PHILADELPHIA For as near-perfect as the Boston Celtics were in Game 3, they were perfectly flawed down the stretch in Game 4 which ended with a 92-83 loss. The best-of-seven series with Philadelphia is now tied at 2-2, with Game 5 in Boston on Monday and Game 6 back in Philadelphia on Wednesday.
"We lost our composure," said C's coach Doc Rivers, whose team led by double figures most of the first half. "We never returned to playing basketball like we did in the first half."
Said Celtics guard Ray Allen: "The third quarter we just lost our attack. They attacked us going into the fourth quarter. We still, we were in a good place but they continued to attack."
And now the Celtics find themselves heading back to Boston looking to regain control of the series as opposed to closing it out.
"On the road, you gotta put the knockout punch to a team," said Boston's Paul Pierce. "We just didn't do that."
Not closing out the game playing the right way was indeed a factor in the game's outcome. Here are some other keys identified prior to the game, and how they actually played out.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: After torching them with his scoring and passing, look for the Sixers to place a renewed focus on trying to limit Rajon Rondo. As much as Kevin Garnett's scoring around the basket and Paul Pierce's ability to get to the free throw line has hurt them, Rondo has quietly gone about dominating this series with his all-around play.
WHAT WE SAW: Rondo had a great line for the night - 15 points, 15 assists with just four turnovers. But down the stretch, Rondo - like the rest of the Celtics - failed to come up with the big play, offensively or defensively, that was needed in order to get the win.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Kevin Garnett vs. Spencer Hawes: Garnett has been crushing Hawes all series, and there's a good chance that KG will again win this head-to-head battle. But the Sixers are probably going to try and have Hawes look to be more of a scorer, which they believe will potentially wear Garnett down some. Sounds good in theory. But like most of Philly's approaches to handling Garnett in this series it's probably not going to work.
WHAT WE SAW: At some point, you had to count on Kevin Garnett cooling off some. But Friday, KG was about as frigid shooting the ball as we've seen him this season. He finished with nine points on 3-for-12 shooting from the field. C's coach Doc Rivers has no answer for why Garnett never really got into the flow offensively for the C's. "I don't know. I'm going to have to go back and look at figure that one out myself," Rivers said. "I thought he was a passer tonight a lot. We have to get him back in the middle of the paint, and him being more aggressive."
PLAYER TO WATCH: Ray Allen only took one shot in Game 3 and it wasn't even a 3-pointer. The Sixers have done a good job of making sure he doesn't get going, but his presence has opened things up for just about every one on the floor with him. Only Kevin Garnett (plus-47) and Avery Bradley (plus-23) have a higher plusminus ratio than Allen (plus 22). "That tells you his effectiveness," said Sixers coach Doug Collins. "Ray Allen, he's a threat to throw up 20 points anytime. When he's on the floor, you have to space him differently. So what he does, he takes away some of your help. You have to shade him a little bit more than you do somebody else."
WHAT WE SAW: Allen was a bit more active shooting the ball (2-for-6, five points), but his impact - much like the rest of the Celtics bench - was minimal in terms of turning the game's tide one way or another.
STAT TO TRACK: No one expects the Sixers' starters to out-score their Boston Celtics' counterparts. But Philadelphia has no shot at winning tonight - or the series for that matter - if they don't at the very least keep it relatively close. In Boston's two playoff wins, the Celtic starters outscored the Sixers' first unit by an average of 30 points. In the lone loss, Boston's starters tallied 60 compared to a respectable 56 by the Sixers.
WHAT WE SAW: This was once again decisively lopsided in Boston's favor, 71-48. But the Sixers finished the game with a 9-0 run, with five of those points being scored by Iguodala.