BOSTON -- The key to the Boston Celtics 101-85 win over the 76ers was the fact that the Sixers couldn’t apply the knockout punch when the Celtics appeared ready to go down.
That would be the first half.
True, the Sixers led 50-47 at halftime, but they clearly outplayed Boston and should have been up by much more.
“And I don’t know what was – we weren’t right in the first half,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “You could just feel it. I thought Philly was playing well, was one of them.”
But it wasn’t the entire story.
“You could see all our guys, they were looking at each other every time someone made a shot.”
The Celtics lacked energy.
“And it just wasn’t the – I don’t know, I don’t want to get corny, but it was like the Celtic spirit, it wasn’t there," Rivers said.
Two things saved the Celtics in the first half – free throw shooting and Greg Stiemsma.
The Celtics were 9-13 in the first half from the line while the Sixers were just 1-2.
He had two points in this series and scored eight in the first quarter.
And then the Celtics woke up in the third quarter, outscoring the Sixers 28-16. The team that has won the third quarter has won each of the five games of this series.
Brandon Bass outscored the Sixers in the quarter, 18-16. Boston was 11 for 18 from the field and hit all six free throws.
The Sixers were 7 for 16 from the field and just 2 of 6 from the foul line. More telling was they committed six third quarter turnovers.
“We did not meet the tenacity that they played with, from the middle of the third quarter on,” Sixers coach Doug Collins said.
More than halftime adjustments, the Celtics made attitude adjustments and were much more aggressive.
Now trailing 3-2, the Sixers must win Wednesday in Philadelphia to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Collins had a telling assessment of what is needed.
“I told my guys that to win Game 6 we have to be mentally and physically tougher than what we were tonight, the last 18 minutes of the game,” Collins said. “They knocked us on our heels and we had that one little segment that we tried to get back into it, but for the most part they were the more forceful team to finish the game.”
If challenging his team’s own intensity won’t motivate the Sixers, nothing will. They came back from an even worse effort in Game 3 to win Game 4. Now they have to prove they can do it again.