Sixers Celtics

Boston vs. Philadelphia Game 7: First team to 80 wins?

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Game 7.

It’s usually when even veterans get tight, playing like they are afraid to make a mistake. It means in Game 7 the offensive numbers plummet — but I don’t know that they can much more in Boston vs. Philadelphia.

This has been a series about which team could find enough offense against a good defense to pull out a win. Game 7 Saturday night will be no different. Philadelphia beat Boston in Game 6 with 82 points, and the first team to 80 likely wins this game.

There are no secrets left, no magical adjustments to make, this is just about execution. We all know what both sides are going to do.

For Boston, they have to get their points inside close to the basket. Boston’s jumpers are not falling consistently, so points in the paint matter. That will mean trying to establish Kevin Garnett on the block — and this is where the extra day off between games really helps Boston. KG should be fresher, he should get down the floor fast and establish deep, early position that the Sixers have not been able to stop this series. Philly will need to have a good game (without foul trouble) from Lavoy Allen to try and counter it.

But those points inside also need to come from Rajon Rondo penetration. He can get inside, but the key is for him to finish — he has shot 63 percent in the paint in Boston’s wins in this series, 46 percent in the losses (that stat via the wise John Schuhmann at NBA.com). Watch how well he is closing out his attacks.

For Philly, they are going to have Jrue Holiday attack the paint like he did in Game 6. And if Ray Allen and his bad ankle are covering Evan Turner, you will see Philly attack with Turner (and likely a lot of Lou Williams off the bench). Boston’s defense really misses Avery Bradley’s pressure and turnovers on the perimeter and in their Game 6 win Philly exploited that with some success. They will go back to that well.

Philly also needs some points in transition — get Andre Iguodala out finishing in transition. They have the better athletes — hello Thaddeus Young — but they have been largely bottled up by Boston’s defense this series. If Philly can get some easy buckets in transition or on offensive rebounds it will be difficult for Boston to match.

You think that at home with veterans like Paul Pierce who have been on bigger stages than this the Celtics will step up. This is the kind of game the Celtics historically win.

But it really just comes down to who gets their points in the paint. And probably the first one to 80.

Brandon Bass? Yes, Brandon Bass leads Celtics to win, 3-2 series lead

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In Game 3, Doc Rivers went with a lot of small ball and not enough Brandon Bass, and after the loss said he regretted it.

Well, that worked out well.

Brandon Bass scored 18 of his 27 points in the third quarter — Bass alone outscore the Sixers 18-16 in the third — and that sparked a 101-85 win that gives the Celtics a 3-2 series lead.

“I think it all started for us on the defensive end,” Bass said after the game. “We were able to pick up our defensive intensity and it led to good offense.”

Boston did pick up its intensity in the second half, and now the question that faces the young Sixers is the same one from after Game 3 — can Philly find another gear to match what Boston has brought? They did last time, and a series where momentum has been fickle and fleeting nothing would really surprise.

Boston and Philly played a basically even first half (50-47 Sixers at the half) but that intensity really showed in the third quarter — that’s when it felt like Game 3 and Philly was overwhelmed. Boston pressured hard off the pick-and-roll (it was an aggressive show by Boston’s bigs who then recovered well), they cut off any lane to the hoop and blew up the Sixers go-to play. The result was a scrambling Philly team rushed into bad shots as the shot clock winds down and had six third-quarter turnovers.

Philly shot 32 percent in the fourth quarter as the Celtics defense kept the pressure on. They couldn’t mount a comeback. On the night both Lou Williams and Andre Iguodala were 3-10, and Evan Turner was 5-13.

Philly has to get better shots against that pressure — or get turnovers and transition points of their own — if they plan to force a deicing Game 7.

On the other end, Brandon Bass was just playing smart. He made cuts to open spaces and rolled to the hoop when the defense collapsed on a cutting Rajon Rondo. He attacked and got to the line 10 times. When he got looks at the rim it open up space for him when he caught the ball 16 feet out, and he knocked down the midrange, too.

Rondo played well — 13 points, 14 assists — but this was not Boston’s best offensive game. Kevin Garnett had a big first half and finished with 20. Paul Pierce was the focus of the Sixers defense but had 16.

In Game 6 Boston isn’t going to change who they are or what they do. Philly knows what they are going to get.

We’ll see if they can match it.

Video: Andre Iguodala buries Celtics at end of game

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For years, Philly fans have been asking Andre Iguodala to step up. Well, here you go.

Down the stretch he knocked down a beautiful stepback jumper and then a dagger three to secure the Sixers Game 4 win, tying the series up at 2-2. Both are strong, confident plays from a guy who can step up and play like one of the game’s true elites, and did when it mattered Friday night.

Sixers edge Celtics with (surprise!) balanced offense

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The Philadelphia 76ers’ 92-83 Game 4 win over the Boston Celtics may be remembered for many things: altogether brutal offensive play, defensive flurries, or even a pair of huge Andre Iguodala makes in the closing minutes of a game where points were precious.

