Arbella Game 5 Preview: 76ers at Celtics
BOSTON – The series might be on the line for the Boston Celtics (6-4) and Philadelphia 76ers (6-4) when the ball goes up at 7 p.m. tonight in TD Garden. That’s how the Celtics feel now that the series tied at 2-2.
“I think Game 5s and Game 7s are pretty much the same,” said Doc Rivers.
Kevin Garnett added, “It’s critical. Nothing more, nothing less than that.”
This contest isn’t exactly a Game 7, but it’s pretty darn close, particularly for the Celtics. Anything other than a win tonight would put them in the precarious position of having to win the final two games of the series, including one on the road.
Boston has already marched into Wells Fargo Center and grabbed one victory, and it nearly grabbed a second during Game 4 Friday night. The Sixers, however, thwarted that plan, as they came back from as many as 18 points down to steal a possible series-changing win.
Friday’s shocking game has essentially turned this best-of-seven series into a best-of-three series. The Celtics do own home-court advantage, meaning two of the three games would be played in the confines of TD Garden.
The first of those games will arrive tonight. In order to grab a critical victory, Boston will need to return to the type of play that helped it build such a large lead Friday night. More importantly, the C’s will need to remove Friday’s blown game from their memory bank.
"It's over,” Paul Pierce said prior to Sunday’s practice. “Milk is spilled, got to clean up, move on to the next game. You can't let it frustrate you, can't dwell on the past. It is what it is. The series is 2-2. Obviously we have to go back to Philly, but we've got to take care of business at home."
Following through on that final sentence by Pierce has proven to be a difficult task for the Celtics. They opened this series with two games at home, but they were only able to win one of those contests, a one-point victory in Game 1. Game 2 was a one-point loss, but the margin could have easily been much larger had the C’s not hit two desperation 3s in the final 3.5 seconds.
Many will look to the offensive lulls that Boston has fallen into as the reasons why this series is tied up at two games apiece. Rivers, however, believes that it all begins with his team’s defense.
“We broke our defensive formula,” said Rivers, referring to Friday’s second half. “Listen, offense is always going to fail you in the playoffs... but your defense can’t fail you. You’re going to win games by getting stops.”
The good news for the Celtics is that many of their playoff games have wound up in the win column specifically because of their defense. Opponents have shot just 40.4 percent from the field against them and scored just 84.9 PPG during the postseason. Living up to those wild standards tonight would likely lead to another vital win.
Finally, Some Rest
There may not be another team in the league that needs rest as much as the Celtics do. We all know about their age, but there are also some aching bodies on this roster: Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Avery Bradley and Mickael Pietrus are all nursing serious injuries.
That’s why a full two days of rest could do wonders for this Celtics team. They have not played since Friday night and Rivers gave them Saturday off. This is the first time Boston has had consecutive days off since the break between Games 2 and 3 of the first round, which occurred on May 1 and 4, respectively.
We can’t guarantee that Boston will come out of the gates tonight like gangbusters, but that extra day of rest couldn’t have hurt.
Big or Small Lineup?
Rivers has chosen to ride his small lineup, with Pierce playing power forward, during the most important minutes of this series. That includes nearly all of the second half of Game 4, which Brandon Bass mostly watched from the sideline.
Bass, who scored 15 points in just 22 minutes of play, barely played in the second half thanks to Rivers’ decision to go small. The starting power forward played just seven total minutes in the second half, including three seconds of the fourth quarter.
Many have criticized Rivers’ decision to sit Bass for the majority of the second half, but Rivers says it’s a decision he will have to make on a nightly basis, including tonight.
“We’re going to have to make that call every game, it looks like, and there’s no right or wrong to it,” Rivers said after noting that the small lineup has been more successful overall. “But it’s going to have to be a gut feeling and I hope when we make it it’s the right one.”
Philadelphia made its comeback Friday night because several different players contributed offensively. It seemed at times as if every Sixers player who attempted a shot saw it fall through the basket.
When the final buzzer for Game 5 sounded, seven of the nine Sixers players who entered the game had scored at least eight points, including five who scored at least 11 points. Lou Williams, Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young all scored big buckets for Philly in the final period, as the trio combined for 23 points – three more than Boston’s entire team scored in the period.
The 76ers are at their best when they have offensive balance. There’s no secret about that. The big question heading into Game 5 is if Philadelphia will be able to maintain that balance. If the Sixers can’t get consistent scoring from many of their players, they’re unlikely to grab a win.