Celtics’ offense breaks through in rout of Sixers
PHILADELPHIA - There has been much more ebb than flow to the Celtics’ offense during the Eastern Conference semifinals. But the tide turned with a tsunami-like 32-point fourth quarter in Game 2 and continued in a 107-91 win over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 3 Wednesday night.
The Celtics regrouped after two mediocre performances, taking a 2-1 series lead going into Friday’s Game 4.
They did it by tweaking offensive sets to free up Kevin Garnett (27 points, 13 rebounds) and following the lead of a refocused Paul Pierce (24 points, 12 rebounds) and Rajon Rondo (23 points, 14 assists).
And whatever the Celtics did, they made certain to do it quickly and precisely.
“We made shots, and when you make shots everything looks better,’’ coach Doc Rivers said. “It’s a make-miss league, it always will be, and we made some shots. But I thought we got shots the right way.’’
After slogging through most of Game 2, in which Garnett went more than 30 minutes without a field goal, the Celtics went to him on the low post early and often. Rondo scored all of his points in the opening three quarters and committed only one turnover - in the first minute.
“I thought Rondo was extremely serious in shootaround this morning,’’ Rivers said. “I thought he really set the tone for our mental approach and that’s what we need to stay in.’’
The Celtics led by as many as 25 points in the third quarter and increased the edge to 27 late in the game.
The Celtics’ scoring was also a byproduct of tenacious defending - more than a third of their points through the opening three quarters came in transition.
“We got stops and multiple stops,’’ Rivers said. “Like I said before the series, we want to run. We don’t want them to run but it’s not like we don’t want to run. And we got a lot of stops, which allowed us to get easy baskets. You need easy baskets in this series because both teams are great defensively. In the fourth quarter, they started running a little more on us, which we need to take care of. I thought we got back, which allowed our defense to set, and I think that’s huge for us.’’
The Sixers shot 13 for 21 (61.9 percent) in taking a 33-28 first-quarter lead. The Celtics topped that percentage with a 13-for-20 (65 percent) second quarter, and led, 60-49, at halftime, then stretched the advantage to 89-66 after three quarters.
The Celtics also shot 11 for 15 from the foul line in the opening half, finishing 22 for 28, a significant improvement on their nine-attempt free throw output in Game 2.
“Strategically, we changed up some things and it worked out for the most part,’’ Garnett said. “They came out really aggressive and, for the most part, we stayed in our strategies. Our defense was the real reason we were able to get baskets. We turned stops into easy points and layups and offense.’’
The Celtics opened the second half with an 11-2 run. A Rondo transition banker upped the lead to 71-51 with 8:07 remaining in the third quarter. Lou Williams made a 3-pointer out of a timeout. Then, Pierce and Garnett countered, a Pierce three-shot foul giving the Celtics a 78-54 lead with 5:49 left in the quarter. Ryan Hollins’s 3-point play made it 85-60 with 3:48 remaining.
Thaddeus Young prevented an even greater blowout with 6 points in the half-court and an alley-oop dunk in transition late in the third quarter.
The Sixers started cutting into the Celtics’ lead in the fourth, Young scoring off an inbounds play to make it 92-74 with 9:09 remaining. Mickael Pietrus countered with a 3-pointer and two foul shots. A Pietrus second-chance dunk gave the Celtics a 105-78 advantage with 4:31 left, before the Sixers rallied in garbage time.
So, after experiencing long stretches in which they didn’t seem able to drop the ball in the ocean in Games 1 and 2, the Celtics shot 51.9 percent from the field.
“We did it the right way, I thought, through execution, through space,’’ Rivers said. “The first two games we tried to do it, but out of random [offensive sets], but spacing was poor. We also posted early, that’s the way we play, that’s who we are.
“Shots have to go in, that makes you a lot better. But at least the shots were the ones we wanted instead of the ones because our offense was so poor we had to take. And I thought that was a big difference.’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at email@example.com.