Sixers have no answer for Garnett in Game 1

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Sixers have no answer for Garnett in Game 1

BOSTON Kevin Garnett has been really good for the Boston Celtics since the All-star break.

But in the last two games, the Big Ticket has been delivering in a way that few would expect from a player so seasoned.

Garnett led the way for Boston with a 29-point, 11-rebound night that proved to be just enough for the C's to slip past Philadelphia, 92-91, in Game 1 of their best-of-seven series.

"Garnett, I've never seen him play better," said Sixers head coach Doug Collins.

It was vintage Garnett, who controlled the action with scoring around the basket and from the perimeter, all while continuing to serve as the anchor for a strong Celtics defense.

And as far as Garnett's offense was concerned, Rajon Rondo was once again feeding Garnett early and often.

"That's the game plan all the time," said Rondo who had his eighth playoff triple-double with 13 points, 12 rebounds and 17 assists. "When we get away from (it), we take a lot of jump shots. We're a jump-shooting team. But when we need a bucket we tend to go to Paul (Pierce) or Kevin."

Against the Sixers, the preferred matchup to exploit was Garnett against Spencer Hawes.

"He (Garnett) had a lot of great looks that he wanted and he made his shots," Rondo said.

The Sixers were well aware of how Garnett dominated the Atlanta Hawks on Game 6 of the C's first-round series. In that game, an 83-80 Celtics win, Garnett had 28 points and 14 rebounds.

Philadelphia threw double teams at him.

They tilted defenders in his direction.

But nothing seemed to work.

"I don't know what else we could have done," Collins said. "He made a lot of tough shots. He hits those long jump shots. We are not going to run out at him or get a hand in his face. You start running around and doing all that, you free up Paul Pierce and all these other guys."

And there lies the challenge that Garnett poses when he's on his game like he has been of late:

His play symbolizes the pick-your-poison dilemma that most teams face when playing the Celtics.

And while the Celtics have a slew of players that have delivered in big-game situations, Garnett has been the player giving teams the most fits lately.

His strong play has made it tough on C's coach Doc Rivers to limit his minutes. In Saturday's win, Garnett played 38 minutes which included the entire fourth quarter.

Boston cut back his minutes earlier in the game with the goal being to play him for most, if not all of the fourth quarter.

"It's still tough, though, honestly, because it's the minutes in a row that I manage more than the cumulative minutes for him," Rivers said. "And that was the risk, but he handled it pretty well."

Said Garnett: "Whatever is asked of me, is what I am going to do. I don't really pay attention to the minutes."

While Garnett openly admits he hates the fact that the C's now have him playing center, there's no argument outer how it has helped both him and the Celtics this season.

"He's been incredible," C's guard Keyon Dooling told reporters after Saturday's win. "Ever since we made that adjustment at the All-Star break and put him at the five, it's really tough for big guys to get out and challenge him. When they try to put smaller, quicker guys on him he goes down on the block and he just raises up right over the top of them. So his play has been inspiring, his defense has been flawless, and he still does all the little things in the energy and effort category that really help our team win."

And all those little things come about because Garnett puts in the time to steadily work towards improvement, as opposed to simply relying on his experience and talent.

"I have no life at this point," Garnett said. "I go home, get treatment, come back in here, study tape, film. No life at all. This is what it is."

Highlights: Boston Celtics 112, Miami Heat 108

Highlights: Boston Celtics 112, Miami Heat 108

Highlights as the Boston Celtics are able to hold off the Miami Heat and get the win 112-108 at the TD Garden.

Win vs. Heat puts Celtics in virtual tie with Cavs for first place in East

Win vs. Heat puts Celtics in virtual tie with Cavs for first place in East

BOSTON -- Location, location, location.

The Boston Celtics are seemingly where they want to be following their 112-108 win Sunday night over Miami, a victory that put the Celtics (48-26, .649 winning percentage) in a virtual tie with defending NBA champ Cleveland (47-25, .652).

But position means very little without purposeful play, something the Celtics are gradually doing more of than not.

And because of that, they find themselves one strong finish to the season away from going into the playoffs with the top overall record in the East for the first time since 2008 -- the year they brought home Banner 17.

While few anticipate the Celtics will advance to the NBA Finals, they have at least positioned themselves to have a shot at making a good run during the postseason if they can secure home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The last time the top overall top seed in the East failed to make it past the first round was in 2012 when the Chicago Bulls were eliminated by the eighth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, a series that was marred by injuries to Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah that created a much smoother pathway for the upstart Sixers to move on to the second round where they were defeated by Boston in seven games.

And while the players have tried to downplay the significance of landing the top seed in the East, there’s no question it’s something that they know all too well is within their reach.

Cleveland has a much tougher schedule to close out the season, one that includes a Monday night matchup at San Antonio against a Spurs team that’s fighting for the top spot out West.

The Celtics players have talked often about wanting to be in the best position possible going into the playoffs.

Having the top seed?

Yup.

That’ll do it.

And while Celtics players were aware of where the team was in relation to Cleveland, being tied for the top spot with the Cavs isn’t something that Boston is getting too giddy about right now.

“We hear it, but that wasn’t our focus [against Miami],” said Marcus Smart. “Our focus was to come in, get another game, keep that momentum going before we start the playoffs.”

Coach Brad Stevens said not a word was spoken in the locker room after Sunday’s win about the team now being in a virtual tie with the Cavs.

“I think -- I talked about this earlier --obviously the guys, because they get . . . most of them. to be honest, because they’re asked so much, some of them obviously have already said they watch it pretty closely,” Stevens said. “But I’ve tried to say, ‘Hey, it’s about playing as well as we can . . . ' ”

That and location, location, location.