Five points on a B.I.G. Game 5

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Five points on a B.I.G. Game 5

Today would have been The Notorious B.I.G.s 40th birthday a fact that hit me with a range of emotions when I came across it this morning.

Most of these emotions revolved around two harsh reminders:

1. How long hes been gone: 15 years now.

2. How young he was when died: That he was and still should be the same age as Shaq. Only one year older than the Fab Five. Less than four years older than Kevin Garnett.

On so many levels, its hard to imagine what it would be like if Biggie was still around today (assuming he's not actually off getting high and getting on the beach).

On so many others, its clear that he never planned to be around.

Either way, as small birthday tribute, heres a quick look at tonights Game 5, with five Notorious talking points.

Things Done Changed

Or have they?

Despite all thats happened in the five days and 96 minutes of basketball since the Celtics last graced the Garden, this series looks very similar to the way it did after Game 2. There've been no major injuries, no extenuating circumstances, no real shifts in momentum andor overall confidence.

The biggest development is undoubtedly the emergence of Lavoy Allen and the Born Again Thaddeus Young, as the pair now gives Doug Collins the luxury of a larger, more athletic line-up (A. Sherrod Blakely breaks it down here) that presents a wrinkle that hadn't previously concerned the Celtics.

But as Doc Rivers said at yesterday's practice: "In the fourth game, our small lineup hurt us. In Games 1, 2 and 3 the small lineup, defensively, changed the game."

And as I'll say now: "It's one thing for Allen and Young to have a game-changing performance at home. Let's see them do it on the road before calling that line-up a series altering development."

Bottom line: The Celtics are still the better team in this series. They still have home court advantage. Sure, there are plenty of ways in which they can lose, but there will be no excuses if they do.

Everyday Struggle

Well never know exactly how much pain Avery Bradley's in right now, or has been for the better part of these playoffs. All we know is that he's tough as hell, and what he's lacked in production, he's made up for in respect and admiration earned from coaches, teammates and hundreds of thousands of fans.

But in terms of tonight, what can we expect?

Well, Game 4 marked the third time in these playoffs that Bradley's shoulder popped out.

The first time was Game 3 against Atlanta. In Game 4, he only played 19 minutes, and scored only six points on 2-7 shooting (1-5 from three).

The next time was Game 2 against Philly. In Game 3, he only played 20 minutes and scored zero points on 0-2 shooting (0-1 from three).

Not so great. Then again, Game 4 against Atlanta and Game 3 against Philly were far and away the Celtics best two performances of the playoffs. On both nights, they took an early lead and Bradley was free to rest. Perhaps more importantly, those two games prove that the C's are able to click and play some of their best basketball without Bradley heavily involved.

Moving forward, I think all we can do is look at anything Bradley brings to the table as a bonus, and hope that 1) Ray can crank the energy back up (at least to what it was against Atlanta). 2) Mickael Pietrus can convince his Frenchy Godmother to give him a few more nights as the Good Mickael Pietrus before turning him back into a streaky pumpkin.

Whats Beef?

The NBA playoffs are supposed to be nasty. But to this point, the CelticsSixers series has been relatively timid.

We had Garnett's missed elbow in Game 4 (which was nothing), followed by Elton Brand raking him across the face. We had Evan Turner clapping in Paul Pierce's face as the captain frustratingly pushed him away. We've had a fair amount of pushing and shoving, and a few double techs (Bill Kennedy factor). But in general, the on-court feistiness has been at a playoff minimum.

As a fan, four games into a series, there are typically at least two or three guys that you've grown to despise; whose mere existence drives you insane. Is there anyone on Philadelphia that has you feeling like that? Not really, right?

And that's a credit to Doug Collins. He's kept his team level-headed and focused. He knows that if they lose their cool, that's not all they'll lose. They'll be playing right into the Celtics trap.

But thus far, Philly's handled it perfectly. They've stayed respectful, without losing confidence, and I think that's one of the major reasons they come back to Boston tied at 2.

But tonight will be a serious test. Tonight, emotions will be higher than any point in the series. Any point in the season. For some of these guys, higher than at any point in their careers. Meanwhile, the C's have been here before, and know what it takes.

By the end of this game, Philly will know what beef is. How they handle it may very well determine their fate.

Would You Die For Me
"Man, I would die out here if I had to, real talk."

That was Kevin Garnett, a few weeks back during an interview with WEEI, and while Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge surely appreciate the dedication, I'm positive that they'd much rather Garnett just go out there and return to the form that's carried the C's for the better part of these playoffs.

At this point, we've stopped trying to figure when and where the good KG will show up. It's a waste of time. There's no rhyme or reason. No good explanation for where this ridiculous resurgence came from, and even less of one for why it randomly disappears.

All we know is that the Celtics need THAT Garnett to win. There have been times during the past five years when the C's have known KG wasn't at his best, and have found ways to work with and around him. But right now, with Pierce and Allen at less than 100, and the rest of the rotation no where near as consistent as they need to be, the Celtics need the dominant KG. Tonight, and always.

Skys the Limit

If the Celtics lose this series, Game 4 will be remembered as the one that got away, but their performance in Game 3 will be most be the most haunting. As I've written before, it was on that night that this team showed exactly how good they can be; when they raised the ceiling on all our expectations.

Whether or not they show us that level of dominance again remains to be seen, but we know it's in there. At this point, that knowledge serves as a point of optimism and inspiration. If they fall short, it's a nightmare.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

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Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

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Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.