Guess what? The Celtics couldn’t impose their will on the 76ers.
It was all set up for a rousing comeback victory that would have vindicated the prevailing theory that if it turns out to be a close game, well, of course, the wily, ring-laden Celtics will prevail. Isn’t that what happened in Game 1?
Nice theory. But the reality is that the teams are heading to Philadelphia tied at 1-1 after the 76ers pulled out an impressive 82-81 victory at TD Garden Monday night.
Anything that passed for legit playoff basketball was compressed into the fourth quarter. What preceded the final 12 minutes of play was three periods of what very well may have been the worst playoff game the Celtics have been involved in. I’m talking pre-24 second clock, pre-Cousy, pre-Auerbach and perhaps even pre-peach basket. It was a stunning level of mutual ineptitude. I can just imagine David Stern watching this atrocity at home and making a phone call to see if the TNT signal could perhaps be scrambled. God forbid anyone in the global viewing audience might actually confuse this swill with NBA basketball.
Exaggeration? How about the Celtics scoring a combined 24 points in the middle two periods? How about it taking 33 minutes and 23 seconds before someone reached 50 points (for the record, it was the Sixers). How about the teams combining to miss 60 shots midway through the third period?
The fourth quarter was something else entirely. It was the real deal, with the Celtics, trailing by a 57-49 score coming in, scoring 32 points while performing at a completely different level. You might as well consider it a different sport.
But they could not break the Sixers, who never allowed the Celtics to lead by more than a point (72-71 and 75-74), and who had the appropriate responses in crunch time. Specifically, we’re talking about a Jrue Holiday icy three to restore the lead at 74-72 in advance of a typical Ray Allen three, and we’re talking about the actual game-winner, a manly, get-out-of-my-way drive to the hoop by Evan Turner, who cradled the ball en route to the hoop and muscled it off the glass to put Philly up by a 76-75 score with 40.4 seconds to play.
“You play a game like that, and it’s worth 10 regular-season games in experience,’’ said 76ers coach Doug Collins. “Everyone gave a great effort and we found a way to win the game. All season long we couldn’t win these games, and it was fun to watch.’’
The game certainly didn’t start out very well for the visitors. The Celtics were smart and aggressive, hitting their first five shots while moving to leads of 9-0 and 15-7. All right, it’s the NBA and a 9-point lead with 44 minutes to go isn’t exactly insurmountable.
It was, in fact, very easy for the Sixers to erase because the Celtics forgot all the good things they had done in those opening few minutes, lapsing into an extended period of truly ugly basketball, only occasionally punctuated by anything resembling quality team offensive play. Simply put, the Celtics stopped moving the ball.
But the Sixers weren’t much better. How’s this for a second quarter? Philadelphia 15, Boston 13. One can only imagine what might have been going through the minds of Russell, Havlicek, Bird, McHale, Parish, Greer, Cunningham, Cheeks, Jones, Walker and the score of hallowed Warriors, 76ers, and Celtics who made the Boston-Philly rivalry one of the great ongoing confrontations in NBA history.
Funny. Neither Collins nor Doc Rivers apologized to the international public for presiding over such garbage. They probably thought it was all about good defense. Coaches are like that.
Well, of course there was some good defense. The Sixers put a stop to the Kevin Garnett dominance, holding KG to 15 points, the preponderance coming in the fourth quarter. “We put some strength on him,’’ Collins explained, citing 7-foot Spencer Hawes and the burly 6-10 Lavoy Allen, the latter not only giving the Sixers a solid 10-point, eight-rebound bench effort, but also making an amazingly improbable shot that loomed very large in this 1-point game.
It came with 4:10 to go and the score tied at 65-65. Paul Pierce had just blocked a shot out of bounds in front of the Boston bench, leaving the Sixers nine-10ths of a second to get off a shot. The ball came to Allen, who fired it up and banked it home cleanly. It was a gift from the Hoop God for the Sixers and a gimme-a-break moment for the Celtics.
Celtics fans will no doubt bemoan a key call that went against the team with 10 seconds to go. The Celtics were trailing by 3 with the ball when referee Michael Smith called a foul on Garnett, who was setting a pick. It was the third such call made against KG in the game.
Rivers noted that other people might also have set some moving picks during the course of the game, but he was quick to say his team did not deserve any sympathy. “Listen,’’ he said, “we put ourselves in that position, and when you put yourself in a position to let someone else do something, then you lose games.’’
Collins pointed out his team is reaping the benefit of a closing schedule that forced it to grow up quickly. “We’ve played some of our best games on the road,’’ he said. “We lost our last home game on Fan Appreciation Night and then won four of our last five to get into the playoffs.’’
Rivers made it clear that the Sixers are a formidable foe. “We played Game 1 at home, but we stole the game,’’ he declared. “That had to give them confidence.’’
The talk shows, the Twitterers, and the various Social Media folk doubtless will start screaming, “How could they lose at home to the 76ers?’’ People should realize that playoff series aren’t always nice and clean, that for 66 years NBA teams have been losing at home and winning on the road. What the Sixers demonstrated was just how much they’ve grown in the past month. Beating the Bulls, no matter who was or wasn’t playing, bolstered their self-esteem.
So it’s now officially a playoff series. Nothing wrong with that.
But guys, please. No more of that nonsense we saw in the first three periods. That wasn’t pretty.