Late-game execution key in series vs. Sixers

Late-game execution key in series vs. Sixers
May 19, 2012, 5:11 pm
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BOSTON For years, the Boston Celtics always had the experience card to play in end-of-the-game situations.

As you look at their second round playoff series against Philadelphia, that has become one of a number of should-be Celtic advantages that isn't playing out quite like anyone expected.

The series is tied at 2-2, with Game 5 in Boston on Monday and Game 6 back in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

As much as talk centers around the Sixers playing good enough to potentially be up 3-1 in this series, the C's can counter with the fact that this series would have probably been a Celtics sweep had they delivered the kind of late-game execution a team with their championship pedigree is expected to have at times like this.

The first two games weren't decided until the final moments, and essentially came down to which team could make the big plays needed to win.

In Boston's 92-91 Game 1 win, Kevin Garnett had a season-high 29 points and Rajon Rondo had his eighth playoff triple-double with 13 points, 17 assists and 12 rebounds. In addition, Rondo made a slew of heady plays in the game's closing moments to secure the win.

Philadelphia bounced back with an 82-81 Game 2 win, a game in which they came up with a slew of buzzer-beating shots, second-chance points and played good enough defense that Kevin Garnett was whistled for an illegal screen in the game's final seconds that just about killed any shot of a Celtic comeback.

Boston blew out the Sixers in Game 3 and seemed on their way to a repeat in Game 4. But they allowed Philadelphia to hang around too long, stopped playing with the same kind of energy and fire they had in the first half. And to the credit of the Sixers, they made the C's pay as they closed out the game with a 9-0 run to win, 92-83, to even the series at two games apiece.

So in three of the four games, it came down to which team could do a better job of executing in crunch time.

In two of those three games, Philadelphia - not Boston - was the superior team.

If you go behind the numbers, they only further validate the Sixers in this series as being better in close, down-to-the-wire finishes.

In the final two minutes of the games in which either of these two teams were ahead or behind by five points in this series, the Sixers are shooting 75 percent (6-for-8) which is tops among second-round playoff teams under those conditions while the Celtics (6-for-12) are right behind them at 50 percent.

If you look at the playoffs as a whole, it becomes even more clear that statistically at least, Philadelphia has been the better team when it comes to closing out opponents.

Examining those same conditions - ahead or behind by five points with two minutes to play - the Sixers are 5-1 in the playoffs while the Celtics are just 4-4 according to NBA.comstats.

In addition, Philadelphia has connected on 53.3 percent of its shots under those conditions in the postseason which ranks No. 2 among playoff teams, while the C's and their 36 percent shooting come in at a distant 10th.

There's no need to dwell on the numbers because the Celtics know all too well that they can be better - they have to be better - at closing out games in this series.

Fortunately for the C's, there's still time to change all that.

It begins Monday night in Game 5 which for the Celtics, has been a good time for them.

In the Big Three era, the C's are 7-0 when hosting a playoff Game 5 matchup.

At this point, having previously won in similar situations means little.

This series has been about making the proper adjustments and finding ways to win in a series that has come down to the wire in all but one game.

Normally, that would be a good thing for the Celtics.

As the C's remind us, this is not a normal season - from the lockout-shortened regular season schedule, to the injuries, players out for the season, and yes, late-game execution which for years was a given with this team.

Not now; not in this series.