A fast break in third by Celtics
PHILADELPHIA - Before this Eastern Conference semifinal series started, 76ers coach Doug Collins described the Celtics as one of the league’s best third-quarter teams.
The Celtics have confirmed that reputation in three of the five games. In their three victories, they have outscored the Sixers, 82-57, in the third quarter. In the Celtics’ defeats, they have lost the third-quarter battle, 49-28.
The playoffs are all about moves and countermoves. And third quarters have been all about adjustments. The Celtics were able to get the upper hand after halftime in their 101-85 win in Game 5 Monday night, thanks to a quick film session and a motivational talk from guard Keyon Dooling during the break, plus an unexpected 12-minute breakout performance from Brandon Bass.
Now it is the 76ers’ turn to adjust as they prepare for Game 6 Wednesday night.
The Celtics needed some fine-tuning during the third quarter to turn Game 5 around. In the final minutes of the period, they seemed set with a three-guard lineup of Ray Allen, Mickael Pietrus, and Rajon Rondo. But, 11 seconds after Paul Pierce had been substituted, he re-entered the game in place of Allen.
“We didn’t like the way we ended quarters the other night,’’ coach Doc Rivers said after the game. “So we made the change where we put Paul back on the floor with Kevin [Garnett].
“In the other games, we had Ray on the floor with Kevin, and so we just thought it gave us two pretty good offensive options with whoever else we had on the floor.’’
Allen appeared to have been injured just before the substitution, and he was briefly treated on the bench by trainer Ed Lacerte. But after the game, Allen said injury was not a factor in him leaving the game. In any case, rushing Pierce back into action paid off as the Celtics gained command of the game and took the momentum into the final quarter.
“We just made a conscious effort to come out in that third quarter,’’ Pierce said. “A lot of the time, the third quarter has been a really decisive quarter, for both teams, in this series. So we wanted to make sure we had no letdowns like we did in Philadelphia.
“It was a great win for us, especially the way we started the first half. We defended, we changed everything we did with our energy.
“I think we picked it up, got into them a little bit more, made it a little tougher for them to get to their spots, denied the ball a little bit, rebounded better, and we got out in transition.
“Once we were able to run and get some easy baskets, just open it up, we fed off the crowd and never looked back.’’
Bass was averaging 10.1 points per game in the playoffs and 11.8 in this series before his 27-point Game 5.
“We were swinging the ball, getting it to the open guy,’’ Pierce said. “Brandon just stayed aggressive. He took the shots that were there. He was aggressive and mixing it up, going to the hole, finishing, taking the mid-range shot, and that’s what we need.
“We need different guys on different nights to step up. A lot of times they’re going to collapse on me, Rondo, KG, and there’s opportunities for other guys to take advantage.’’
In 28 games from March 12 through the end of the regular season, the Celtics outscored opponents 18 times in the third quarter and were even twice. In the first round, they were outscored three times and had one even third quarter against Atlanta.
But their most disappointing collapse of the postseason occurred in Game 4 against the Sixers, when they squandered most of an 18-point advantage in the third quarter.
“It just seemed like it snowballed in the wrong direction,’’ Allen said. “The way they played, they took the aggressive nature away from us.
“And we picked our aggression up in the third quarter [of Game 5]. We didn’t slow down. We kept fighting and we kept pushing and just got over the hump.
“Sometimes when you get a 15-, 20-point lead, teams do get complacent. That’s human nature. You take a possession or two off, which is not something you like to do.
“And once you look at the tape, you see it. And that’s all the other team needs to get that momentum. So, going forward, that’s a lesson for us.’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at email@example.com.