Celtics fare in Game 7 of this Eastern Conference semifinals against the 76ers depends on how well the Big Four perform. Pietrus should start for Ray Allen, but Doc Rivers probably puts this game in the hands of Allen, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Ganett and Paul Pierce. And who could blame him? After five seasons, 85 playoff games and 50 postseason victories together, they’ve gotten him this far.
Between them, Allen, Rondo, Garnett and Pierce have played 12 playoff games with the series up for grabs, including five as a unit since the 2008 NBA title run (Garnett’s 2009 knee injury cost him two of those). They’re 3-4 as individuals, and 3-2 together — the 2010 NBA finals Game 7 loss to the Lakers freshest in all their minds.
Perhaps how those four have fared in those previous 12 win-or-go-home playoff contests (Garnett, Allen and Pierce each played a Game 5 before the NBA abolished five-game, first-round series in 2003) will offer a glimpse of what to expect in their 13th and perhaps final Game 7 together, on Saturday night against the Sixers in Boston.
|Kevin Garnett on Game 7: ‘We’ve been here before’||at 1:06 am ET|
PHILADELPHIA — Kevin Garnett spoke about Philadelphia’s fans after a Game 5 win in Boston. On Wednesday, following an 82-75 loss to the Sixers in Game 6, Garnett made another proclamation of sorts for Game 7 Saturday in Boston.
“Win or go home,” Garnett said when asked about the team’s mindset heading into a do-or-die Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. “Confidence is very high. We’ve been here before, very experienced. All out, nothing less.”
Indeed, the Celtics have played in five Game 7s in the Big Three era of Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. They are 3-2 in those previous five, beating Atlanta and Cleveland on their way to the title in 2008. They beat the Bulls in seven in the first round in 2009 before losing the next round to the Magic in Game 7 at the Garden. With a chance at an 18th banner in 2010, they lost Game 7 of the NBA finals in Los Angeles to the Lakers.
“Game 7s are what they are,” coach Doc Rivers said. “It’s nice we have it at home, but you have to go get it still. At the end of the day, you have to go play. You can’t just rely on that we’re at home. I do like that we have an extra day. I think that helps us a little bit.”
“It’s only a couple of us that have been in Game 7s, so we’re not going to go on the history,” Rajon Rondo added. “This is a new series, a new group of guys that are going head to head and it’s been back and forth the entire series so it’s going to be a tough one at home.”
Neither team has managed consecutive victories in the series as the Celtics and Sixers have alternated wins in the first six games. If the trend continues, the Celtics will advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in five years.
The Celtics will play the Sixers on Saturday at TD Garden. If the Pacers force a seventh game against the Heat with a Game 6 win Thursday, the Celtics and Sixers tip off at 5 p.m. on Saturday. If Miami advances on Thursday, then the Celtics tip off at 8 p.m. Saturday.
|Tom Thibodeau on D&C: Celtics are winning because of confidence, intensity||05.23.12 at 10:29 am ET|
Appearing on Dennis & Callahan on Wednesday morning, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said the Celtics are in good position to record another finals appearance thanks to an intensity that is helping defensive pressure. He also said health, confidence, intensity, Doc Rivers and Rajon Rondo have been contributing to Boston’s success.
“Right at the start of the game you could see the intensity in the Celtics and I thought they were so aggressive and I think that’s part of their understanding of how important that game was,” said Thibodeau, a former Celtics assistant. “And you know the one thing, the one thing that they’ve done well, they’ve gotten into the Sixers pretty well. The Sixers, during the course of the season, rarely turned the ball over and [the Celtics have] been able to force turnovers against them and they’ve also kept their own turnovers now, which I think is a huge plus for them.
“I think the intensity of the defense dictates a lot. And if you can get some easy baskets off your defense than that can allow you to go on a quick run.”
Thibodeau also said confidence has been a large factor in Boston’s success this postseason.
“You have two teams that are extremely well-balanced, basically slugging it out, and I think the Celtics right now are playing with a lot of confidence,” he said.
Confidence and intensity may be two of the biggest assets the Celtics have at the moment, but Thibodeau added staying healthy is the biggest key.
