It seems weird to say after two games that have felt like Sahara Desert of watchable offense, but going into Game 3 both Boston and Philadelphia are thinking about locking down their defense.
But that speaks to the mindsets of why these teams are here.
Boston is struggling to score with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen dragging bum legs around the court, so finding a way to get Rajon Rondo going or squeeze more points out of Kevin Garnett matters. (Is it time to use Pierce more as an at-the-arc shooting threat because of how he is moving?) But what they really need to do is find a way to cut off what Philadelphia is doing well this series — dribble penetration and getting to the line.
Jrue Holiday got in the lane and had six shots at the rim in Game 2, sparking the scoring Philadelphia got. Holiday had just as many shots at the rim as Rajon Rondo, but Holiday can also knock down the three (4-6 in Game 2) and that balance threw off the Celtics defense. Evan Turner also was creating offense off dribble penetration. It meant Philadelphia took 21 free throw attempts to Boston’s 9. (Philly had 20 free throw attempts in Game 1, also.)
It’s not that the Celtics played bad defense — they gave up just 87.2 points per 100 possessions in Game 2 — but with their offense dragging like and anchor their defense has to be better. Which means better individual defense, staying in front of their man, and in particularly it means Rondo winning his battle with Holiday by a wider gap.
Boston also needs to own the boards — Indiana grabbed the offensive rebound on 26.8 percent of their missed shots in Game 2. That will be a key stat in Game 3 because with two struggling offenses second chances like that can swing games.
Back at home, the Sixers can look for a boost from role players — Thaddeus Young has not yet found his groove this series but they need them. Lou Williams is not exactly a role player, he led the 76ers in scoring this season, but they need and expect better than 3-13 from him in Game 3.
But when they spoke they spoke about defense, specifically about not letting Pierce or Allen get in a groove. That duty again will fall to Andre Iguodala. Philly has taken away many of the easy buckets from the Celtics and if they continue to do that Boston will continue to struggle to put up points.
The biggest surprise in this series has been Lavoy Allen, the Sixers bench big man who has played good defense on Kevin Garnett and pitched in 10 points last game. If he keeps it up at home the Sixers are in a good spot.
They are in a good spot in general — Philly played Boston even on the road, showed poise and out-executed them at the end of a close Game 2, and now they come home. The pace of these games has been a little faster than Boston played this season and if Philly can up that a little more, get a few more easy transition buckets, they will be hard to beat.
There’s no reason to think Game 3 will not be a close, low-scoring affair like the last two games. But the Sixers come home after a confidence-boosting road win and if they can build on that this series could turn sharply in their favor.