Celtics-Sixers review: Words come back to bite Sixers

959499.jpg

Celtics-Sixers review: Words come back to bite Sixers

BOSTON As a way to motivate his players, Sixers coach Doug Collins told them about the thousands and thousands of minutes logged by Boston's core group of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo in addition to veteran guard Jason Terry.

It was designed to remind them that as tired as they might have felt following Friday night's game, the C's veteran core should be even more tired.

"I'm sure the crowd is going to lift them," Collins said prior to the game. "But there's no reason those guys should be fresher than us, not with the amount of playoff games and minutes they've put into this league."

Celtics coach Doc Rivers, never one to turn down an opportunity to provide added motivation to his players, mentioned this to the Celtics prior to them taking to the court.

Rivers wouldn't say exactly how the team reacted, but did say, "Kevin reacted the way you think he would react."

Regardless of whether it was added fuel for the Celtics, there was no mistaking the C's running away with a surprisingly easy win, 92-79.

Boston (11-9) led the entire game and other than a few minutes in the third quarter, seemed to just get stronger as the game went on.

"You could tell that we definitely wanted this one, needed this one," Celtics veteran big man Chris Wilcox told CSNNE.com. "We brought it the whole game."

And While Collins' comments were intended to motivate his players, Wilcox said they actually wound up providing some much-needed focus to the C's bench.

"We wanted to come in and go to work, so the starters wouldn't have to log that many minutes," said Wilcox who had eight points, three rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.

Paul Pierce was asked about Collins' comments after the win.

"I didn't really think nothing of it; I really didn't," said Pierce who has logged more than 38,000 minutes of court time in his career. "That's crazy that he calculated that."

Finding the necessary motivation to succeed was indeed a key to Boston's win over Philadelphia on Saturday. Here are some other keys identified prior to the game and how they actually played out for the Celtics.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Boston has made a point of getting Kevin Garnett the ball early and often in the post the last two games, which has helped him get into an early groove and the C's get off to a solid start.

WHAT WE SAW: Garnett was a post-presence - offensively at least - for the C's throughout most of his time on the floor. He finished with a team-high 19 points on 9-for-11 shooting. Unfortunately he did not grab a single rebound which had not happened to him since Jan. 21, 1997 when he played for Minnesota and they lost by 12 points to Toronto.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Paul Pierce vs Evan Turner: Both carried their respective teams for long stretches on Friday night with Pierce leading the C's with a game-high 27 points and Turner tallying a double-double with 26 points and 10 rebounds which included the game-winning basket.

WHAT WE SAW: Each player scored 13 points, but Pierce's performance was clearly the more impressive one. In addition to his scoring, he also had a season-high nine assists which took him over the 4,000 career assists plateau - only the fifth Celtic to do so.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jason Terry had his worst shooting game in a Celtic uniform on Friday, tallying just four points while missing 11 of his 12 shots from the field. He promises to be better - a lot better - tonight.

WHAT WE SAW: Terry did all his work scoring the ball in the first half, tallying nine points on 3-for-9 shooting. It wasn't the kind of breakout performance he would have liked, but it was a definite improvement compared to Friday night's debacle.

STAT TO TRACK: The Celtics' rebounding numbers place them at the bottom of the NBA standings this year, but there has been a noticeable improvement lately. Boston came into Friday's game against Philadelphia being out-rebounded by 4.2 boards per game. In the C's last five games, they have edged opponents on the boards by 0.6 per game. Keeping that margin relatively close will once again be a factor in Boston's chances to win tonight.

WHAT WE SAW: The Celtics wound up being minus-4 on the boards for the game. However, when the game was actually a game - the first half - Boston managed to edge out the Sixers on the boards in both quarters which factored into their 48-28 halftime lead.

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

celtics-al-horford.jpg

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

celtics-isaiah-thomas.jpg

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.