PHILADELPHIA - In the first two games of the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Celtics and 76ers each have won once, by 1 point, with the games characterized by defense.
As the teams prepare for Game 3 Wednesday and Game 5 Friday, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said in a Tuesday interview on WEEI radio, “We want to win both. But we have to play better. In my opinion, Philly has outplayed us in both games. We just won one of them.’’
The teams’ regular-season matchups featured blowouts and extreme scoring swings, the winning team totaling at least 99 points. Now, both teams seem comfortable with low-scoring games. Before the series, Rivers even promoted the positives of a possible 50-point production by each team.
The Celtics’ lack of offensive production in the middle quarters contributed to their 82-81 loss in Game 2 Monday.
“Basketball’s a game of runs,’’ said guard Rajon Rondo after the contest. “You’re not going to beat them, 50-0. We made our run, then they made their run. Simple as that.
“It’s the playoffs, it’s up and down, you’re not going to win 16 straight games. Give them credit, they are not a pushover team. Obviously, they’re in the second round for a reason. Like I said, this is a tough series.’’
Rondo called for “better individual, one-on-one defense. Guard the ball better, keep the ball out of the paint.’’
Rondo appeared to injure his right hand in Game 2 as he went down following a layup 22 seconds into the second half. He remained in the game for most of the third quarter but played less than eight minutes of the fourth.
Fair or foul?
With the Celtics trailing by 3 points late in Game 2, Kevin Garnett was whistled for a moving screen out of a timeout, the Sixers virtually clinching the result as two Lou Williams free throws made it 80-75.
“I will say we will do a better job executing down the stretch,’’ Garnett said.
While they’re still cursing that whistle in Boston, they’re praising it in Philadelphia. The Sixers are convinced not only that Garnett did set an illegal screen on Andre Iguodala trying to free up Paul Pierce for a 3-pointer, but that official Mike Smith had to call it.
“If a foul’s committed, it’s a foul whether it’s the first minute of the game or the last play,’’ said coach Doug Collins. “And if you don’t call it and say, ‘Let the players decide it,’ what’s that mean if a guy gets free for a 3-point shot and knocks it down?
“I never understood the mentally if it’s late in the game, don’t call it. If it’s a foul, it’s a foul.’’
That doesn’t mean the Sixers weren’t shocked to hear the whistle. Especially Iguodala.
“You never know late in the game, because they let a lot of things go,’’ said Iguodala, whose effort in fighting through Garnett’s pick might’ve triggered the call.
“When I heard the whistle, I thought it was somewhere else. But looking at the replay, it was as blatant as anything I’ve seen.
“It was the right call.’’
Depends on whom you ask.
His way of helping
Garnett had 4 points and zero personal fouls at halftime of Game 2. He finished with 16 points and five fouls. “KG’s an unselfish player,’’ Rondo said. “He could have taken a lot more shots than he did but passed up his shots to give assists, make the hockey pass.’’ . . . Avery Bradley played all but 12 seconds of the final quarter in Game 2 after departing late in the first half with a shoulder injury. “I didn’t think we’d have him,’’ said Rivers. “At halftime, they said we wouldn’t. I mean, this is the third time in two weeks the shoulder has come out. So it can’t be a good feeling. No. 1, it has to hurt like heck. The good news is, though, it did what it did in the past, where it went right back in and he got his feeling. That’s what happens when your shoulder goes out: You lose the feeling in your hand. You can’t go back until it comes back.’’
What does it mean for the Sixers to be home tonight? “It’s so much fun,’’ said veteran Elton Brand, who is making only his second trip to the second round of the playoffs. “You hear how loud they get in a lot of cities. So to experience that part of it here, having it at fever pitch every game, is exciting.’’ For Iguodala, too. “I think they were great in the Chicago series,’’ said Iguodala, who rocked the house with the free throws that clinched the first-round upset of the Bulls. “They’ll be charged up for Boston because we have a long history with them. So they’ll really be ready to go.’’Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at email@example.com.