Celtics-Sixers review: What we saw . . .

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Celtics-Sixers review: What we saw . . .

BOSTON The Boston Celtics' suffocating defense has claimed yet another victim in Philadelphia, with the Green Team pulling away for a 103-79 blowout victory. Boston had five players in double figures scoring, led by Kevin Garnett's 20 points and Rajon Rondo's 15 assists. But the credit for this win has to go to the C's defense which limited Philadelphia to shooting just 38.2 percent from the field. "Last two games, really, the defense has been just great," said C's coach Doc Rivers.

And while there's plenty of statistical data to show how well Boston's defense played, the number that really jumps out is the turnovers.

Philadelphia came into Sunday's game averaging a league-low 11 turnovers. The Sixers (29-27) had 11 at the half and finished with 16 for the game.

Forcing turnovers was indeed one of the factors contributing to the Celtics' big win. Here are some of the other keys identified prior to the game, and how they actually played out.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Bench play is always important, but you have to wonder how will Boston's second unit respond to facing a Sixers team whose backups have collectively been one of the most productive groups in the NBA this season. Ray Allen has come off the C's bench the last two games, and isn't likely to return to the starting lineup. That gives the C's a prolific scoring threat off the bench, coupled with the steadily improving play of Greg Stiemsma. Celtics veteran Sasha Pavlovic was the C's eighth man on Saturday and responded with an eight-point game in just over 14 minutes of action. Philadelphia is getting 40.3 points per game off its bench, the third-highest scoring bench in the NBA. Keeping them at or below their average will be critical for Boston to win.

WHAT WE SAW: Philadelphia had 40 points off the bench, but the bulk of it came well after the game was decided in Boston's factor. In terms of reserves who impacted the game, Boston's Big Three off the bench - Ray Allen, Sasha Pavlovic and Greg Stiemsma - all made their presence felt in some form or another. Allen had 10 points, Pavlovic grabbed six rebounds and Stiemsma had three blocked shots. They were especially impressive in the second quarter which is when the C's began to pull away. "The second unit in the second quarter was as good as you can get," Rivers said. Sixers coach Doug Collins saw Sunday's game as a microcosm of sorts on how things have been lately for his team. "Yesterday our bench had 51 points and our starters couldn't make a shot. Today, our starters had some points and our bench couldn't score."

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Ray Allen vs. Lou Williams: It's not often that you have as much star power as tonight's game has, and the key matchup involves a pair of non-starters. But Allen and Williams, by all accounts, are not your typical backups. Allen is the NBA's all-time leader in 3-pointers made and is the C's third-leading scorer. Williams is the Sixers' top scorer, and is on track to become the first player since Dell Curry in 1993-1994 with Charlotte, to lead his team in scoring without making a single start.

WHAT WE SAW: This matchup, much like the game itself, never materialized into much of a duel. Lou Williams had eight points on 2-for-7 shooting while Allen had 10 points for the C's on 4-for-9 shooting.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Brandon Bass is coming off arguably his worst shooting performance for the Celtics. A double-digit scorer most nights, Bass missed all six of his shots from the field against the Pacers and finished with two points.

WHAT WE SAW: Bass is too good a shooter to have another game like the 0-for against Indiana. The 6-foot-8 forward was nearly flawless on Sunday, finishing with 18 points on 8-for-10 shooting. "Night like last night, I think it happens once a year," Bass said. "You know what I mean? Since I got that out of the way, I can move in the right direction."

STAT TO TRACK: Both Boston and Philadelphia will look to get out and run when the opportunity presents itself. Good luck with that mission. Tonight's game features two of the league's best at limiting fast-break points, a credit to both teams placing a strong emphasis on getting back in transition defensively after as many made and missed shots, as possible. Boston has been strong in this area, giving up just 12 points per game which ranks sixth in the NBA. The Sixers? Even better. Teams are getting a league-low 9.9 fast-break points against Philadelphia this season.

WHAT WE SAW: Both teams had 14 fast-break points so this category was never a factor in the game's final outcome.

NCAA TOURNAMENT: South Carolina headed to Final Four, beats Florida 77-70

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NCAA TOURNAMENT: South Carolina headed to Final Four, beats Florida 77-70

NEW YORK - It's only right that South Carolina's first trip to Final Four was earned through its defense.

