Arbella Game 4 Preview: Celtics at 76ers
BOSTON – A victory in Game 3 has given the Boston Celtics (6-3) a strong advantage over the Philadelphia 76ers (5-4) in the two teams’ second-round series. Another win for the C’s at 8 p.m. tonight in Game 4 would give them complete control of the series.
Boston and Philadelphia will meet again tonight in the Wells Fargo Center, where they’ll play for the second consecutive game. Boston grabbed a 107-91 blowout victory in the first meeting Wednesday night thanks to the trio of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo.
That star trio combined to put up a combined 74 points, 31 rebounds and 22 assists in Game 3. In comparison, the entire 76ers team accumulated 91 points, 37 rebounds and 22 assists.
As Sixers head coach Doug Collins alluded to after that contest, the Boston team that took the floor for Game 3 was visibly focused on dominating the contest.
“We ran into a Celtic team that had a real sense of purpose about them tonight,” said Collins.
The convincing victory was a great sign for the Celtics, but it’s now in the rearview mirror. All of the team’s attention must now be paid to Game 4, which could make or break the series for either team.
Boston did not practice on Thursday but did hold a short media session at the team’s hotel. During that session, Doc Rivers made it clear that his players must approach this contest with the same focus and intensity that they brought to the arena Wednesday night.
“The key is to keep our focus and play the way we played (Wednesday), with the same energy and not play like, 'You won one, now you can relax,' “ said Rivers. “You have to win the series.”
Completing a two-game sweep tonight in Philly would go a long way toward helping the Celtics win this Conference Semifinals series. Winning Game 4 would literally put them on the doorstep of the Conference Finals, with two of the final three games of this series being played at home in TD Garden. That’s a position any team would relish being in.
To get to that doorstep, however, the Celtics will need to take down a feisty Philadelphia team that has shown quite a bit of resolve this season. The Sixers started out the season hot but faded away down the stretch. Still, they rallied the troops in the playoffs and knocked off the top-seeded Bulls in the first round.
Philadelphia’s resolve has continued into this round. The Sixers blew Game 1 and could have easily dropped their heads and folded in the series, but Collins stated bluntly that such a move is not in his team’s DNA.
“We’re not going to drop our heads,” Collins said following Game 1. “We don’t do that.”
He was correct.
The Sixers came right back out in Game 2 and temporarily stole away home-court advantage with a strong victory. Jrue Holiday led the team with 18 points during that contest and two reserves, Lou Williams and Lavoy Allen, each finished with a plus/minus rating of at least plus-17.
Philadelphia will need similar performances from that group again tonight if it’s going to avoid being put on the brink of elimination. While the Sixers will attempt to sidestep a 1-3 hole tonight, Boston will be fully concentrated on taking complete control of this series.
Control the Glass
There are a few things that the Sixers aren’t great at, and one of them is rebounding. Philadelphia did not have a single player average more than 7.3 RPG during the regular season and only one Sixers player, Spencer Hawes, averages more than 7.0 RPG during the postseason.
One player on Boston’s roster who has been taking advantage of Philly’s weakness on the glass is Garnett. KG has reeled in 12.0 RPG during this series, which is four more per game than the Sixers’ top rebounder (Evan Turner with 8.0 RPG). Additionally, Pierce chipped in with 12 boards during Game 3.
The Celtics are 5-0 during the postseason when they have outrebounded their opponent. They are 1-3 when they have been outrebounded. It’s almost a guarantee that this trend will continue tonight, so the C’s need KG and Co. to attack the glass.
Keep Pierce Rolling
Pierce finally arrived at the offensive end of the floor Wednesday night. He scored 24 points during Game 3 despite shooting just 6-of-17 from the field. Pierce was able to score at a high rate because of his aggression, which led to a game-high 14 free throw attempts. No other player in the game attempted more than five freebies.
It was clear from the get-go that Pierce’s sprained left knee was feeling much, much better. He trusted it and even used the left leg to power himself off of the floor for a big dunk in the first quarter.
With another 48 hours of rest under his belt, Boston’s captain should be feeling even better when the ball goes up for Game 4. That’s why the C’s need to keep riding him (and Garnett) tonight.
Share the Ball
Any time a team accumulates 26 assists in a game, you know that team shared the ball about as well as it possibly could have. Boston did exactly that during Game 3.
The C’s finished with 26 assists on 40 made field goals Wednesday night, led by 14 helpers from Rondo. To give you an idea of how many that is, not a single team in the league averaged 24.0 APG this season.
With the ball hopping and the team pushing the ball in transition, offense was plentiful for Boston. The Celts got open looks at the basket and made the correct passes when they needed to.
“We did it the right way,” said Rivers.
Philadelphia better hope the Celtics don’t do it the right way again during Game 4, or else it might be playing catch-up all night long.