2012 NBA Playoffs: 76ers Extend Celtics Series To A Decisive Game 7
The 76ers backcourt of Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday and bench star Lou Williams, who finished second behind Oklahoma City’s James Harden in Sixth Man of the Year voting, proved to be too much for the veteran Celtics to handle, especially with their best perimeter defender in Avery Bradley out with a shoulder injury. Holiday led the 76ers with 20 and recorded six assists to tie for the team lead with Williams, who also had 11 points. Holiday was even too much for Celtics All-Star Rajon Rondo at times, with Celtics coach Doc Rivers switching journeyman shooting guard Mickael Pietrus onto Holiday early in the fourth quarter. Turner pitched in 12 points and nine rebounds, while Elton Brand had a double-double with 13 and 10 while frustrating the Celtics’ Kevin Garnett into difficult shots throughout the first half.
Meanwhile, Boston shot just 33.3 percent from the field and while the game was never out of hand, the Celtics never cut the 76ers lead to fewer than five points in the final ten minutes. After shooting over 50 percent and averaging 14.8 points per game in the series, Brandon Bass struggled to find his touch, missing several open jump shots en route to finishing with eight points on 2-12 shooting. Rondo also had an off night, shooting just 4-14 with four turnovers and often looking helpless in defending Holiday and Williams’ drives to the basket.
Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 24 to go with 10 rebounds, while Garnett scored 20 points and grabbed 11 rebounds but didn’t get into a rhythm until the second half and was booed continuously (and deservedly) by the Philadelphia crowd. Though the Celtics shot 20-23 (87 percent) from the free throw line while Philadelphia struggled, going 17-28(60.7%), the 76ers went 4-4 from the charity stripe in the final minute and withstood late Pierce and Ray Allen three-pointers in order to secure the victory.
After squandering their opportunity to close the series on the road, something the Celtics have done 11 times in 13 chances since 2007-08, Saturday afternoon will play host to the fourth winner-take-all game of the 2012 playoffs. The winner will play either the Miami Heat or the Indiana Pacers, who will try to emulate the 76ers and force a Game 7 by winning Thursday night in Indianapolis.
The Celtics will be earn their third conference finals appearance in the last five seasons with a victory. In order for that to happen, head coach Doc Rivers will need to draw up a defensive gameplan that put a greater emphasis on stopping the 76ers’ paths into the paint and forcing Philadelphia into taking outside shots, an advisable strategy considering that the 76ers made only one shot from beyond the arc in Game 6. The Celtics also need to avoid offensive cold spells, such as a 3:06 scoring drought early in the fourth quarter that allowed a four-point 76ers lead to turn into 11, a deficit that the Celtics could not surmount.
After surprising the top-seeded but Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls in the first round, the green but deep 76ers will try to become the second-ever eighth seed in the NBA Playoffs to make the conference finals. Curiously, the other instance of an eight seed making such a run occurred in another lockout-shortened season, where the New York Knicks made it to the NBA Finals before losing to the San Antonio Spurs.
Turner and Williams will look to continue using their youthful speed in a defensive mismatch against the banged-up and slower Allen. The 76ers got as many fouls as they got points (five) out of backup forwards Lavoy Allen and Thaddeus Young in Game 6, and could use Young’s versatility and Allen’s defense and fearlessness down low in what should be a hostile environment back in Boston.
With both teams in the series putting an emphasis on stopping the ball and playing lockdown defense, it should be no surprise that the 76ers haven’t reached 100 points in any game this series while the Celtics have been held to less than 80 points per game in their three losses. Game 7 should be no different, as the squad that struggles the least from the field will be able to pack their bags for the next round.