A team known for a swarming zone used it effectively down the stretch to beat Florida 77-70 on Sunday and win the East Regional at Madison Square Garden.

Sindarius Thornwell scored 26 points for the seventh-seeded Gamecocks (26-10) against the fourth-seeded Gators (27-9) in the all-Southeastern Conference matchup.

South Carolina will face Gonzaga, the No. 1 seed from the West Regional, in the Final Four on Saturday at Glendale, Arizona.

"Gamecock Nation, we heard you loud and clear," coach Frank Martin roared as the team prepared to cut down the nets. "We'll see you in Phoenix."

The game was as close as expected until the final minute. There were 14 lead changes and 10 ties. The last lead change came on two free throws by Thornwell with 2:24 left that made it 65-63. Florida managed just three field goals over the final 3:55.

Thornwell, the regional MVP, followed the deciding free throws with a nice assist to Maik Kotsar for a 4-point lead. It seemed Thornwell, who scored eight straight points for the Gamecocks, was always where he needed to be including making a steal with 40 seconds left that turned into a 73-68 lead.

"I just made plays," Thornwell said. "Plays needed to be made down the stretch and I stepped up and made plays."

"Thornwell was just being Thornwell," Florida coach Mike White said of the SEC player of the year. "He's one of the best players in the country."

PJ Dozier added 17 points for the Gamecocks, Chris Silva had 13 and Kotsar 12.

It all totaled to a Final Four trip for Martin, he of the booming voice and terrifying faces.

Justin Leon had 18 points for the Gators who managed a 40-33 halftime lead on 7-for-12 shooting from 3-point range. But that was it. Florida was 0 for 14 from beyond the arc in the second half, a lot like the 0-for-17 effort the Gators had in their first meeting with South Carolina this season.

South Carolina, which forced Florida into 16 turnovers, finished 23 for 31 from the free throw line, including a 9-for-10 effort from Thornwell.

Nash stepping up when Bruins need him most

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Nash stepping up when Bruins need him most

BROOKLYN -- It took most of his first season in Boston, but Riley Nash is hitting his groove with the Bruins at exactly the right time.

Nash came up huge in a must-win game Saturday night against the Islanders, scoring both goals in a 2-1 win over the Isle. The unheralded Nash and equally unheralded backup goalie Anton Khudobin were the two most important performers in the tight, playoff-style win that snapped a four game losing streak while pushing the B's back into playoff position.

"That's part of [a big win], right? Big performances,” said interim coach Bruce Cassidy. "Generally you look to your best players, but [Nash] did a really good job. He's got a sneaky shot, so hopefully he uses it a little bit more. You can't say enough about those goals. We needed them tonight.

"Generally our top guns have been good offensively and have come through. But tonight it was the lesser lights for us in terms of offense, so good for us.”

Both Nash goals were titanic. The first came on the first shift following the Islanders goal in the first period. The fourth-line winger stripped Isles defenseman Scott Mayfield in the neutral zone and then flipped a shot past Thomas Greiss to the short side that tied the game at 1-1. Then in the third period, Dominic Moore hit Nash in stride as he sped into the offensive zone, and Nash weaved through defenders before sneaking one past Greiss for the game-winner.

The two goals give Nash four goals and six points in 21 games since the All-Star break, in line with his normal offensive output during his NHL career, and a step up from the three goals and nine points in his first 52 games this season.

The affable Nash was more than happy to contribute in a big win, and enthused at seeing the offense finally starting to flow on a semi-regular basis when the Bruins can really use it.

"It's quite the output as opposed to the season I've had so far, so I'll take it and be happy that we won the game,” said Nash. "I think everyone in here knew that was the biggest game of the year. It was going to be a really big uphill battle if we lost that one.

"Both teams came out desperate in a pretty tight, playoff-style game, but that's what it's going to be like for the rest of the season. So we've got to hunker down and take it one game at a time as the saying goes.”

With the Bruins third line fading a bit in these tight, physical games where players have to battle for their ice, it's been vital that Boston's fourth line step up and provide big minutes at both ends of the ice. Nash and Co. did more than that on Saturday night by potentially saving the season with his biggest, best game in a Bruins uniform.