The 76ers, with their backs against the walls, responded well enough to defeat the Celtics 82-75, forcing a winner-takes-all Game 7 up in Boston on Saturday night. Like most of the games in this series, it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing, but I don’t care at this point. I’ll gladly take more of it if we win.
The Sixers soundly outplayed the Celtics tonight, somehow, despite not really playing well themselves on one end of the court. They missed free throws, took bad shots regularly, and looked kind of awful against a Celtics team that couldn’t play their brand of physical, hand-checking defense without the support of the referees.* In the second half, the Sixers took advantage of a truckload of Celtics turnovers to generate offense and finally made their foul shots, getting just enough to pull away.
*I’ve never seen a game with Joey Crawford where you forgot he was on the floor. The only moment he had was when the assertively instructed that the shot clock not be reset at one point in the third quarter. That’s it. No technicals. Not much complaining from either side to the officials. It was a relatively tame game, and it’s nice to see the refs not get involved too much.
Jrue Holiday had his best game of the series. He drove into the lane fearlessly but smartly; he did not force any shots in the lane like he had earlier in the series. Coach Collins always talks about his players playing too fast in the halfcourt, rushing shots knowing they struggle to score. Jrue was the only perimeter player who did not look to be rushing at any point in the game, which is a rarity (he and Evan Turner are usually the leading co-conspirators). When he saw openings, he found his way into the lane. When they weren’t there, he looked for something else. It was what we all imagined he could be someday on a regular basis. It was so much fun to watch. Oh, and he hit all of his free throws.
And in a nice occurrence, Elton Brand, Evan Turner, and Spencer Hawes all had decent or better games. One of the biggest problems throughout the series for us has been getting nothing out of 3/5ths of the starting five (and getting killed against the Boston starters). Hawes hit his shots, Brand played solid all-around, and Turner’s positives tonight far outweighed his negatives. It was nice to see that yes, they can all play well at one time. You can argue that, among the starters, Andre Iguodala had by far the most struggles. On a night where the bench gave very little, the starters did their job overall.
The Sixers defense performed very well throughout the game. The team forced the Celtics to take more jumpers than they’d like, almost completely sealing off the paint – the Celtics finished with just 16 points in the paint (though Paul Pierce got there fairly often and, instead of finishing, drove and flopped for free throws). The Sixers managed 40 paint points, which was a difference too large to make up. Kevin Garnett was doubled in the post every time when he got the ball there, while without the ball he was pushed out of the paint by Elton Brand and Lavoy Allen. They forced Garnett to hit jumpers, and he did, like he always does. In fact (and I saw this on Twitter first but forgot who it was, so if I owe you credit let me know!), he did not take a single shot in the paint. Everything was between the paint and the three point line. Here’s the shot chart for the game, just scroll for Garnett’s name. He only hit 9 of 20, scoring 20 points. While not ineffective, he certainly wasn’t as effective as he has been throughout most of this series.
The biggest Celtic disappointment was Rajon Rondo. The Sixers did a wonderful job offering him different looks in the pick-and-roll game: Rondo couldn’t figure out how to attack the defense because the pick-and-roll coverage changed throughout the game, both the bigs and the guards constantly changing how they defended. Sometimes, they trapped aggressively. Other times, the guard would just go behind the screen. And on others, the defenders would switch assignments. It never stayed the same for too long, and that’s why Rondo struggled to adjust to it. The Sixers also had active hands as a team, taking away easy passing lanes. Thus, once they stopped Rondo from doing what he does, the Celtics struggled to generate offense.
Also, Allen Iverson indeed was at the game. Which is nice for him and all, especially since his name has primarily been dragged through mud this year. I was more focused on the game than anything, but he had a Lou Williams jersey on. Lou and AI are still good friends to this day. Because of course they are.
It will be difficult to keep up the pressure on the road, but that’s the task for the Sixers in Game 7. They’ll need better performances from Andre Iguodala (missed free throws, foul trouble) and Thaddeus Young (general ineffectiveness) to have a chance, but for now, enjoy that we can live in this moment. It doesn’t happen very often. Bring it on!