Despite not hitting their tenth field goal until the 28th minute of the game, the 76ers somehow pulled out a win, 92-83, over the Boston Celtics to even the series at 2-2 and guaranteeing at least one more home game. The final score was a swing of 27 points from the 18-point deficit the Sixers had early in the third quarter.
For much of the game, the Sixers couldn’t buy a basket even if it was for free. They got into the lane plenty but had trouble finishing, while their perimeter jumpers had the same success rate as the Sixers fans making halfcourt shots at halftime during home games. At one point in the third quarter, the 76ers’ field goal percentage was just above 20%, with failed attempts including multiple missed dunks and just two attempted threes. The Celtics started off well enough but eventually looked just like the Sixers, with sloppy turnovers and spotty execution and everything. It was an ugly game, like pretty much every Sixers playoff game has been.
But the Sixers found their offense in the fourth, from many sources but mostly from the bench, which ultimately got us the victory. For one, Lou Williams arrived! He was actually a factor the entire game, just like he was in Games 2 and 3, but he actually played well. He finally stopped forcing shots – he stayed within his game. Lou is at his best when the defense isn’t ready to guard him, on secondary breaks or coming off screens, using his speed to get an open shot or draw contact. Or, do both, as he did twice. And when surrounded by defenders, he made plays for his teammates, such as Andre Iguodala (who hit three big shots in the final minutes).
It seems simple enough, but in the first nine games of the playoffs this didn’t happen. And it only happened roughly every two or three games during the regular season, which makes Lou the enigma that he is.
The rest of the bench had a solid game, too. Thaddeus Young seemed like he was out of the game early, but his versatility paid off when the Celtics went small and the Sixers could keep him in the game without losing anything. Lavoy Allen played his usual role, frustrating Kevin Garnett and doing enough so as to not be a nuisance on offense. Doug Collins gave him help, too, and the consistent double teams resulted in Garnett’s worst playoff game of the year. And Jodie Meeks scored 9 points in just 12 minutes, including 4 game-sealing free throws, while providing the floor-spacing the Sixers desperately needed.
In summary: the Sixers had a 44-12 bench scoring advantage, which is necessary to win when the starting five goes 16-50 and generally sucks. The bench advantage the Sixers have over the Celtics finally came into play tonight, with Lou and company playing so well. It was the one area the Sixers had a clear advantage in coming into the series.
Doug Collins and his staff should be concerned with a few things after watching the tape. The paramount concern should be with Evan Turner, who somehow finished with 22 field goal attempts, 5 made baskets, and just one assist. He was like the stubborn kid who thought that he’d eventually get a shot to fall, and he just needed the chance to do it. The Sixers gave him the ball, and he took the shots, and the Celtics were perfectly okay with that. I admire the aggression – the Sixers don’t have enough players who try to get into the lane and get baskets near the rim. But there’s three problems with this. First, he looked to avoid contact. Ultimately, his field goal percentage will suffer if he attempts contested shots close to the rim with Kevin Garnett defending the area, because his odds of converting are low. And when he’s not trying to get hit, those forays into the lane will usually come up with nothing. Second, when he could not penetrate as far inside as he would like, he pulled up for a contested jumper. Evan missed each of his jumpers – and Herb Magee sadly does not give refunds. Finally, Evan didn’t get his teammates involved as much as he should have. When you get that kind of dribble penetration and have the defense collapsing around you, there will be open shooters. Only three times did I see him drive and kick. Lavoy Allen and Spencer Hawes each missed one jumper off of a Turner pass, while the other pass came out of a swarming double team and went right by Hawes (who decided that he would rather not reach for it). All in all, his voyage to the rim was doomed to fail from the start. Luckily, the Sixers stopped force-feeding Turner late and found 31 fourth quarter points.
Elton Brand and Hawes combined for 4 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, and no blocks in 31 minutes. The Sixers need to seriously consider starting Lavoy Allen in Game 5, unless they want to start the game down by double digits again.
Meanwhile for the Celtics, Paul Pierce had another good game at the expense of Andre Iguodala. Obviously, they’ve found something to help get Pierce open. I noticed they often used Pierce and Ray Allen as screeners for each other, forcing the Sixers to switch or give them a bit of space to operate. The Sixers as a whole, along with Iguodala himself, need to clamp down on Pierce. If he keeps having games like this, the Celtics will likely win the series.
I would not advise the Sixers go down this path again, spotting the Celtics two touchdowns and expecting to come back again. But tonight even in wandering down this path they saved their season, renewing hope that they can pull off yet another upset. And ultimately winning is all that counts.