|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.”
Given the fact that the Celtics trailed the Sixers in the Atlantic Division for most of the season before catching them at the end and pulling away to a fifth straight division crown, everyone in Boston knew coming into this series that Philly was not going to be cream cheese or cheesesteak.
It was going to be a war, just like in the 60s and 80s, when the two archrivals battled tooth-and-nail for every loose ball and every point.
Well, two games in, two one-point decisions, one for each team.
‘That’s the playoffs,” Rajon Rondo said after the 82-81 decision claimed by the Sixers Monday night in Game 2. “It’s up and down. You’re not going to win 16 straight games so. Give them Philly a lot of credit. They are not a pushover team. They’re in the second round for a reason. Like I’ve said this is a tough series.’
Tough is one thing. Ugly is another, and more likely how Celtics fans would describe a game that had Boston score 25 points in the first quarter and just 56 the rest of the way. The Celtics started the game shooting 50 percent (11-for-22) in the first quarter. They made just 22 of their final 57, finishing at 42 percent for the game. They had 19 turnovers. Philly had 18.
‘We made some plays but they won,” Rondo said. “We give them credit. Basketball is a game of rhythms’¦ a game of runs. We made our runs, and then they made their runs.’
And Rondo never got on one himself. Which is essentially the reason the Sixers won and the Celtics lost. Rondo finished with eight points and 13 assists on 4-of-12 shooting in over 38 minutes of action. The Sixers were more physical Monday, both with Kevin Garnett (15 points, 12 rebounds) and Rondo.
Except for Game 2 against the Hawks, the 2012 playoffs for the Celtics have been about two players and two players only – Garnett and Rondo. The Sixers seemed to find somewhat of a management plan, if not a control button on Monday. And that plan involved two words: Get physical.
From the onset, the Sixers were determined to get a body on Garnett at every turn and get in Rondo’s face. Though Rondo did have six assists in the first quarter, he had just seven the rest of the way.
Rondo was asked if what could have been done to get Garnett more involved.
‘Nothing really, KG is an unselfish player. He could have taken a lot more shots than he did,’ Rondo said of Garnett’s 7-of-12 night from the field.
|Sixers in search of closer, remain positive despite fourth-quarter collapse||05.14.12 at 10:05 am ET|
This was the script Doug Collins dreamed of — his team clinging to a six-point lead, early in the fourth quarter on the road, despite multiple runs by the Celtics. His collar loosened, ever so slightly, as Lou Williams got a hand on a Ray Allen jump shot, and then pulled up in transition to bury a long-range shot of his own. Seconds later, Lavoy Allen sank a textbook baby hook shot, and the 76ers opened up a 10-point lead.
The momentum abruptly came to a halt, however, as the Celtics went on a 12-2 run over the next five minutes. The Sixers offense proved to be non-existent at the worst possible time, and suddenly, with just under five minutes left to play, Philly was trading baskets in a one-possession game with the Celtics. The lead, the security, and hopes of catching Boston off guard and stealing home court vanished.
‘I’m proud of our guys,” Collins said. “We are off to a really good start. What we needed here, coming in today on the road, we fought on some. When it is all said and done, we had a great chance to get this game today and just had four really bad offensive possessions that really hurt us.’
What may trouble Collins most is not how his team blew the lead, but who blew the lead. Going into the fourth quarter, everything appeared to be working for the 76ers. Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner had 16 points each, the Sixers forced Rajon Rondo into committing six turnovers, they outscored Boston’s bench 20-14, and they were even shooting 4-of-10 on 3-pointers.
A big question mark going into this series, though, was if Philly’s playmakers — Iguodala, Turner and Williams — could come through down the stretch. Saturday night, the answer was no. The three combined to go 2-for-10 from the field in the fourth quarter. And, as their shooting touch failed them, none were able to get to the foul line. Williams had a shot blocked, Iguodala had two of his sent the other way, and both had turnovers in critical moments. Most telling is that not one 76er scored more than four points in the fourth quarter.
‘That’s sort of the sign of a team that’s trying to grow and figure out what it is to play this kind of championship basketball in the NBA playoffs,’ Collins said.
As much as the Sixers did struggle, Rondo was great when he needed to be, atoning for an uneven night. In the final frame alone, he had six points, four assists and five boards. The assists came from Rondo pushing the ball upcourt. The Celtics scored seven of their 14 fast-break points in the fourth quarter. Perhaps the scariest aspect of Rondo’s fourth-quarter performance was each of his three field goals coming from 18 feet and out.
‘When he starts making shots, you have to honor that,’ Turner said. ‘That allows the other guys to get space. It allows [Kevin Garnett] to get on the block one-on-one with a guy, or Paul [Pierce] to iso, or for Ray [Allen].’
Said Doc Rivers: ‘I thought Rondo’s shooting, obviously, down the stretch was fantastic. He wanted those shots. We ran that play, we were going to switch Ray and put him in that spot where the guy curls back up, and Rondo wanted that play. He wanted the shot and he took it. That has to be great for his confidence.’
|Fast Break: Rondo, Garnett help Celtics survive 76ers||05.12.12 at 10:32 pm ET|
If it’s possible, the Celtics didn’t even play all that well, yet Rajon Rondo recorded his eighth career playoff triple-double (21st overall) and Kevin Garnett 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 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 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.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
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, the next biggest guy in the Sixers playoff rotation is Elton Brand at 6-foot-9. Often, Doug Collins 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, 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.
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