Star Trio Helps Celtics Find Their Way
BOSTON – Boston’s top stars never clicked in unison during Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals series between the Celtics and 76ers. That’s the simple explanation as to why each of those contests were decided by one measly point.
Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo let the Sixers know immediately that Wednesday night’s showdown in Philadelphia was definitely not Game 1 or 2.
Nope. This was Game 3 – the swing game. This was the game that was on an entirely different level when it came to magnitude. Doug Collins instantly sensed that the Celtics knew better than anyone that this was a game it needed to win.
“We ran into a Celtic team that had a real sense of purpose about them tonight,” said Collins.
He later added, “I just thought this was a team that you could see coming in, did not want to be down 2-1 playing Game 4.”
Yeah, you could say that, particularly when it came to Garnett, Pierce and Rondo.
That trio dominated Wednesday’s 107-91 victory by combining for 74 points, 31 rebounds and 22 assists. How wild are those numbers? Well, consider the fact that Philadelphia finished with 91 points, 37 rebounds and 22 assists as a team during Game 3.
Boston’s stars put pressure on Philadelphia from the opening tip, but the Celtics’ intensity arrived far before the Sixers even saw their green jerseys take the floor. It carried with Garnett, Pierce and Rondo throughout the day from the moment their eyelids slid open early Wednesday morning.
“We were all pretty focused today at shootaround,” Rondo said after the win. “Obviously we had two close games at home and we wanted to show these guys and send a message tonight, and I think we did a pretty good job of that.”
Yep, you could say that, too.
Boston’s message was sent out loud and clear when that it emphatically accomplished two goals: to push the ball in the open court and to get quick touches for Pierce and Garnett.
“You could see from moment one they were looking to push that ball in every situation,” said Collins. “Get early post-ups with Garnett, Rondo pushing the ball.”
With Boston’s defense playing as well as it has all postseason – it limited Philadelphia to just 33 total points in the second and third quarters combined – Rondo was able to wheel and deal in transition. Time after time, he either took the ball to the basket on his own or found his premier scorers, Garnett and Pierce, in their sweet spots early in the shot clock.
Garnett, who did not find many clean looks at the basket in Game 2, was able to get prime position in the paint while Rondo pushed the ball Wednesday night. That perfect position helped him to get his shots up before a double-team could crash down on him.
The same could be said for Pierce, who finally hit his stride in Game 3 with 24 points and 12 boards. Pierce aggressively attacked the basket and seemed to light a fire under his own feet with two monster slams in the opening stanza.
This Celtics team looked nothing like the one that took the floor for two games in Boston. There was pace and there was space. The ball was hopping when it needed to and the aggression spiked at opportune moments.
Game 3 featured the free-flowing, beautiful team basketball that is the staple of this Boston team, and it ran through the players it needed to run through. To put it simply, the Celtics found their way Wednesday night.
“We did it the right way,” said Doc Rivers. “I thought we did it through execution. We did it through space.
“We post Paul up early and we post Kevin up early, and that is the right way to play. That is who we are.”
You’re right, Doc. That is exactly who the Celtics are and have been all season long.
Philadelphia was fortunate to avoid seeing the real Celtics stand up in Games 1 and 2. However, Wednesday night was just another reminder that when Boston shows its true colors, with its top guns leading the way, it can be an unstoppable force.