The Boston Celtics came one step closer to securing a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, ousting the 76ers 101-85 and sending the Sixers one step closer to closing up their doors for the year.
The Celtics outscored the Sixers in the second half 54-35, after the Sixers had a 3 point halftime lead. Brandon Bass outscored the Sixers himself 18-16 in the third quarter. Kevin Garnett also had a nice bounce back game, with 20 points and 6 rebounds. Rajon Rondo had himself 13 points and 14 assists as well.
Before we get into actual game observations, I have to address the elephant in the room: the officiating. No, they probably didn’t cost us the game. But yes, they didn’t help us one bit, and with a fairly evenly called game it likely would have been much closer. It wasn’t so much that the Sixers were called for bogus fouls while the Celtics weren’t called for any. It wasn’t that lopsided. Aside from the phantom call called on Evan Turner when Ryan Hollins fell down somewhat hilariously on an alley-oop attempt, the fouls called on the Sixers were fouls by the letter of the law. The problem was that all kinds of contact was allowed at the other end, especially in the second half. The first half had so few foul calls because the Celtics, quite honestly, didn’t make much contact with us. In the second, all kinds of shoves and hand-checks and audible slaps went uncalled, and I have no idea why that was the case on one end and not the other. When Boston fans recognize it, then it’s time for an evaluation.
My philosophy toward officiating is this: correctness, not consistency, is the key. I’d rather the officials call the games like they should be in the rule book, not just the same for both ends. If all officials did this, then we wouldn’t have a problem game-to-game with officiating, because everyone would know what to expect going in. That’s why I have more of a problem with the fouls not called on Boston, because they got away with tons of clear fouls that would be called by the rules. Of course, both correctness and consistency were off, but I’d rather have calls going both ways than no-calls both ways.
Anyway, let’s get into the two main reasons for the loss:
1. The Sixers’ terrible perimeter scoring
Remember when all we needed was one or two bigs to show up to win? Well, that happened in Game 5, but the perimeter players couldn’t produce to match. Elton Brand scored 19 points in what may have been his best postseason game this year (it’s in competition with Game 1 in Chicago, also a loss) – he had his midrange jumper back and looked healthier, though that might just be Brand being inconsistently energized at his old age. Spencer Hawes didn’t have an awful game for his standards, scoring 10 points on 8 shots. And Lavoy Allen chipped in with 12 points of his own.
We got the scoring needed from those guys that’s been lacking. But the guards couldn’t match. Evan Turner scored 11 on 13 shots. Lou Williams scored 9 on 10 shots. Andre Iguodala scored 8 on 10 shots. Jodie Meeks failed to score at all. Only Jrue Holiday scored more points than shots taken among the perimeter crew – but he only took 6 shots. I can’t begin to describe how backwards that is for Jrue, by the way. With no Avery Bradley for Boston, he took only 6 shots. I do have to give the Celtics defense some credit for this – in the second half, he was trapped on pretty much every opportunity in the pick-and-roll, forcing the ball out of his hands and often forcing turnovers. But he certainly could have attacked the paint in other ways. His second half no-show certainly contributed to us scoring only 35 points. And since no other perimeter players actually brought offense to the table, we stood little chance of winning. We would need a perfect defensive game, which we didn’t have.
2. Brandon Bass’ second half explosion… courtesy of Rajon Rondo
The Celtics finally did something I had kind of suggested earlier on in the series: use Paul Pierce and Ray Allen solely as decoys and floor spacers in the second half, and beat the Sixers 3-on-3 with Rondo, Garnett, and someone else. That someone else turned out to be Brandon Bass, and at times Greg Stiemsma. Allen is hurt, so his greatest contribution is going to be as a threat of what he can do. And the Sixers were determined to stop Pierce, trapping and double teaming him and forcing the ball out of his hands. Those two weren’t going to be the Sixers last night: they were determined to prevent that from happening.
But when you trap and double team, someone will get an open look. As it turned out, Bass was the guy. The Sixers, knowing that Rondo could beat Turner off the dribble pretty much whenever, decided to hedge the pick and roll with Brand or Lavoy to stop Rondo from getting into the lane. When that worked successfully, it resulted in a Rondo turnover, such as the steal by Brand in the first quarter that got Turner a fast break dunk. But when unsuccessful, it results in one defender guarding two offensive players, namely one big guarding both Garnett and Bass. The Sixers would rather give them open shots than Pierce or Allen (because 3 is worth more than 2, but you knew that already). And since Brand and Hawes are slow, the opening is actually pretty wide for Rondo to exploit. Stiemsma got 8 easy first quarter points off of that. In the second half, they primarily were burned when Thaddeus Young and Lavoy were on the court. They were able to recover to Bass on the pick-and-roll quicker than the starters, but his finishing ability plus his deftness for drawing fouls got Bass easy points near the basket. Plus, they had some nice interior passing between Bass and Stiemsma when the defense was actually able to get to one quickly, giving the other easy shot opportunities.
While Bass scored the points, you have to give credit to Rondo for getting the ball to Bass exactly where he needed it, too. On the other end, when trapped Jrue Holiday was unable to do the same.
Hopefully this broke down some of the major issues enough to help you see where we went wrong. We’ll need to correct these problems for Game 6 on Wednesday, because if not it could be the last of the season.
Topics: Andre Iguodala, Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Brandon Bass, Elton Brand, Evan Turner, Greg Stiemsma, Jodie Meeks, Jrue Holiday, Kevin Garnett, Lavoy Allen, Lou Williams, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Ryan Hollins, Spencer Hawes, Thaddeus Young