BOSTON -- The Celtics saved their best for last.
Just as they got better as the regular season went on, they got better as Saturday night's Game 1 went on. With the way it started though, it was hard to get worse.
Boston spotted the 76ers seven points before getting on the board themselves, and trailed by double digits at the end of the first quarter. They stuck around throughout, even taking the lead in the third, but with under 11 minutes to play in the game, the C's were down 10 points.
Enter energy. Witch led to defense. Which, in turn, led to offense.
The Celtics came alive in the fourth quarter, playing the clamp-down defense they've been so known to play over the years. The result? A Philly team that watched its ten-point lead evaporate as each minute went by, finally disappearing with a Rajon Rondo jumper with 3:47 to play.
The Sixers would retake the lead on the next possession, but it was the next play that would sum up the fourth quarter run by the Celtics. An Avery Bradley block on Lou Williams led to a fast break in which Rajon Rondo found Kevin Garnett for the layup and lead the C's would never relinquish.
Yeah, I mean our defense really picked it up there in the 4th quarter," Paul Pierce said. "You know the Sixers are a good team, you cant take nothing away from this. Theres a reason they are here, they are good at executing their plays and make the extra pass, they play unselfish but we just gathered ourselves, gathered ourselves, kept grinding, kept grinding. We started rebounding the ball a lot better and the defense really settled in and thats why we took the lead and overcame.
The Celtics grabbed 28 of their 45 rebounds in the second half, compared to just 16 second-half boards for the Sixers (41 overall). The C's were out-rebounded badly by the Sixers in the regular season, but snapped out of it in the second half of the fourth game since the regular season began.
"You know, I told them at halftime, Listen, they cant be more athletic and play harder. That combination will never work for us." Doc Rivers said. "We had to at least match their intensity, and I thought we did that.
"From a defensive standpoint we didn't do a good job in the first half," Keyon Dooling said. "They kind of picked us apart with their pick-and-roll offense, especially their interior passing. They really carved us up on the inside. We made some adjustments at halftime but more so than anything I think our intensity and our effort turned up. Got a little bit of momentum, took some easy transition baskets, made some hustle plays."
The transition game that resulted from the defensive pressure in the fourth is exactly what the Sixers were hoping to have success in against the C's. But Boston scored seven fast break points in the fourth quarter alone, 14 for the game. The Sixers were held to 13 total.
"We're a very resourceful team," Dooling said. "We can play in the half court. When there's opportunities we like to run. But yeah, no doubt they're a better team in transition -- not to say they can't execute in the half court, but their strength is their transition game so we definitely want to keep them out of it."