BOSTON There was a steady stream of trips to the free throw line for the Boston Celtics on Friday night, showing once again what having multiple players attacking the rim can do.
But as it turned out, a slew of missed free throws would prove costly to the Celtics in their comeback attempt that fell short in their 106-100 loss to Philadelphia.
Boston came into the game averaging 24 free throw attempts per game, which ranked ninth in the NBA.
On Friday, the Celtics (2-3) had 31 free throw attempts but only connected on 22 of them.
"Our missed free throws were huge ... in this game," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
In the pivotal fourth quarter, the Celtics were 2-for-4 from the line. But the two misses - one by Paul Pierce and the other by Kevin Garnett - came when the C's were down by 10 and nine points, respectively.
Boston's free-throw shooting allowed the C's to stay close in a game that for the most part was dominated by the Sixers. Here are some other keys identified prior to the game, and how they actually played out.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Generating points in the paint needs to be a priority for the Celtics tonight. Philadelphia, playing without centers Andrew Bynum (knee) and Kwame Brown (calf), are indeed ripe in the middle. The numbers bear this out, with Philadelphia ranking 20th in points-in-the-paint differential (-3.3).
WHAT WE SAW: Not only did Boston struggle to generate points in the paint, but the Sixers actually dominated them inside with a 56-38 advantage in points in the paint. It comes back to dribble penetration by the Sixers who frequently beat Celtics defenders off the dribble.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Celtics starting power forward vs. Thaddeus Young: This is where Boston's lineup versatility should help. Young is too quick for Jared Sullinger, so don't be shocked to see Brandon Bass or possibly Jeff Green in the starting lineup tonight.
WHAT WE SAW: Boston opted to go with Jared Sullinger but rather than have him guard Young, the C's opted to have Kevin Garnett start off on Young. Garnett did a solid job, but the minute Garnett went to the bench ... Young got going. He would finish with 15 points and five rebounds. After the game, C's coach Doc Rivers saw Young's play as being critical to the Sixers' win. "Thaddeus Young, in a lot of ways, was the difference in the game," Rivers said. "I just thought he did a lot of things."
PLAYER TO WATCH: Rajon Rondo has been on a subtle, but impressive nonetheless start to this season. In addition to increasing his scoring average (career-high 16 points per game) while shooting a career-best 57.4 percent from the field, he continues to rack up a consistently high number of assists. By reaching double figures tonight in assists, it will be his 29th straight regular season game which would tie him for third all-time with John Stockton for the most consecutive regular season games with 10 or more assists.
WHAT WE SAW: Rondo had a strong game statistically with 14 points and a season-high 20 assists, but Philadelphia's Jrue Holiday was easily the better point guard on this night. "Pick and roll coverages, I have to do better with that," Rondo said. "He got anywhere he wanted tonight on the floor."
STAT TO TRACK: Doc Rivers might want to bottle up whatever he says at halftime, and make it part of his pregame spiel to his players when it comes to scoring the ball. The Celtics have proven thus far to be a much better team generating offense in the second half of games, compared to the game's first 24 minutes. The C's rank No. 22 and No. 29 in the league in first and second quarter scoring, respectively. It becomes a completely different Celtics squad in the second half with the C's ranking ninth and 10th in third and fourth quarter scoring, respectively.
WHAT WE SAW: Boston's second-half surge scoring the ball continued on Friday night with the C's tallying 29 and 26 points in the third and fourth quarters, respectively. Even with the increased scoring, it won't mean anything until the Celtics do a better job of clamping down defensively in the second half.