Ugly Game 6 Pushes Celtics To Brink

PHILADELPHIA — Nothing easy. The Celtics are going to Game 7. Somewhere, Zaza Pachulia is smiling.

When the team plane touched down at Hanscom Airforce Base around 1:30 a.m. on Thursday morning, it was starting to sink in. The season is suddenly on the line Saturday night, as the Celtics returned home with their Eastern Conference Semifinals series tied at 3-3 after an 82-75 Game 6 loss in Philadelphia.

Rajon Rondo

Rajon Rondo attacks the hoop as the Celtics fell to the Sixers in Philly in Game 6.
NBAE/Getty

Playing without Avery Bradley (both shoulders) and an obviously limited Ray Allen (right ankle), the Celtics’ perimeter defense struggled throughout the night, but their anemic offense — 26 field goals on 33 percent shooting — really put them in a hole. It wasn’t a particularly deep hole, but as Doc Rivers has said since the postseason began, this team has very little margin for error.

In Game 6, there was more error than margin. Rivers said his team was “outplayed” and had a lot of “empty possessions” on offense.

“We played in ‘random’ tonight,” Rivers said. “We never really established Kevin Garnett (20 points, 11 rebounds). Even though Kevin had points, it wasn’t the points we needed, the type of points. So we have to do a better job there.”

It was a familiar refrain for Rivers, who often finds himself explaining that the Celtics are playing “too much random” and “not running our stuff” after postseason losses. Then again, that balance is a delicate one for point guard Rajon Rondo, whose job it is to decide when to call a play and feed the post over working pick-and-rolls out of the ‘random’ offense.

"We missed shots that we normally make," Garnett said. "When we're in a nice defensive rhythm we turn [turnovers] into points and tonight we weren't in one."

Rondo had just six assists, his lowest total since March 9, and he said after the game that the offense is dictated by the success or failure of the previous defensive possession. But the Sixers shot a solid percentage (45 percent), took care of the ball and defended well, often swallowing up the Celtics before they could even reach the paint.

As a result, the Sixers crushed the Celtics in the points in the paint category to the tune of 42-16.

“They’re young and they are very fast. They play with a lot of energy and it’s very difficult for our guys,” Rivers said. “The regular season against them was hard, and that’s why the playoffs have been hard. We knew this matchup coming in would be hard because they have a quickness advantage.”

When Rondo did get the chance to conduct the offense and put the Sixers on their heels, Boston’s shots simply weren’t falling. As Rivers always says, “it’s a make-miss league,” and calling the perfect play is instantly negated if you can’t finish it with a bucket.

To that end, when the Celtics aren’t hitting 3s and turning the ball over, their offense can look downright brutal. Rivers said that the Celtics didn’t space the floor well, which contributed to the team’s 17 turnovers, 14 of which were committed by the starters.

To give you an idea of how ugly the basketball was, the two teams combined for just 27 field goals in the first half as the Celtics took a 36-33 lead into the break. If you’re looking for more ugly stats, Ray Allen (nine points) fouled out in less than 26 minutes of action, and Rondo (nine points) hit just four of his 14 field goal attempts.

Rivers has said all series that his team couldn’t afford to get into a track meet with the Sixers, and thankfully, this game was more slobberknocker than sprint. The Sixers did their best to get out in transition early, but aside from their first hoop of the game, they really didn’t manage much in the running game. They scored just seven points on the break, all of which came in the first half.

Game 6 was not pretty basketball. Game 7 likely won’t be any more aesthetically pleasing. But it will decide a schizophrenic series that has less rhyme than reason.

Game 7. Nothing easy, indeed.