PHILADELPHIA You hear NBA coaches and players talk all the time about playing four quarters of good basketball in order to win.
But in this Boston-Philadelphia playoff series, success has been defined by one specific 12-minute stretch of play -- the third quarter.
More reliable than Miss Cleo or a Ouija board, the third quarter has been the ultimate truth-teller when it comes to figuring out who will win.
In the first five games, the team to score more points in the third quarter has won every time.
For Sixers coach Doug Collins, that was among the reasons why he was so disappointed in how his team seemingly came unglued in the third quarter which ended with the Celtics on a 22-9 run that set their 101-85 Game 5 victory into motion.
"I thought we were playing very well," Collins said. "We had a six point lead, a clear path, foul, missed two free throws and had five straight turnovers. That really was the deciding point in the game."
Which team comes out and asserts their control to start the second half, as has been the case in every game thus far, will go far in determining the winner of Game 6. That will be among the many factors to contribute to tonight's outcome. Here are some other keys to tonight's game as the Celtics try to close out the series against a Sixers team that will be desperate in their quest to force a Game 7 back in Boston on Saturday.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- If Avery Bradley (shoulder) has to miss a second straight game, Ray Allen is expected to get the starting nod once again. One of the reasons the C's put Bradley in the starting lineup ahead of Allen, was because of the defensive presence Bradley brought to the floor. "Hes an extraordinary defensive player," Allen said of Bradley. "Any time you have a player down you never take on that persons role; you just try to go out and do your job."
MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Brandon Bass vs. Elton Brand: Both players had breakout performances in Game Five, with Bass scoring a playoff-career high 27 points while Brand led the Sixers with 19. The scary part for Philadelphia has to be that many of the shots that Bass made, were shots that he has had throughout this series. If he's knocking those shots down now, it has the potential to open up more scoring opportunities for the rest of his teammates. "We got a few good players on the team that theyve gotta focus on," Bass said. After the way he ripped the Sixers defense apart in Game 5, Philadelphia might want to add him to that list.
PLAYER TO WATCH -- Once again, it's Kevin Garnett. He's always going to draw the attention of defenses. But after alluding to the Sixers supporters as fair-weather fans, the chorus of boos for him are sure to be amped up even more so and Garnett is going to love it. He is a guy that's always searching for added incentive, added motivation to elevate his game. A room full of folks booing his every move? That'll do it.
STAT TO TRACK -- Jrue Holiday is more of a scoring point guard than his Celtics equivalent Rajon Rondo. But his ability to limit his turnovers has played a vital role in the game's outcome. When he has kept his mistakes to a minimum, the Sixers have had success. But when he has struggled with turnovers, the Celtics have emerged victorious. In the two Philadelphia wins, Holiday has averaged just one turnover committed. In the three losses, that figure more than doubles to 2.67 turnovers per game.