Late-game execution key in series vs. Sixers

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Late-game execution key in series vs. Sixers

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.

Highlights: Devin Booker puts up 70 points but Celtics get the win

Highlights: Devin Booker puts up 70 points but Celtics get the win

Highlights from the TD Garden as Devin Booker had a historic performance where he scored 70 points, but it wasn't enough to get the win over the Celtics.

Thomas on Suns: 'We’re worried about the playoffs; they’re worried about the lottery'

Thomas on Suns: 'We’re worried about the playoffs; they’re worried about the lottery'

BOSTON – Stacking wins on top of wins is the mindset of the Boston Celtics right now, so the players who did speak to the media following Friday’s 130-120 win over Phoenix drove that point home emphatically.

But inside the locker room, it was unusually quiet, the kind of silence you expect following a loss.

Considering how the Celtics’ defense was absolutely thrashed by Devin Booker’s franchise record 70 points, there’s no question at a minimum the Celtics’ pride overall was stung.

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And when Suns coach Earl Watson began calling time-outs and having his team commit fouls at the end of the game, there’s no question it rubbed a few Celtics the wrong way.

“I don’t think anybody has ever seen that; continuing to call time-outs, continuing to foul when we are up 15. But I mean, it was obvious what they were trying to do. They were trying to get him (Booker) the most points possible. Hat off to to him (Booker). He played a hell of a game.”

Following the game, Watson defended his late-game decision making.

“Calling time-outs at the end kept the game close,” he said. “It’s basketball; I’m not coming to any arena to be liked. If people don’t like us while we build … so what? Do something about it.”

The Suns (22-51) never came any closer than 10 points, which was the final score margin.

Al Horford acknowledged that there was some aggravation following the game.

“You can be frustrated when somebody is doing that to you,” he said. “It’s not to one guy, it’s to the team so I think we’re probably more aggravated at ourselves, at least personally I feel that way. I probably could have done a little better, maybe done some different things to prevent it. We got to give him credit, 70 points, I don’t care it’s 70, he got 70. It’s impressive.”

But there will be some inside the Celtics locker room and among their fan base, who were bothered by the Suns’ late-game actions which seemed more focused on Booker getting numbers than anything else.

When asked about being disrespected by the Suns’ late-game strategy, Thomas wanted no part of that conversation.

“It is what it is,” Thomas said. “We won the game. We’re worried about the playoffs; they’re worried about the lottery.”

 Boom!