May 16, 2012, 10:17 PM EDT
Sad to say it like this, but this is just what happens in a series when you play a team that’s better than you a bunch of times—occasionally, they’re really, really gonna show it. There were some semi-fluky things that went wrong for the Sixers, but generally, they were just thoroughly outplayed by a team with better players. Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce ate the Sixers alive tonight, and the result was a dispiriting 107-91 blowout that wasn’t nearly as respectable as the final score indicated.
The really crazy thing was that after one, things were actually looking up for the Sixers in their first home game of the series. Jrue Holiday was beastly early, hitting some threes and distributing well, and Lou Williams hit a classic away-from-his-body trey as the buzzer sounded to put the Sixers up 33-28 at the end of the quarter. But the floodgates opened for the C’s in the second quarter, as they pounded the Sixers down low and turned the tables on them in transition, and completely shut them down on the other end. The Sixers were outscored 32-16 in the second, and it only got worse from there, with the Celtics pulling away at the end of the third, and by pretty early in the fourth, it was pretty clear this was not going to be the Sixers’ fourth straight game decided by one point.
Here’s the (biggest) problem with the Sixers: They have no interior defense. Lavoy Allen gave the team some good minutes again early, but he quickly got in foul trouble in the second, and the C’s took over from there. Thaddeus Young had by far his best offensive game of the playoffs tonight, scoring 22 points on 10-16 shooting, but he just can’t hold off Garnett and he can’t bang with any of the Celtics bigs—he had just five boards in the game. That’s one more than starting center Spencer Hawes managed to grab, in a game where he was miserable on offense (just four points on 2-8 shooting) and even worse on D, not only getting over-powered by Garnett all over the court, but not even bothering to get out to contest most of his 15-18-foot jumpers.
Hardest to watch among our bigs in this series, though, is Elton Brand. After being our best post defender all year, Elton—who has been playing through injury for as long as he can probably remember—finally seems to be wearing down. Not only is he being over-powered by Garnett in the post, he can’t even stay in front of him when he’s driving. Throw in the Old School Chevy’s running-on-empty offense—just 1-6 tonight, including a couple momentum-killing misses on wide-open eight-footers—and I’m starting to wonder if he can even be starting for this team anymore. Love you like my name was Doug Collins, Elton, but…you’re a liability in this series.
The guards were more of a mixed bag tonight. After his previously mentioned big first quarter, Jrue (as he is wont to do) turned passive, and only scored five points the rest of the way—though he did augment that with nine assists and six rebounds, and probably gets absolved from most of the blame tonight. Evan Turner, however, does not get let off the hook, scoring just four points on 1-10 shooting, including missing some jumpers that were nearly as easy as Brand’s. He did grab a bunch of rebounds (eight) and played sporadically good defense, but we need scoring from Evan in this series, and if he’s scoring single digits and missing gimme jumpers, we’re probably not gonna win the game. I keep hoping that we’re getting to a point where Evan doesn’t have games like this, but… (By contrast, Lou Williams was decent enough in this one.)
But rather than get too deep into the many ways the Sixers came up short on this one, attention should probably be paid to just how good the Celtics were tonight. Paul Pierce’s 6-17 line doesn’t exactly scream “breakout game,” but he also willed his way to the line 14 times (making 11), grabbed 12 boards, and had a couple huge dunks in the first half to get him and the team really into the game. After a bum game two, Rondo was magnificent, playing the scorer early (a role he embraces only with great reluctance) and ending with 23 points, 14 dimes, six rebounds and just one turnover. And Garnett…man, I just don’t know what we do with this guy when he’s playing like this, scoring 27 with 13 boards and just sucking out the Sixers’ will to live. We have no answer.
Game Four this Friday. This still counts as just one game, and as good as they looked tonight, there’s certainly no guarantee that this’ll be the team that shows up in Game Four, rather than the one that played the first two in Boston. But man, the Sixers are gonna have to figure out a way to prevent KG from getting to own the game like this again—even if it means unchaining Nik Vucevic from the bench (who did play the last three minutes in this one, his first post-season burn, notching one point and one board). Not that I think it’ll help, but hey, gotta exhaust all options when you’re getting killed by one guy this badly. Let’s free Craig Brackins while we’re at it. And is Tony Battie still loitering on the bench, somewhere? All hands on deck, people.
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