In Game 1, the Boston Celtics turned up the defensive pressure late, the young 76ers wilted and Boston escaped with a tight win.
The Sixers were the poised team down the stretch Monday, with Jrue Holiday hitting a three, Evan Turner making a difficult scoop shot, all the Sixers playing good defense and Turner hitting free throws. Meanwhile Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen missed key jumpers and Kevin Garnett got called for a moving screen.
Philly won 82-81 and has evened the series at 1-1 heading back to the City of Brotherly Love.
Between now and Game 3, the Celtics are going to have to find a way to get consistent offense. They are going to have to find some fire and fight, they have played it cool so far. Their veteran depth was supposed to be their advantage coming in — that and the veteran poise at the end of the game — but it has been hit and miss. While their small-ball offense got them back in it Monday it was not enough at the end.
Unlike Game 1 Boston came out playing hard from the opening tip and jumped out to 9-0 lead as the started 5-5 shooting from the field. But that was the first bit of poise we saw from the 76ers all night as they settled down and fought back to be down 25-21 after first quarter, then took lead early in second quarter.
The Sixers did a good job defensively on Boston all game (really, for two games now) — the Celtics scored 24 points in the second and third quarter combined. Rajon Rondo was 4-12 shooting on the night, Brandon Bass 5-15 (12 points for him) and Paul Pierce 2-9.
For the second game in a row Garnett led the Celtics, this time with 15 points on 7-12 shooting. But Boston has to get more production from other guys, and Pierce just does not look himself with that sprained knee. Allen is not himself with ankle issues. But the points need to come from somewhere.
The Sixers led by 8 entering the fourth quarter but they were struggling to score all game as well against the Boston defense. Well, except for Holiday, he bounced back from his 3-13 shooting in Game 1 to score 18 points on 7-15, including going 4-6 from three. He was the guy that had the offense.
But at home, you knew Boston would make a run and sure enough a Garnett turnaround in the lane tied the game with 4:30 to go. It felt like Game 1 — Philly would play them close but the veteran Celtics would make the plays.
Not this time. Philly had the lucky — a Lavoy Allen turnaround 17-footer with 0.9 on the shot clock that banked in — and just the plane good (the ridiculous scoop shot by Turner in the paint). Avery Bradley (who had been out after separating his shoulder again) returned and hit a key three, but Jrue Holiday answered right back. Then Ray Allen answered back again.
The key plays down the stretch for Boston came next — Rondo missed a wide-open shot from the top of the key. Turner scored then Ray Allen missed a contested 15-foot baseline leaner. Turner made his free throws and the Celtics were down three.
That’s when Kevin Garnett got called for a moving screen that freed up Paul Pierce for a three-point attempt. It was a moving screen, KG holds and leans out into Andre Iguodala, but you almost never see that call at that point. Against the home team. Against Garnett. Boston was in disbelief.
But Philly made the plays and now will have the chance to take the lead in this series at home.
If one team can figure out how to put up consistent offense in this series, they will pull away. For 45 minutes this game was hard to watch, it felt like a 1990s Knicks game. Without the flair. We were lucky that the final three minutes had big shots and plenty of entertainment.
If at home Philly can get some more transition baskets they can make things hard on Boston. For the Celtics, the points are going to have to come from Rondo or one of the aging bodies on this team. These are two good defensive teams but we are also seeing just a lot of missed good looks.
That’s fine with Philly for a night. They won. They grew up and showed poise and now we have a real series on our hands.