Game Preview: 76ers at Celtics

Marc D'Amico
Team Reporter and Analyst

By Marc D'Amico
December 8, 2012

BOSTON – Friday night’s matchup between the Boston Celtics (10-9) and Philadelphia 76ers (11-8) was a “slugfest,” according to Doc Rivers. Tonight’s 7:30 p.m. matchup in TD Garden between the same two teams shouldn’t be any different.

The 76ers wrapped up a 95-94 overtime victory over the C’s Friday night in Philadelphia. The two teams then stepped onto separate planes and made their way to Boston for tonight’s game.

It would be difficult to raise the level of competition from last night’s game, seeing as it was a one-point victory in overtime for the Sixers. However, grabbing a win tonight in the Garden may prove to be even more difficult.

“We’re learning tendencies, and it’s probably going to be a great tooth-and-nail type of fight,” Paul Pierce said after Friday’s loss. “It will also probably be even lower scoring [Saturday] because we know everything they’re going to do and they know everything we’re going to do, so it will probably be an even tougher game [Saturday].”

That may be difficult for some to understand after watching Friday night’s game. That contest was a back-and-forth battle that featured 17 ties and 19 lead changes. Neither team led by more than seven points and neither team shot better than 43.2 percent from the field.

Sixers head coach Doug Collins admitted after the game that he enjoyed all of those numbers. He believes that in order to beat the Celtics, his team must win ugly.

“I thought we could beat them if we kept them under 45 percent shooting and under 100 points,” Collins said. “That’s sort of their two benchmarks.”

Philadelphia crossed both of those stats off of the checklist despite the game going into overtime. Four Celtics did score at least 16 points, but Pierce and Jason Terry, the team’s most dynamic shooting threats, combined to make just 10 of their 36 shot attempts.

The C’s made life difficult for the Sixers as well, but Evan Turner bailed his team out when they needed it most. Turner scored Philly’s final points of regulation and then hit the game-winning shot in overtime. Those key buckets will help him forget his ugly 10-of-26 shooting performance that led to 26 points.

As Doc Rivers alluded to last night, his team didn’t play particularly well, but it did play hard. The same can be said for Philadelphia. These teams will need that to be the case again tonight, because this win won’t come easily.

Rondo’s Aggression

Rajon Rondo set the tone for Boston on Friday night. His play didn’t result in a win, but it was great to see his aggression. Rondo nearly recorded a triple-double in the first quarter alone with 10 points, eight rebounds and five assists. He wound up recording that triple-double in the third quarter, as the Sixers simply did not have an answer for him.

Rondo’s ability to break down Philadelphia’s defense was critical to Boston’s offense. The Sixers used Turner to defend him in the first half, which took their best defender off of Pierce. Jrue Holiday attempted to defend Rondo in the second half and he wound up fouling out of the game. The Celtics will be in position to win again tonight if those facts hold true for a second consecutive game.

Bounce-Back Game for Pierce, Terry

As we already mentioned, Pierce and Terry had woeful shooting performances last night. Pierce finished the contest shooting 9-of-24 and Terry was just 1-for-12. Don’t expect that to happen again tonight.

Pierce and Terry are two of the most reliable shooters on Boston’s team. They’ll continue to shoot and will probably make their shots at a much higher rate. Terry, in particular, could be poised for a strong performance. Many of those 11 misses Friday night were right on target and just happened to pop out of the hoop. If you know anything about Terry, you know that isn’t a regular occurrence.

Pick Up the Pace

Rivers mentioned the word “pace” a handful of times after the Celtics grabbed a win over the Timberwolves Wednesday night in TD Garden. He wants his team to play at a high pace and advance the ball quickly after defensive stops.

The Celtics did a great job of doing that during the first quarter of Friday’s game. They scored 28 points in that frame on 47.8 percent shooting. The game’s official scorer considered seven of those points to be fast break points.

That up-tempo pace disappeared over the final three quarters and overtime. Boston attempted just 58 total shots in those four frames after attempting 23 in the first quarter alone.

In order to hit those benchmark numbers that Collins alluded to (100 points, 45 percent shooting), the C’s need to get stops and then get out in transition. They had success doing so in the first quarter Friday night. They’ll be in a much better position to grab a win tonight if they can carry that through the entire contest.