Defense let up in second half
Celtics allowed Sixers to find their rhythm
PHILADELPHIA - It appeared to be going far too smoothly for the Celtics fans back home - along with a surprisingly large and vocal contingent wearing varying shades of green inside the Wells Fargo Center Friday night.
Apparently they weren’t the only ones who thought it was going to be easy, because the Boston players fell victim to the same overconfidence. And after surrendering an astounding 61 second-half points - including the game’s final 11 - it remains to be seen just how much they’ll live to regret it after the Philadelphia 76ers rallied for a 92-83 win here to square the series at two games apiece.
“Don’t blame it on our offense,’’ said Paul Pierce, who had 24 points, including four 3-pointers. “They scored 61 points in the third and fourth quarters.
“Our defense should be able to win a game like that. We just didn’t do it. We gave them too many free throws and then they made plays down the stretch. You just can do that, especially on the road. You have to really put the knockout punch to a team when you have them down. We just didn’t do that.’’
That’s a quick summation of how a lead that mushroomed as high as 49-31 in the early stages of the second half completely vanished. As in the Atlanta series, the Celtics had the Hawks primed for the kill, only to postpone it.
Then they watched the Sixers, a team that made a woeful nine of its first 43 shots (20.9 percent, go 22 for 39 the rest of the way, including five 3-pointers.
“I think they sped us up,’’ said Rajon Rondo, who finished with 15 points and an equal number of assists. “Then we made some turnovers and they made shots. They outworked us, got some offensive rebounds and kept fighting.
“They’re professionals. They’re young and confident. We knew those guys weren’t going to lay down.’’
It was probably easier to rationalize it than to dwell on the negative way in which the Celtics coughed up the second half.
“We just lost our composure,’’ said coach Doc Rivers, who’ll have an extra day to revive his team before Game 5 Monday. “Once we did, we never really returned to playing basketball the way we did in the first half. From the first quarter on, we acted like we were surprised. Our defense didn’t really change.
“We turned the ball over [17 turnovers leading to 15 Philadelphia points] and they got out on the break and got to the foul line. They did make some shots down the stretch, but that was because their confidence was sky high at that point. But they got some loose balls. They got second shots and forced turnovers. To me that’s what allowed them to score.’’
Regardless, the Celtics know they squandered an opportunity to take a 3-1 advantage in the series. Instead they must face a Sixers team that has already won at the Garden and undoubtedly believes it can do it again.
“It all comes down to defense,’’ Rondo said after the Celtics allowed the Sixers to score 61 points over the final 22 minutes, 5 seconds to just 34 for Boston.
Last night, with a chance to drive the Sixers to the brink of elimination, the Celtics’ defense rested.