If we’ve learned anything over the years, it is that Celtics struggle with two things on a consistent basis. One is the second game of a back to back. The second is teams with widespread athleticism. Tonight the Celtics faced both, hitting the road to visit their divison foe, the 7-14 Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers certainly gave the C’s all that they could handle, as the game ultimately came down to the final possession. More often than not in such a situation you’d see a jumper from Paul or Ray to close it out. In this instance however,the Celtics relied on their bread and butter. Coming out of the huddle, the Celtics secured the victory on a play you probably see 2-3 times every game, a Rajon Rondo to Kevin Garnett alley-oop. Amidst chatter that this could have been a trap game for the Celtics, they made it out alive…barely.
Despite their dissapointing place in the standings, it is clear that the Sixers record is not a perfectly accurate indicator of how dangerous this team can be. They’ve played two intensely close games versus both the Wizards (each an OT loss) and the Hawks (2 games decided by 8 points), which if they went the other way we’d be talking about an above .500 squad. Eager to stick it to Boston early, the Sixers made a point of exploiting the C’s newly acquired weakness. Without their big man in the middle in Shaq (calf injury), the Celtics were forced to start rookie center Semih Erden. Hailing from the world renowned Gazlosmanpasa, Turkey, Semih has been a more than servicable role player in the absence of Perk and Jermaine O’Neal. Tonight, however, was clearly his toughest test yet. Philly attacked the rookie early, as the usually quiet Spencer Hawes exploded for 10 points in the 1st quarter. Philly showed with their play early that this would be a battle to the finish.
After trailing by a few points for much of the second quarter, it looked like things might finally turn in Boston’s favor. The Celtics turned on the heat with four minutes left in the quarter thanks to their diminutive sparkplugs in Rajon Rondo and Nate Robinson. It started with Robinson hitting two treys on helpers from Rondo in consecutive possessions. Rajon then hit an uncontested jumper from the top of the key himself as the shotclock struck zero. Despite the C’s explosion of 11 points in 2 and a half minutes, the 76ers kept it tight, only trailing by 1 at the half. While the Celtics shot well over 50% in the contest (56% overall) compared to the Sixers 46%, they were able to stay in it by way of the rebounding edge (39-33 Sixers, 15-5 on the offensive glass).
The back and forth jabs continued for the duration of the 3rd and 4th quarter, up until the harrowing final moments.
With a minute to go and down two points, the Celtics turned to their sharpshooter in Ray Allen. With time winding down on the shot clock, Big Baby had possession of the ball with his back to the basket and a defender on his waist. Scanning the floor frantically, it looked like Baby might be out of options. That was until he spotted a miraculously open Allen, who buried the three in perfect rhythm. The C’s had a one point advantage, 98-97. Sixers superstar Iguodala responded accordingly, by hitting an impossible jumper in the lane with two green jerseys in his face. Philly up one. Baby was up next, and he made the most of his opportunity. Davis hit a 10 foot jumper with just 27 seconds left, assuring the C’s at least one more possession whether or not the Sixers made their next shot. With the way these final minutes were progressing, it was almost certain that Philly would. Again, it was Iguodala who had the ball in his hands with everything on the line. His deceptive move at the top of the arc gave him a lane past Pierce, where he made a contested layup at the basket with a mere 6.6 seconds to go. Learning his lesson from the last time he displayed his cojones, Iggy kept his celebration surprisingly modest. Unfortunately for him and his 76ers, they faced the same result as that match-up in ’09. This time, however, it was at the hands of Garnett on a surprisingly routine play for the Celtics.
Tonight’s game winner didn’t have the flair that usually accompanies a Rondo-Garnett alley-oop. For starters, there was no actual dunk, it was simply a lay-in. Also– and perhaps more impressively–this was a play that was run in the half court set, compared to the normal fastbreak requirement for Rondo and KG to show off their years of chemistry. If this play proves anything though, it is that Doc Rivers is one of the best in the business at drawing up last second plays. From the Pierce to Rondo oop versus the Heat last season, to the Ray dagger against the Sixers two years ago, and all the way back to the 2nd game the Big 3 were ever together against the Raptors, Doc has certainly cemented a legacy as a man who does not waver during crunch-time. It is also rather evident that his team doesn’t either.
Despite a lackluster effort from an ill Pierce, as well as missing the Big Diesel, the Celtics were set-up from the very beginning to fall into this “trap” game. But as is usual with this team, as one man falters, another steps up. Ray scored 9 of his 23 points in the final frame, and Big Baby had a big effort off of the bench with 16 points and 7 rebounds. Rondo had a cool 19 points, along with his per game average of 14 assists, feeding Garnett on the final play for his last. The bucket also gave Garnett 14 points on the night. All of the Sixers who logged meaningful minutes had an impressive outing, as they saw 7 players tally double-digits, led by their 2nd year scorer, Jodie Meeks with 19. The win means 9 straight for the Celtics, as they look to make it 10 on the road versus the Charlotte Bobcats on Saturday, who boast a meager 8-13 record.
About the Author
Written by Michael Johnson
I am a recent graduate of Endicott College having earned my Bachelors Degree in Communications. I bleed green and will until I die. If you'd like to talk sports I'm available on facebook and my email address is Johnson3448@comcast.net. You can also follow me on twitter @johnsoncookie.