Now, the Sixers had their best shot--the Celtics
were in the midst of a road trip, and the Sixers were undefeated at home.
Coach Larry Brown had just been made the coach of Team USA for the next
couple of years, and it seemed like everyone in Philadelphia wanted the
Celtics heads on pikes. Or, at the very least, to take the wiggle
out of Walker.
The game opened with the Tony Battie getting fouled en route to the hoop--Battie is still making a good living under there. Tony proceeded to hit both free throws to start the game right. In fact, the C's were on their way to one of those opening quarters that you just love to watch. The defense was in Philly's face, and the offense was going into the hoop, only taking the three when it was a high percentage option. The Good Guys opened up a 4-0 lead and built it up from there.
But Philly isn't a bottom feeding team, they came right back, only to see Antoine Walker coolly line up a three. Then Paul Pierce announced that his shooting slump was officially over, sinking his first three. Eric Williams showed he could move without the ball and got four fast points for his effort. In fact, the Celtics were 7-8 in the first 4 1/2 minutes, prompting a Sixer timeout as the C's upped the score to 19-10.
The break didn't help Philly. The Celtics were still playing as smoothly as I've seen them this season. Ball movement was crisp, the players read the philly defense like a cheap novel, and the Celtics defense was tough. Philly had to work for every basket.
One drawback--that would continue throughout the game--was the weird officiating. There was just no telling which way they would call a foul. For some unknown reason, the C's got the benefit of several calls in the first part of the game.
The Sixers also rebounded hard throughout, and that would cause lots of problems for the Good Guys. They kept going up high for rebounds and getting a lot of them, despite hard work from Tony Battie and Co.
The Celtics were running much better than recently, which made for a lot of quick points. In fact, both teams ran sufficiently hard that it led to some carelessness with the ball on both teams--even when you factor in that both teams really look for the steals on every possession.
Vin Baker came in, and had a couple of chances that he just couldn't get over the rim. It looked like he didn't have enough lift to his arms. Same on his free throws. He did work hard at both ends and collected a couple of rebounds, though.
The C's kept flirting with a double-digit lead throughout the second half of the quarter, and the Sixers couldn't quite make up the ground they lost in the opening minutes, though they tried to keep it even from that point.
Iverson was making life difficult as usual, but the C's were avoiding the cheap fouls, and his shooting suffered (relatively) as a result. One nasty bit of foreshadowing was that Pierce picked up his first foul with less than a minute to go. (oooOOOOOOooooooo) :>)
But the quarter ended on a positive note as the Celtics maintained their lead with a high-scoring opening. The score was now 32-24 at the end of one.
This was a great way to start the game. There were many good signs that the C's were ready for this and they kept the crowd silent by their dominance. That's not to say that Philly was a doormat--the C's just outplayed them. Normally, 24 points in the first quarter gets you a lead.
The C's shot 48% to Philly's 41%, and had the edge in paint points, 14-8. They also had only 1 turnover to 3 for the Sixers. About the only downside was Philly getting more rebounds than I would like.
Things picked up pretty well where they left off, as the C's continued to build their lead through the first part of the quarter. From the first play, when Shammond had to foul Iverson on the break, I could tell there were going to be a lot of trips to the line here.
Tony Delk also had the tough early on, hitting an open three, and Baker at least seemed like he was getting rebounds. Waltah! also tried his had at a three, and the C's were shooting 50% from the arc. They looked like good, in-the-flow shots.
The Philly bench was outscoring the C's bench, but part of that was that Pierce was getting loose on offense, with over 20 points before the half ended. He was also going to the line often, and hitting his free throws.
There was a real nice sequence where Pierce loosened the ball, Shammond dived to the floor and shoved the ball to Walker, who picked it up and fired it down court to an airborne Tony Battie for the two handed slam. Yes, Virginia, there is a Celtics fast break.
By this time, the C's were still shooting 48%, but had knocked the Sixers down to 37%. There was just over 5 minutes to go in the half. The Celtics also had a 22-14 edge in paint points.
Pierce finally got a rest with 2:55 to go--having gotten 21 points on 6-9 shooting, and hitting 7-8 free throws. By this time, the C's had increased their lead to 16 points.
The Sixers started a small run and scratched at the Celtics lead as the quarter wound down. Then there was a very weird scene as Tony Delk was fouled by Skinner. His teammate complained and got a "T", and when Larry Brown complained about that, HE got a "T". So Delk had an unusual chance for a 4 point play. Unfortunately, he went 2-4. Aaugh! That could have really given the C's unstoppable momentum.
But after a few more fouls from both teams, the first half ended with the Celtics former 16 point lead cut to 7 points, with a score of 56-49.
I was officially worried by this time. The last thing I wanted was to be in a close game with the Sixers on their court. The C's had enjoyed a comfy lead and showed every sign they wanted to keep it that way. But Philly kept going to the line--and getting loads of rebounds--and got themselves back into a game they were inches away from being blown out of.
I was pretty sure the Sixers would come out with fire in the third, and concerned that the C's might have one of those "dry spells" where they have good looks, but nothing goes in. I was hoping that the C's would instead play smothering defense and have an offensive quarter like the first one.
The C's shooting percentage had dipped at the end of the half to 45%, while Philly's went up to 41%. Boston was 6-16 on threes while Philly was 1-5. The Sixers were outrebounding Boston 27-21, and led 8-2 in offensive rebounds. The Philly bench had outscored the Boston bench 25-13.
