Post Up: Back to Boston

by May 24, 2012

by Eldon Khorshidi | @eldonadam

Sixers 82, Celtics 75 (Series tied 3-3)

In a win-or-it’s-over setting, with hometown heroes in attendance and their backs against the wall, the resilient, 8th-seed Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Boston Celtics 82-75, tying the series at three games apiece and forcing a deciding Game 7 Saturday in Boston.

In signature fashion, Philly used a collective, assembly-line effort to achieve victory, as five Sixers scored in double figures. Jrue Holiday contributed a team-high 20 points and dished 6 assists, Evan Turner posted 12 points and 9 rebounds, Andre Iguodala chipped in 12, Lou Williams scored 11 off the bench and the ageless Elton Brand added 13 points and 10 boards to round out the balanced attack. With the victory, the Sixers continued their recent trend of bouncing-back, improving their record to 5-0 this postseason following a loss.

Considering what the Celtics have shown us in these playoffs—that they can’t win consecutive games, that they’ll almost certainly lose if Rajon Rondo doesn’t play extraordinarily well, that they have a knack for capturing, but never maintaining, greatness—last night’s outcome didn’t send shockwaves across America. Philly is focused, fearless and capable. Couple Boston’s inconsistency with Philly’s us-against-the-world mindset, and you could argue the Sixers winning Game 6 was a foregone conclusion.

(That being said, the last paragraph doesn’t absolve the Celtics from anything. I mean, this a team with championship experience, three future Hall of Famer’s and arguably the best point guard/head coach in the NBA. For teams capable of winning the title, negative trends are usually transient obstacles. But if the Celtics survive Saturday, can we truly believe they’ll breakthrough and buck their habit of inconsistent play, especially against a tougher opponent? Thus far, I’ve seen nothing to convince to me.)

Even if you thought Game 7 was inevitable, last night Philly played so poorly that it seemingly did everything in its power to lose Game 6 and call it a season. The Sixers shot 40 percent in the first half, went 1-9 from 3-point range, committed 12 turnovers and missed an inexcusable 11 free throws (17-28). If the Celtics were able to capitalize even in the slightest and establish just one mini-run, they could’ve (and should’ve) won the game.

But Boston accomplished something very difficult — they played even worse! The Celtics shot 33 percent from the field (26-78), went 3-14 from 3-point range and committed 17 turnovers. Aside from Paul Pierce, who scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, the Celtics couldn’t muster up any offense all game.

Mr. All-Boston-Everything, Rajon Rondo, was limited to 9 points (4-14) and only 6 assists. Game 5 hero Brandon Bass shot just 2-12. Kevin Garnett scored a deceptive (in a not-so-good way; more on this in a minute) 20 points, and the Celtics bench tallied a total of 5 points, all courtesy of Mickael Pietrus (whose sole role is to provide scoring off the bench). In Pietrus’ defense, he only played 35 minutes.

Despite Boston shooting 19-60 through three quarters, the Sixers weren’t eager to create any breathing room. Nope! At the start of the fourth quarter, the Celtics were within four (!?), and for a moment seemed like they could steal the series-clinching game. But mid-way through the fourth, Jrue Holiday sparked a 7-0 run with a turn-around jumper and a driving layup, and Lou Williams converted on a floater to put Sixers in front 70-59 with 7:15 remaining, effectively sealing the victory. All night, the Celtics just didn’t have an answer for their own problems, while the Sixers (who played poorly themselves), you could say, played vicariously through The Answer.

Philly natives were abound — Kevin Hart, Meek Mill, LeSean McCoy and countless others were all in the building. But it was Sixers legend Allen Iverson who was deservedly the center of attention, presenting the game ball before tipoff, garnering an insanely loud standing ovation and “MVP” chants. At the start of the contest, the 20-thousand-plus were on their feet for AI, and by the end, they were still standing, cheering for Holiday, Turner, Iguodala and the rest for keeping the 8th-seeded Sixers alive for at least one more game.

Now, back to Kevin Garnett. KG scored 20 points on 9-20 shooting, but did so while straying from his bread and butter — doing work in the paint. According to Elias, all 20 of Garnett’s field goal attempts in Game 6 were from 10 feet and further, with an average distance of 17 feet. The 20 attempts from 10-plus feet are four more than Garnett’s previous high with the Celtics. Prior to last night, Garnett played in 126 games with the Celtics with at least 15 field goal attempts. In all of those games, he had at least one shot inside of 10 feet. But not last night. The Sixers, on the other hand, dominated around the basket, shooting 63 percent from inside five feet, their best rate so far in this series. Not a good look, Boston.

As we exhale and put the series in perspective, Game 6 is in the books and over with. Philly took care of business in a must-win at home, but now it’s on to the next one. For all the (well-deserved) criticism the Celtics have gotten, it goes without saying that they will be ready come Saturday. KG, Rondo, Ray, Truth and Doc are the favorites simply based off championship experience and home-court, but as evidenced in Game 2, the Sixers can win in Beantown. One last unsettling stat (if you’re a Celtics fan): After last night, the “Big 3” dropped to 2-13 on the road in close-out games. And if they falter on Saturday night, Pierce, Garnett, Allen and Rondo could very well be playing their last game together. Now that’s a sad/scary thought.

Will the Celtics regroup and restore order, or will Philly advance to the Conference Finals for the first time since 2001? My early inclination is that Rondo rebounds from a poor Game 6 and goes off in Game 7, setting guys up flawlessly and scoring at will, possibly recording his ninth career playoff triple-double to help Boston command the last five minutes of the game and emerge with the victory. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from this capable, upstart 8th seed, it’s that they are irreverent towards expectations and the “natural order of things.” Buckle up, everyone. It’s Game 7.