76ers refuse to lose to Celtics, tie series
PHILADELPHIA—The Boston Celtics had to think the Friday’s second half would be the last they’d see of Philadelphia this spring. Holding a 15-point lead, a 2-1 series advantage and a surge of momentum from Wednesday’s 107-91 Game 3 blowout, how could any of Doc Rivers players not think ahead?
“We just lost our composure,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after watching his team fall back into a 2-2 tie with a 92-83 Game 4 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. “We stopped running our stuff.”
Boston’s seemingly insurmountable first-half lead was torn apart by a revitalized 76ers squad over the final 24 minutes. Doug Collins’ players returned from the locker room with more energy, more precision and far more aggression than they had shown over the previous six quarters.
Eventually three second-half 3-pointers from Andre Iguodala—the last of which gave Philadelphia a five-point lead with under a minute to play—helped complete a remarkable 24-point, second-half swing.
“I don’t know where to start,” a relieved Collins said afterward. “I don’t even know where to start. Our guys are pretty amazing. They really are.”
Collins, who refused to start defensive whiz Lavoy Allen over struggling Elton Brand before the game, wasn’t rewarded for his decision in the box score (Brand finished with just three points and two rebounds). However, the veteran power forward did spark a 10-0 run in the third quarter after being called for a double-technical foul with Boston’s Kevin Garnett.
“What else are they going to do?” Rivers asked, referring to the 76ers’ physical play in the third quarter. “That’s what they should do. That’s what’s disappointing.”
Rivers didn’t feel his players kept their composure in the second half. When Philadelphia got physical, Boston became flustered and started committing bad fouls. By the end of the third, Brandon Bass, Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo all had four fouls apiece.
“Tonight it was that simple,” Rivers said. “We had the lead. We had a chance to go up 3-1. I really didn’t think from the first quarter on we played with the same discipline that we played in the first quarter in my opinion. We start turning the ball over. We start making homerun passes, and even though we still had a lead, I thought they chipped into the lead and it allowed them to hang around in the game.”
Boston looked to be taking the game and a 3-1 series lead within moments of the opening tip. The Celtics scored 14 points before the 76ers got on the board; and Philadelphia finished the first frame shooting just 18.8% from the field.
Collins’ team would get the lead down to 22-18 in the second quarter, but the Celtics finished on a 22-13 run to enter the half with a seemingly insurmountable 46-31 advantage.
Philadelphia had made just 13 of 21 free throws and a dismal 9 of 39 field goals in the first 24 minutes. Exacerbating their cause was the fact that the 76ers didn’t make a 3-pointer in the first 24 minutes. They allowed the Celtics to sink 52.8% of their field goals and seemed to be comfortable with letting Rivers’ squad return to Boston with a chance to punch their ticket to the conference finals.
But that wasn’t really the case.
“We couldn’t get a basket,” Collins said. “We were missing free throws, we got it to a working margin then they had their little push at the end of the half. Got it to 18 and it looked like there was absolutely no way we were going to be able to score the ball.
“And then, I don’t know what clicked in,” he continued. “Our guys, we started moving the ball. Our bench came in and gave us a huge lift.”
The 76ers would score 14 third-quarter points before the Celtics even hit a field goal in the frame.
After Thaddeus Young tied the game at 63 with 10:20 left in the fourth, a Jodie Meeks 3-pointer gave Philadelphia its first lead of the game less than a minute later. Evan Turner followed with a one-handed slam on the fast break and suddenly Boston was reeling.
Philadelphia hit 51.2% of its field goals in the second half, compared to Boston’s 31.4% mark. Perhaps more importantly, the 76ers gave themselves more opportunities over the final 24 minutes by grabbing seven offensive rebounds and forcing the Celtics into eight turnovers.
Lou Williams caught fire, registering 13 points and seven assists over the final two quarters and, perhaps, making the most-important pass of the game.
As the clocked clicked down to under 40 seconds in the fourth quarter, Williams drove the lane and found an open Iguodala on the wing.
Prior to the game, Collins said that he didn’t have a great catch-and-shoot team, and that his players—much like the Sundance Kid—were more dangerous shooters when they were moving.
Regardless, Iguodala caught the ball and rhythmically nailed the shot to give the 76ers a truly insurmountable lead.
“Lou was doing a good job of trying to get in the paint,” Iguodala said afterward. “We’ve been playing together for seven years and that’s not the first time he’s found me right there in that same exact spot, so we’ve done that before.”
The Celtics, naturally, weren’t falling over themselves to give the 76rs credit afterward.
Rivers and Co. pointed to their own mistakes (17 turnovers, 12 second-chance points allowed) as well as a 25-16 discrepancy at the free throw line (Kevin Garnett: “It seemed like they got the whistle a little bit more”), but the truth is, Philadelphia answered the call.
Garnett, who had been the hottest player in the series, scored just nine points on 3-of-12 shooting and turned the ball over seven times. Ray Allen, who struggled to even find open shots in Game 3, was just 2 of 6 for five points off the bench. Paul Pierce was good (24 points, 8 of 13 shooting), but he wasn’t enough for a 76ers team that had suddenly found its rhythm.
Iguodala and Even Turner led the 76ers with 16 points apiece, while Williams added 15 and Thaddeus Young had 12. But perhaps the biggest boost came from Lavoy Allen, who had 10 boards while doing a remarkable job defending Garnett.
“Lavoy once again, defensively, just did a tremendous job,” Collins said, adding that the 50th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft is a “lottery” talent when his motor is running like it was on Friday.
And now, instead of going to Boston trailing 3-1, the 76ers have given themselves a three-game series.
“Now we’ve got a chance for Game 5 with an even series, now 2-2, and we’ll see where we can go from here,” Collins concluded.