Perhaps the talkative Doug Collins said a few words too many in his pregame meeting with the media, and it may have motivated the Celtics into an impressive wire-to-wire victory.
Collins told reporters at TD Garden that because Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry, and Paul Pierce had logged an abundance of NBA minutes over their 10-plus-year careers, that his youthful 76ers should be the more energetic and more passionate club Saturday night.
Doc Rivers said he agreed with Collins’s assessment, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t relay that message to his crew before they dismantled the 76ers, 92-79. The veterans took Collins’s opinion as a challenge to their pride and manhood, and they played like a team upset about a close loss the previous night and motivated about their guile being doubted.
“Well one thing they don’t keep track of is heart and [guts],” said forward Kevin Garnett, whose 23 minutes Saturday increased his career total to 51,175 minutes. “You can monitor all the minutes you want, but you can’t monitor someone’s drive, what fuels them and motivates them.
“So Doc came in and gave us [Collins’s statements]. Doc’s the best at getting the best out of us in certain ways. Tonight’s no different from that.”
Despite an exhausting 95-94 overtime loss in Philadelphia on Friday, the Celtics returned home motivated for payback, ignoring their weariness for one of their most complete victories of the season.
Rajon Rondo responded from his Friday triple-double with 7 points, 9 rebounds, and 11 assists while Garnett added 19 points as the Celtics shot 53.3 percent. The 76ers played two steps slow, never establishing any offensive flow and looking like the more lethargic team despite younger bodies.
The 76ers shot 39.2 percent and the combination of Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday, who teamed for 41 points Friday, finished 10-for-29 shooting.
After his team was held to sub-40 percent shooting for a second consecutive night, Collins could do nothing but eat his words.
“Deflating, you know when you’re a little tired and you don’t make shots it’s morally deflating,” he said. “And Kevin Garnett was spectacular, he was great. The difference between us right now and a team like the Celtics, the Celtics have a mental toughness born through championships and, night in and night out, being a team that has to play every single night because teams come with their best efforts. So, they mentally have an incredible approach.
“Kevin Garnett, I guarantee his legs weren’t the freshest out there tonight, but his mind was the sharpest. And that’s what we’ve got to build. But you only do it through tough competition, and going through these kinds of things. We have a lot of young people, I was proud of our guys, but Boston, they teach you what the next level is about.”
For Garnett, his emotions were mixed. While he finished 9-for-11 shooting as his jumper was falling, he finished without a rebound for the first time in nearly 16 years. He did not record a rebound on Jan. 21, 1997, while with the Timberwolves.
But that wasn’t the only statistical anomaly. Jeff Green was sparkling off the bench with 16 points in 23 minutes, yet he also didn’t collect a rebound. But the team’s balanced scoring and hot shooting compensated for the lack of rebounds.
Of course, after leading by as many as 21 in the first half, the Celtics couldn’t withstand too much prosperity in the second half. Their defense began faltering and the 76ers warmed up from the field, converting a stunning 14 of 20 shots in the third quarter as a 13-0 run reduced the Celtics’ lead to 65-57 with 1:19 left in the period.
But a 5-0 run to end the period, sparked by a long, contested jumper from Garnett, rebuilt a 13-point cushion. The 76ers wouldn’t draw closer than 13 the rest of the way.
Those same shots that swished through the hoop at Wells Fargo Center for the 76ers clanged off the rim at the Garden.
They missed 13 of 17 3-pointers, shot 23.1 percent in the first half, and recorded just three assists. Turner, so effective the previous night, finished 6 for 16 from the field for 13 points. Holiday tallied just 11 in 41 minutes.
Meanwhile, the Celtics brought the same defensive intensity from Friday’s game, forcing the 76ers into poor and contested shots, while reducing their own turnovers.
In the two games, the Celtics held the 76ers to 38.2 percent shooting.
“You shoot 53 percent and you hold a team to 39 percent, you’re going to win the game,” Rivers said. “And our shooting, our ball movement, was wonderful. But our defense was why we won. I thought the first half, going zone, man, and going back and forth was good for us.”
Rivers admitted he passed along Collins’s message.
“I don’t think anybody should be that tired this early, but Doug’s right about the one thing these games: you play each other, you split them,” Rivers said of the two-game set. “That’s basically what happened.
“When you guys asked before the game — [the veterans] played a long time and so you’re hoping they have great mental toughness. I mean, if they don’t have anything else, that’s what they should have, and they do.”