Arbella Game 3 Preview: Celtics at 76ers

Arbella Playoffs

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics (5-3) and Philadelphia 76ers (5-3) will both attempt to take control of their playoff series when they meet for Game 3 at 7 p.m. tonight in Philadelphia. The series is currently tied up at one game apiece.

The 76ers came up to Boston and stole away home court advantage with an 82-81 victory Monday night. That result has essentially made this a five-game series, with three of the games being played in Philadelphia.

Boston will enter tonight’s game with the exact same goal that the Sixers had when they came to TD Garden – to steal one of two games and re-establish home court. The C’s can accomplish that goal tonight in an arena that it has struggled in over the past few seasons.

The Celtics are 78-118 all-time on the road in Philadelphia and were crushed in both of their contests in the Wells Fargo Center this season. Boston’s average margin of defeat in those two games was 22.5 PPG.

Despite the team’s struggles in Philly, this group of Celtics is much more concerned with itself rather than the arena it will be playing in.

“Being in their building down there really isn’t going to affect us,” said Ray Allen. “It’s all about how we play them when we get out there, how we take care of the ball and work together better than what we did [Monday].”

In addition to those areas, the Celtics also need to worry about rebounding the basketball. Boston grabbed just 35 rebounds in each of its two losses to the Sixers this season. Meanwhile, Philadelphia averaged 50.0 RPG in those two games.

The trend of being outrebounded during losses continued for Boston in Game 2, as it was outperformed in that category by a count of 47-36 Monday night in the Garden. Kevin Garnett, who led the game with 12 boards, was the only Celtics player to grab more than seven rebounds. He and Rajon Rondo, who had seven boards, were the only Celtics players to grab more than five.

Getting back on track with the rebounding will be a critical factor for the C’s in tonight’s game. So will their ability to establish the team’s offensive identity. As Doc Rivers said after the conclusion of Game 2, his players lost their way at that end of the floor after a hot start.

“I really thought we started out the first four minutes of the game moving the ball, playing the right way,” Rivers said Monday night. “And then I thought, honestly, we chased shots as a group. We don’t do it often; it happens, but I thought – we are a great ball movement team, a next-pass team, and tonight we were not.”

Boston returned to that style of play in the fourth quarter and wound up scoring 32 points on 65 percent shooting. Eight of the team’s 23 total assists in the game were dished out during that final period.

The Celtics took a look at the film yesterday and there’s no doubt that they saw what they need to do in order to win Game 3. That would be exactly what they did in the fourth quarter of Game 2, which is to share the ball and make the next pass.

As indicated by its 32-point effort in the fourth quarter of Game 2, when the C’s are sharing the ball, there’s no doubt that they can outperform the Sixers no matter what arena they might be playing in.

Production at SG

Boston’s shooting guards are in a precarious position heading into Game 3. The starter, Avery Bradley, had his left shoulder pop out for “the third time now in two weeks,” according to Rivers. Somehow he returned to play nearly the entire fourth quarter of Game 2. He‘s likely to play tonight, but his production could be erratic.

In addition to Bradley’s injury, we all know that Allen is playing through excruciating pain in his right ankle. However, he is still playing at a high level and scored a team-high 17 points Monday night.

Mickael Pietrus, the team’s third-string shooting guard, is in the most interesting position of all. He will be returning to the arena in which he suffered a frightening Grade III concussion on March 23. There is no doubt that he’ll have some flashbacks tonight, but the hope is that he can avoid letting it affect his play.

KG’s Offense

Garnett’s 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting during Game 2 wouldn’t indicate a night of struggles, but he struggled to get clean shots off and turned the ball over four times.

The reason Garnett didn’t get clean looks at the basket is because the Sixers made the decision to trap KG in the post. There was a second defender waiting to double-team Garnett every time he touched the ball. Rivers believes it’s a simple task to overcome such a strategy trap.

“If they trap, you pass it,” he said bluntly.

It’s a near guarantee that we’ll see a similar scheme from Philadelphia tonight; the Sixers will trap. The question is, will Garnett and the Celtics make the right passes?

Small Ball

Boston has had much success when it has played small ball during this series. The latest indication of such arrived in the fourth quarter of Game 2, when Garnett, who played the entire frame, was the only big man on the floor for the C’s.

Rivers has chosen to slide Paul Pierce or Pietrus over to power forward and force Doug Collins to adjust by taking Thaddeus Young out of the game.

“When they went to the small lineup it’s hard for Thad in some of those instances because he’s not used to playing guys who roam around at the 3-point line,” Collins said.

The C’s have experienced success in both games of this series when they’ve played small ball. They made a comeback in both fourth quarters thanks to that lineup. It will be interesting to see if Rivers uses such a lineup more often tonight in Game 3.