IF THERE IS anything about this Eastern Conference semifinal series between the 76ers and Boston Celtics that makes sense, it is hiding itself better than Evan Turner’s jump shot. They’ll resume their head-scratching series on Monday at TD Garden, even at two games each. A few examples of the strangeness of the series:
In separate games, Boston has jumped out to leads of 9-0 and 14-0, and lost.
During their two wins, the Sixers have shot 39.2 percent from the floor, while they’ve made 42.3 percent in their two losses.
The Sixers scored 30 more points in the second half on Friday (61) than they did in the first half (31).
The Sixers’ starters in Game 4, an improbable 92-83 win, were a combined minus-15 during their playing time. The subs on the team were a plus-60.
Kevin Garnett shot just 3-for-12 from the floor on Friday after making 63.3 percent of his shots in the first three games.
The Sixers are averaging 24.8 free-throw attempts per game in this series after averaging just 18.2 during the season, barely more than the all-time low of 18.
Sensible? No. Exciting and unpredictable? Very much so.
Why things are happening the way they are can be attributed to so many variables. When the Celtics get the ball inside to Garnett and he’s able to get shots, they are a much better team. But sometimes they get away from that and it allows the Sixers’ defense to become that much more effective. How, with the Sixers waging a huge comeback on Friday, was it that Garnett shot the ball just two times while playing virtually the whole fourth quarter? Yes, rookie Lavoy Allen is doing a fine job of covering him, but he certainly hasn’t all of a sudden turned into the next coming of Bill Russell. Not even Celtics coach Doc Rivers could figure out Garnett’s disappearance late Friday.
How is it that Andre Iguodala, not very successful during his career when given a chance to be a game-changer at the end of contests, is now the go-to guy for the Sixers? He scored five straight points down the stretch on Friday, giving the Sixers a lead they never relinquished.
And who would have thought that the player seemingly making the most difference in this series would be the 50th overall pick in the 2011 draft out of Temple? But Allen is certainly playing the role.
It’s all just so strange and fun to watch, especially for Sixers coach Doug Collins, who is thrilled that his team is taking on his never-stop mentality.
“The game the other night gave us a chance to go back to Boston and get things back in our favor,” he said. “We’ve got pressure. Obviously, you don’t want to play in an elimination game. We’re not in this just to compete, we want to win it. I think our guys showed that the other night. We had nothing going right for us. We just finally found a way, about the 10-minute mark of the third quarter it started clicking for us and we started playing great from that point on. We’d like to be able to pick it up from there. Two of the games started 9-0 and 14-0. We don’t want to dig ourselves a hole [Monday] night.”
Why not? Isn’t that when his team plays its best? If this series is any indication, it is.
“We know the crowd is going to be into it,” said forward Elton Brand, hindered all series with left-shoulder and neck pain. “It’s going to be a battle. They feel like they let one slip, we feel like we let one slip and now we’re both trying to coming in and win that one game. It’s tied up and we have to be focused and confident and try to get out there and get a win.”
It certainly won’t be easy, but neither team should have any excuses going in. It is the first time they’ll play in the series after 2 days of rest. While that should help the Celtics’ older players, particularly Garnett (40 minutes, 19 seconds on Friday), Paul Pierce (42:10) and Ray Allen (31:00), it also should be helpful to the Sixers, who have gotten better production from Turner throughout the season on 2-plus days of rest. It could be just what Turner needs, as he is shooting a dismal 23.2 percent (10-for-43) in the past three games.
“I think it probably benefits them. K.G. probably has to be upwards of 43,000 minutes in his career,” Collins said of Garnett, who indeed has logged more than 50,000 minutes, including the postseason. “Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, these guys have played a ton of minutes, so I think being at home and Doc probably gave them plenty of rest and they’ll be ready with a lot of energy in Game 5. I’m sure they’re looking at it with the idea of Game 2, we found a way to win a close game; Game 4, when they looked like they had us knocked out, again we kind of bumped them out. They’re probably disappointed in themselves that they gave us some life.”
Giving life has been something reserve forward Thaddeus Young has done for the Sixers of late. After totaling nine points and five rebounds in the first two games of the series, he has exploded for 34 points and 14 rebounds in the last two.
“Any time Thad is cutting and rolling and getting to that basket, it puts so much pressure on the defense,” Collins said. “I thought he and Lavoy had some big interior passes the other night, big plays, keeping the ball alive. He had five offensive rebounds [of his 10 total]. When you’re not shooting the ball well, [it’s great] to give yourself multiple opportunities. He had a great block on Rondo late in the game. So that’s the activity I’ve talked about.
“In this series it’s been a little bit different because when they go to their small lineup, they’re playing Paul Pierce on [Young]. In the previous series [against Chicago], it was Taj Gibson and some of these bigger guys who really got their bodies on him and knocked him around and stuff. I think he’s had a little more freedom of movement instead of having to play against that big body on him, like he had to in that other series. With that smaller lineup, we actually keep Dre [Iguodala] on Pierce and then let Thad guard either Avery Bradley or one of those other guys so he’s not having to play that postup guy, and I think that’s helped him.”
That makes sense. One of the few things in this series that does.
The 76ers will work out four players today in preparation of next month’s draft. The players working out will include Big 5 player of the year Zack Rosen, from Penn and Villanova’s Maalik Wayns. The other two who will participate will be Maryland’s Terrell Stoglin and Iona’s Scott Machado.
Contact Bob Cooney at email@example.com.