All in all, it made for a very nervous second
half that was about to begin.
The Third quarter began as I dreaded it would. The Celtic scored 6 points in the first 7 minutes--all on three baskets from Pierce, who had quickly picked up his third foul in the first minute. He then picked up his fourth a couple of minutes later. Philadelphia used the drought to make up lost ground, and tied it up at 60 on a three from Iverson. Pierce had to sit with 5:19 to go in the quarter.
Shammond Williams came up with the first points not scored by Pierce in the quarter with 4:45 to go. But by this time, Philly had all but eradicated any chance of a Celtics blowout, making it a tightly contested game from here on out. The Sixers were rebounding better and playing more aggressively than Boston, though The C's kept working hard to stay ahead, but it was not to be.
Philadelphia took their first lead of the game with 37.4 seconds to go on a pair of free throws, to make it 71-70.
More weird calls followed as Delk was called for travelling on a made basket--the travelling was a result of being pushed. *sigh*. A "T" was called on Tony Delk for his disagreement with losing a basket at the other end. the score after three quarters favored Philly, 75-71.
Through 3 quarters, the C's and Sixers were both
shooting 43%, though Philly now had a 38-27 rebounding edge, never a good
sign for the Celtics.
Things were tough now,as Pierce picked up his fifth foul in the first 30 seconds of the quarter. Coach O'Brien couldn't afford to sit Pierce, as he was the only one scoring with any consistency at this point.
The C's picked up the defensive intensity, but the Sixers were feeling pumped now, and making tough shots. All Philly had to do was hold the line and they could win this game. The C's closed the gap to 77-75 on two free throws from Pierce. Walker tied it on the next possession, but the Sixers answered back on their next shot from Aaron McKie.
Pierce hit again and Philly called a timeout with 9:24 to go and the score tied at 79.
After the timeout, the C's stepped up the defense even more, but the Sixers kept getting offensive rebounds leading to second and third shots--and more points.
Antoine Walker tied it up again at 82 with 7:32 to go as he made free throws. He had also played well, leading the offense through the game and generally playing well. Over the next minute, the C's built up a 4 point lead, but the Sixers once again closed the gap in the face of the C's defense. Following a timeout, Philly tied it up at 86 with 5:26 to go.
The Good Guys then got a 4 point lead with 4:33 minutes to go. But the Sixers just kept hitting their shots. No one could seem to get a solid lead. The C's would go up, then Philly came back. Then, with 2:42 to go, Philly called a timeout as they had the ball--but the C's had the lead at 92-90.
After the timeout, Iverson hit a toughie to tie it up at 92. Then the C's turned it over with 2:12 to go in the game. Philly moved up and Eric Snow somehow got it in despite ferocious Celtics defense. That gave the Sixers a 94-92 lead. The Celtics next possession got zip and Derrick Coleman nailed a shot clock three to give the Sixers the lead with 1:10 to go.
After a timeout, Boston came out and went to the hoop, sending Pierce to the line for two. But his hand had been hit on the foul and he missed the first shot. He then made the second shot, making the score 97-93 with 1:03 to go.
The Sixers took the ball upcourt and tried to work it inside, but Pierce took the rebound and Boston took a timeout with 40.5 seconds to go.
After the timeout, they got Walker a good look at an open three after Pierce drew the defense inside, but it bounced off the back rim. Aaron McKie took the long rebound and handed off to Iverson who was fouled by Delk at midcourt with 28 seconds to go. He hit both shots to make it 99-93.
The C's took the ball and Tony Delk got off a good looking three that bounced out, and the ball went out of bounds off Waltah! with 19.5 seconds to go. The C's pressed the inbounds pass from Philly, to no avail as the Sixers were able to pass out of it. Delk ended up having to foul Eric Snow in the frontcourt with 11.8 seconds to go. Snow missed both and Waltah! grabbed the rebound as the C's called timeout with 9.4 seconds to go.
After the timeout, the Celtics got it in to Pierce for a long three that had an even longer rebound before Pierce got it at midcourt. By then, time had run out on the quarter, the game, and the Celtics, who ended up losing to Philadelphia 99-93.
This was a really difficult loss. The Celtics had a chance to sew it up, and even late in the second when Philly made their run, I still felt pretty good about the game. Then the C's went ice cold after the half.
To their credit, the C's mounted their own comeback and very nearly pulled it off. I have a feeling these two teams are going to be fighting it out right down to the playoffs.
But the Celtics simply CANNOT keep expecting Walker and Pierce to handle all the offense--teams have figured that one out. The C's need other players to step up offensively, and that didn't happen tonight.
The Celtics have another two days before facing the Knicks Friday in the Centah.
HEROES AND ZEROS:
Paul Pierce: 34 points, 4 rebounds, 4 steals and an assist. Plus, he went 12-14 from the line.
Antoine Walker: 19 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists,
3 steals and a block. He did a great job orchestrating the offense.
Celtics third quarter offense: WHAT offense? 15 points does not an offense make.
Tony Battie: Yes, he had rebounds, but not enough--and he didn't score points when they needed him to.
Vin Baker: Needs to score more points. To his credit, he only had one foul, which is an improvement.
Shammond Williams: Same problem--and more
of a problem since he usually does better offensively.
And that's the view from the Doghouse.
|1st Q||2nd Q||3rd Q||4th Q||Final|