“Well, the Celtics have everything that you need,” Thibodeau said. “The biggest thing is going to be health, and you guys already hit on that. How healthy can they be? That goes for everybody, and things can change quickly.”
|Fast Break: Celtics collapse in second half, 76ers even series||05.18.12 at 10:53 pm ET|
The Celtics scored the first 14 points of Game 4 and had a 15-point lead at halftime, but they failed to keep that momentum in the second half, as the 76ers came back to win, 92-83, evening up the series at two games apiece. For the 76ers, Andre Iguodala scored 16 points. Paul Pierce had 24 points (8-of-13 shooting) and Rajon Rondo had 15 points to go along with 15 assists. The Celtics look to regain control of the series Game 5 on Monday night back at the Garden.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Benched: Doc Rivers looked to his bench to hold the fort after the Celtics built a 22-8 lead midway through the first quarter. Things quickly went awry — Philly went on a 10-2 run to pull within six, 24-18. Rondo stopped the bleeding with an old-fashioned three-point play, and the Celtics closed the half on a 22-13 run, taking a 15-point lead into halftime. While the lead was re-established, Rivers would have preferred not to have had the starters expend more energy.
Foul play: The 76ers should have been in contention all night with the lopsided free throw advantage they had. In the first half, Boston took five free throws to Philly’s 21, but the Sixers only hit 13 of those attempts. In the second, half Rivers was forced to go back to his bench after three starters — Brandon Bass, Avery Bradley and Rondo — had four fouls midway through the third quarter. Philly finished with a season-high 34 free throw attempts.
Board to death: The refs certainly didn’t help Boston’s cause, and the validity of the free throw differential is up for debate, but the C’s should have been more focused on the glass. Neither team had been dominant rebounding the ball until Friday night, when the Sixers had 12 offensive boards through the third quarter. This was critical because the Celtics held Philly to just 32.8 percent shooting but the 76ers were able to have multiple chances at the basket because of their rebounding advantage. Philly finished with 17 offensive rebounds. Meanwhile, the Celtics only had five.
Half the battle: As great as the Celtics were in the first half, they failed to score a field goal in the first seven minutes of the second half. To their credit, the Sixers battled and clawed their way back from an 18-point deficit to tie the game in the opening stages of the fourth quarter. From that point on, the game would be a back-and-forth battle. These scoring droughts from the C’s are nothing new but are still staggering to watch, especially after they displayed incredible efficiency in the first quarter.
Of course, it wasn’t just the offense. The aforementioned rebounding and free throw disparities hurt Boston. Additionally, the Sixers finally flexed their youth, outscoring the Celtics 27-13 in fast break points. Finally, the C’s committed 17 turnovers (including seven from Kevin Garnett alone).
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Going for the kill: What was more impressive: The C’s scoring the game’s first 14 points, or the fact they only allowed Philly eight shot attempts (the Sixers only hit one) to their 16 shot attempts through five minutes of action? It has been difficult to differentiate between good defense versus bad offense during the lockout-shortened season, but this was a case of the former. The Celtics were relentless in their defensive approach, specifically Rondo and Bradley. Offensively, Boston started the game shooting 7-of-8 from the field. It was clear, the Celtics wanted no part of coming back to Philly for a Game 6.
The maestro: The C’s early dominance was largely because of Rondo’s performance. For the second straight game, Rondo played in complete control, dominating all facets of the contest. He had four assists in the first four minutes, took wise risks defensively, and controlled the pacing. He finished the first half scoring nine points (4-of-6 shooting) to go along with nine assists.
Gone fishin': Bass had a great regular season for the C’s — first as a reserve off the bench, then as a starter — but he has had an uneven playoffs. In Game 3, Bass showed signs of coming to life, scoring 10 points on 5-of-10 shooting. That confidence carried over into Game 4. In the first half, the 27 year-old scored 13 points, only one point shy of his previous playoff high, knocking down five of the seven shots he took. Bass only had one basket in the second half, however, and finished with 15 points.
|Irish Coffee: Philly Fat Albert, the truffle shuffle and five Celtics statistics you didn’t know||05.17.12 at 11:03 am ET|
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Celtics‘ Game 3 dismantling of the Sixers was their ability to make 22-of-28 free throws — including 11-of-14 from a Paul Pierce determined to get his points any way possible — in the face of true adversity: Philly Fat Albert doing the truffle shuffle (h/t @GethinCoolbaugh).
“Paul is just a grinder,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers told reporters in Philadelphia after his team’s most complete performance of the playoffs, a 107-91 victory that gave his team a 2-1 Eastern Conference semifinals lead. “He really is. You look at him at times and you wonder, ‘How is this guy getting open?’ He just has great fundamentals. He never does it with speed. He just knows how to play basketball.