Or, more realistically, this is exactly the kind of game that might be swept under the playoff rug altogether. Our basketball memories don’t exactly cling to these 48-minute slogs, and though this was a crucial win for a Sixers team fighting for the possibility of a potential upset, it was ultimately the kind of contest that holds more weight in narrative worth than it does in strategic or aesthetic relevance.

And if this game really is destined to be forgotten in the playoff mass, I only ask that a few important footnotes be worked into the total playoff tales of these two battle-hardened clubs. Friday night brought no revelation or reinvention, but if we cast a light on certain spots, it did offer bits of valuable affirmation.

  • The Sixers, scoring in balance: As mentioned above, Iguodala (16 points) was able to dole out the killing blows, but his late-game success provided a stark counter to his early ineffectiveness. The same could be said of Evan Turner (16 points), who was slow to start but ultimately instrumental. Or Lou Williams (15 points), who orchestrated the offense to startling effectiveness in the second half. Throw in Thaddeus Young (12 points), who functioned as the Sixers’ most productive big, and Jrue Holiday (11 points), and Philadelphia managed five double-digit scorers in a game where points were fairly rare. There was no anchor for the Sixers, save their defensive system; Iguodala may get to play the hero after laughing last, but it was the collective and persistent work of his team’s offense that finally pulled this game out. Philly’s offense may not be the most secure out there, but they managed to knock down the vaunted Boston D in the second half — a feat which shouldn’t be taken lightly.
  • The Boston Celtics are — even at their best — utterly inconsistent: The Sixers are by no means some monument to basketball stability, but their prospects also aren’t considered as seriously as Boston’s are. As such, Philly is allowed its flaws, while Boston must answer for its own. Due to prestige and familiarity, the Celtics are still regarded as something resembling an elite team; they hold the same core and the same Celtic green, and as such we’re apparently supposed to pretend that they still have a notable chance at this year’s title. It’s simply not so, and this is one area in which Boston’s regular season performance is particularly telling. These Celtics are simply too erratic to take a series against a more proficient opponent; it’s one thing to take down the Atlanta Hawks or even these Sixers, but the prospect of toppling the Heat or Pacers is incredibly slim, and the chances of beating the Spurs or Thunder even more so given Boston’s volatility.
  • Kevin Garnett’s carriage reverts to a pumpkin: KG had been among the finest performers of the postseason, and his offensive progression gave Boston’s offense a surprising buoyancy. With Garnett operating so consistently and efficiently from the block, the chronically injured Celtics were finally able to bank on the slightest offensive foundation, and build leads with something other than the strength of their ever-impressive defense. Not only did that defense break down a bit in Game 4, but so too did Garnett. KG finished the evening with nearly as many turnovers (seven) as points (nine), as the defense he anchors also ceded a ridiculous advantage to the creatively limited 76ers offense. Garnett’s hardly done yet, and if nothing else, we should expect the Celtics’ defense to bounce back in both spirit and scheme for Game 5 on their home floor. But it remains to be seen if he can hold up with such a substantial offensive workload going forward; Boston already relies on Garnett to maintain so much of their defense, and considering his wear and age, it wouldn’t be particularly surprising to see the Celtics’ star fade ever so slightly. As much of a unique joy as it’s been to see Garnett turn back the clock, these futile fights against time itself can only last so long.

Sixers’ season rests on matching energy, defense of Celtics

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Boston’s veterans came out playing in another gear in Game 3, leaving the Sixers standing by the side of the road looking confused.

Rajon Rondo got wherever he wanted on the court and was aggressive doing so on his way to 23 points and 14 assists. Kevin Garnett looked young and quick while Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes looked neither, and Garnett had 27 points. Boston blew the Sixers’ doors off and lead the series 2-1. A Boston win Friday and this series all but wrapped up.

Game 4 is all about how the young Sixers respond. Can they find that next level of energy? Can they return to a defensive focus that contains Rondo and disrupts the Celtics offensive sets? Can they take the next step of team evolution?

The Sixers talked a lot about defense on their off-day. Coach Doug Collins pulled no punches talking to CSNPhilly.com.

“We have to do a better job when Kevin Garnett is off the floor,” Collins said. “We can’t let them go to their bench and build a lead. We never got Rondo stopped all night long. He took the ball wherever he wanted to take it on the floor. We have to take the challenge that he is the guy that is going to push on the break, get the ball up the floor. He’s going to make the passes and initiating most of the stuff, so we need to take the challenge of doing a better job on him.”

The Sixers also need to get some easy buckets in transition and bump the tempo of the game up — which is hard when Rondo has 27 assists and two turnovers in the last two games. Andre Iguodala and Jrue Holiday need to take on more offense. They must do more.

Expect this game to be closer than Game 3, although Rondo and Garnett are the guys to watch, if they are getting a lot of points Philly is in trouble.

The all the Sixers have to do is out execute the Celtics at the end of a game — which they have done this series but will need to replicate if they plan to even things up.