If you were looking to teach a clinic on what it takes to win an NBA basketball game, this would be exhibit A. The Boston Celtics, visiting the Philadelphia 76ers Wednesday night, showed what happens when you combine protecting the basketball with a powerful scoring offensive. Stunned by losing their game with Philadelphia on Monday night by one point in an anemic offensive display, the Celtics regrouped and took the crowd out of this game by the second quarter.
In Monday’s disaster in the T.D. Garden, the Celtics scored a whopping 57 points in three quarters. Wednesday night, they improved that total to 89. Three of Boston’s starters logged double-doubles: Paul Pierce, sprained MCL and all, logged 24 points and added 12 rebounds; Kevin Garnett was his ageless self again, with 27 points and 13 rebounds, and Rajon Rondo sharpened the last tine on the trident, with 23 points and 14 assists. Mickael Pietrus was strong off the bench, hitting three of four three-point shots at strategically important times and helping to give starters much needed rest.
In fact, the score wasn’t even as close as it would suggest – the starters were out of the game by the fourth quarter. Boston’s field goal percentage for the game was 52 percent, which was 11 percent better than Philadelphia’s.
During the regular season, the Celtics were 24th in the NBA in total offense efficiency; in other words, fourth from the bottom. Critics have justifiably suggested that the Celtics could be their own worst enemy if they don’t pick up their offensive output – that their margin for error is very narrow. It would appear, for the moment at least, that the Celtics have silenced those naysayers.
As to their defense last night, the Celtics had only seven turnovers all game; in fact, it was a relatively tight contest in that sense, with Philadelphia having just nine of their own. Until that time, both teams were fairly careless with the ball - Boston having committed 30 turnovers over the first two games of the series as opposed to Philadelphia’s 27. And the Celtics succeeded in holding the 76ers, who clung to a five-point lead over Boston in the first quarter, to a total of 33 during the second and third stanzas.
Along with the gutsy play of Pierce, fighting through physical adversity, Kevin Garnett was the definitive leader – his furrowed brow, animated banter, and impassioned shooting serving to coalesce the team around him – almost daring the whole of Philadelphia to take him on. It’s sufficient evidence that if you can build momentum, regardless of whose court you’re on, you’re going to be tough to defeat – particularly if you play aggressive, fundamental basketball. And the Celtics appear to see this as a trend in subsequent games. As Garnett added after the blowout, “When you beat a team like this at home, you have to expect them coming out with a lot of energy … But we’ll be ready and we’ll have a lot of energy ourselves.”
The 76ers, this humbling performance at home aside, would seem to have more work to do. Their starters have been inconsistent, with the bench trio of Thaddeus Young, Jodie Meeks and Lou Williams adding 48 of the team’s 91 points. Young led the 76ers with 22 points. Guard Jrue Holiday’s scoring from game to game has been like a sound wave with its ups and downs, and the ordinarily unflappable Andre Iguodala was thoroughly frustrated all game long – he scored only ten points. In fact, the starters scored only 36 of the team’s entire scoring output.
The 76ers job in the remaining games is to cut through the Celtics’ tight and opportunistic defense, while forcing Boston to make ill-advised shots from the outside, as they often did against Atlanta in the first round. If they don’t, Philadelphia’s in real trouble.