“He’s a throwback guy,” added Rivers. “He just knows how to play basketball. We jokingly call him our ‘professional scorer,’ and that’s what he is in a lot of ways. … I think guys like Paul and the Kobe [Bryants], they have something in their minds that just makes them who they are.”
Even if it means staring at 400 pounds of Philly flesh full of cheesesteaks and pretzels. (Well, there is a lot of culture there.) In all seriousness, here’s five stats that make the C’s performance that much more remarkable.
|Irish Coffee: The day a nobody stopped Kevin Garnett||05.15.12 at 1:35 pm ET|
Kevin Garnett was coming off a two-game stretch in which he totaled 57 points on 39 shots, 25 rebounds and eight blocks while putting the finishing touches on the Hawks and painting a new masterpiece agains the 76ers, so why did the Celtics wait until it was too late to get their center involved again?
“Maybe we weren’t a smart team or a well-coached team, because that was obviously the game plan to go there,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Tuesday on WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan Morning Show. “We were in transition a lot and never really got into our sets. That happens in games. You see it all the time, but it just took too long to get into it. It took too long to establish it. We used timeouts to get into it — we just never did.”
Garnett made his first two shots, an 11-footer 17 seconds in and a 16-footer 2:48 into the first quarter, capping the C’s 5-for-5 shooting stretch that gave them an 11-3 start. And they turned to him once over the next 26:54.
“KG’s an unselfish player,” said Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, who recorded 13 assists, but only two to Garnett — including one on the meaningless 3-pointer at the buzzer that resulted in the 82-81 final score. “He could’ve taken a lot more shots than he did, but he passed up his shots to get the assist or made the hockey pass. In the fourth quarter, over the stretch, when KG had it going, we just kept feeding him.”
As if flipping a switch, the Celtics leaned on Garnett in the fourth quarter. He made 5-of-7 shots and scored 11 of his 15 points, grabbing four rebounds and dishing out two assists, while playing the final 12 minutes. In the span of a minute midway through the quarter, he made an 18-foot jumper to cut the deficit to two on one end; then defended Jrue Holiday, altered a Louis Williams shot and grabbed the rebound on the other; and tied the game 65-65 on a turnaround in the lane back on the offensive end. In other words, he was everywhere.
“I don’t call the plays,” said Garnett. “Doc and Rondo are trying to get guys into a rhythm, trying to keep the offense flowing. That’s what it is. Whatever he asked me to do, that’s what I’m going to do.”
|Why did the Celtics intentionally foul?||at 12:02 pm ET|
Whenever there’s a discrepancy between the shot clock and game clock, NBA teams that trail by three points or less normally will play defense and try to get a stop. That was the situation the Celtics were in on Monday night, down 76-75 with 28 seconds left in Game 2 after a Ray Allen pull-up jumper misfired.
But the Sixers had a foul to give, so coach Doc Rivers instructed Rajon Rondo to intentionally foul Evan Turner with 14.4 seconds left in the game and 10 seconds left on the shot clock (the Celtics also had a foul to give). After Paul Pierce then fouled Turner again, the Sixers guard made both free throws with 12 seconds left.
“Obviously, if they didn’t have a foul to give we would’ve played the clock out,” Rivers said. “My thinking was, it would be a four-second differential. There’s no guarantee you’re going to get the rebound. By the time you rebound it’s probably three seconds, and then they have the foul to give, so they foul and now it’s down to two seconds.”
The error the Celtics made was in not fouling earlier. They let 10 seconds burn off the clock before Rivers called for the foul.
“That’s the mistake we made,” Rivers said on the Dennis & Callahan show.
It was one of several mistakes in execution the veteran Celtics made down the stretch. Most egregious was a possession with about a minute to go and the Celtics holding a one-point lead. They were trying to get Ray Allen coming off a screen, but Avery Bradley didn’t clear the corner and the play broke down, forcing Rondo to fire up a contested jump shot from the top of the key.
“It was a play we call elbow-X. We didn’t get into it,” Rivers said. “Rondo was frustrated because we didn’t get into it the correct way. Ray really was not open because the guy in the corner didn’t clear out of the way like he’s supposed to do. It was a wasted possession at a time when you can’t have one.”