The Celtics have often been characterized as old, grizzled veterans - their "big three" of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce have 44 years of NBA experience among them.
But Saturday night in Game 1 of their NBA playoff series, they turned back the clock to keep pace with a quick and youthful Philadelphia 76ers squad, winning, 92-91, at Boston Garden.
In nearly a duplicate of his last game of the first round against the Atlanta Hawks, Kevin Garnett played inspired basketball, scoring 29 points (a season high),
and added eleven defensive rebounds. He also scored the Celtics' first six field goals.
Boston also received an extraordinary performance from guard Rajon Rondo, who achieved his eighth career triple-double (13 points, 12 rebounds and 17 assists).
In giving Garnett and some of the other "bigs" time to rest at key intervals in the game, Boston coach Doc Rivers' lineup changes kept the 76ers perpetually off balance - keeping their momentum going even as they rotated in a smaller lineup with three guards.
In fact, Boston proved the more nimble and opportunistic team in transition - scoring 14 points to Philadelphia's 13. Rondo and fellow guard Avery Bradley were
Bradley's defense was also a big factor, with timely takeaways and blocks late in the game holding back a potentially surging 76ers team. Another area where the Celtics excelled was in points in the paint, where they scored 38 to Philadelphia's 40. They must be steady here to win this series.
Arguably, the difference-maker in the game was in the Celtics performance on the free-throw line. They made 18 of 19 shots for a remarkable 95% from the charity stripe. For anyone who doubts that fundamentals can make a difference in the outcome of a game, they should make this contest an object lesson.
After being down by as many as thirteen points, the Celtics came out on successive scoring runs at the beginning of the second half and in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, when it counted most.
One reason the 76ers did not close out the game when it counted was the mediocre scoring performance of guard Jrue Holiday, who had been the 76ers leading scorer during the Chicago Bulls series. He missed 10 of 13 shots and was pestered on the perimeter all night long.
Though Philadelphia's versatile and offensively reliable big man Andre Iguodala scored 19 points - Holiday was conspicuous by his absence on the scoreboard. He's emblematic of this playoff-inexperienced team's inconsistency. If the 76ers have any hope to win, Holiday has to make his presence known the remainder of the series.
Kevin Garnett, following Game 1, took a measured, if not philosophical approach to the Celtics fortunes for the series: "I feel we have better basketball in us. I'm sure as the series goes on we will have no other choice but to get better. Whatever is asked of me is what I am going to do."
Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals is Monday night in Boston. The game will be televised on TNT, beginning at 7 p.m. ET.