Sixers-Celtics review: Missed FTs hurt

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Sixers-Celtics review: Missed FTs hurt

BOSTON There was a steady stream of trips to the free throw line for the Boston Celtics on Friday night, showing once again what having multiple players attacking the rim can do.

But as it turned out, a slew of missed free throws would prove costly to the Celtics in their comeback attempt that fell short in their 106-100 loss to Philadelphia.

Boston came into the game averaging 24 free throw attempts per game, which ranked ninth in the NBA.

On Friday, the Celtics (2-3) had 31 free throw attempts but only connected on 22 of them.

"Our missed free throws were huge ... in this game," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

In the pivotal fourth quarter, the Celtics were 2-for-4 from the line. But the two misses - one by Paul Pierce and the other by Kevin Garnett - came when the C's were down by 10 and nine points, respectively.

Boston's free-throw shooting allowed the C's to stay close in a game that for the most part was dominated by the Sixers. Here are some other keys identified prior to the game, and how they actually played out.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR:  Generating points in the paint needs to be a priority for the Celtics tonight. Philadelphia, playing without centers Andrew Bynum (knee) and Kwame Brown (calf), are indeed ripe in the middle. The numbers bear this out, with Philadelphia ranking 20th in points-in-the-paint differential (-3.3).

WHAT WE SAW: Not only did Boston struggle to generate points in the paint, but the Sixers actually dominated them inside with a 56-38 advantage in points in the paint. It comes back to dribble penetration by the Sixers who frequently beat Celtics defenders off the dribble.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Celtics starting power forward vs. Thaddeus Young: This is where Boston's lineup  versatility should help. Young is too quick for Jared Sullinger, so don't be shocked to see Brandon Bass or possibly Jeff Green in the starting lineup tonight.

WHAT WE SAW: Boston opted to go with Jared Sullinger but rather than have him guard Young, the C's opted to have Kevin Garnett start off on Young. Garnett did a solid job, but the minute Garnett went to the bench ... Young got going. He would finish with 15 points and five rebounds. After the game, C's coach Doc Rivers saw Young's play as being critical to the Sixers' win. "Thaddeus Young, in a lot of ways, was the difference in the game," Rivers said. "I just thought he did a lot of things."

PLAYER TO WATCH:  Rajon Rondo has been on a subtle, but impressive nonetheless start to this season. In addition to increasing his scoring average (career-high 16 points per game) while shooting a career-best 57.4 percent from the field, he continues to rack up a consistently high number of assists. By reaching double figures tonight in assists, it will be his 29th straight regular season game which would tie him for third all-time with John Stockton for the most consecutive regular season games with 10 or more assists.

WHAT WE SAW: Rondo had a strong game statistically with 14 points and a season-high 20 assists, but Philadelphia's Jrue Holiday was easily the better point guard on this night. "Pick and roll coverages, I have to do better with that," Rondo said. "He got anywhere he wanted tonight on the floor."

STAT TO TRACK: Doc Rivers might want to bottle up whatever he says at halftime, and make it part of his pregame spiel to his players when it comes to scoring the ball. The Celtics have proven thus far to be a much better team generating offense in the second half of games, compared to the game's first 24 minutes.  The C's rank No. 22 and No. 29 in the league in first and second quarter scoring, respectively. It becomes a completely different Celtics squad in the second half with the C's ranking ninth and 10th in third and fourth quarter scoring, respectively.

WHAT WE SAW: Boston's second-half surge scoring the ball continued on Friday night with the C's tallying 29 and 26 points in the third and fourth quarters, respectively. Even with the increased scoring, it won't mean anything until the Celtics do a better job of clamping down defensively in the second half.

Celtics miss an opportunity in first half with LeBron in foul trouble

Celtics miss an opportunity in first half with LeBron in foul trouble

CLEVELAND – There are 240 minutes of play in an NBA game, but Boston’s 112-99 Game 4 loss to Cleveland came down to seven (six minutes and 46 seconds to be precise).

That would be the amount of time left in the second quarter that LeBron James spent on the bench with four personal fouls (a first for him in the first half of an NBA playoff game ever) and Boston ahead by 10 points.

Boston could not have asked for a better scenario than that, especially considering how well they had played up to that point in the game and again, knowing that James wasn’t about to set foot back on the court until the third quarter.

But here’s the problem.

Boston’s 10-point lead when James left with four fouls.

Halftime rolled around and Boston’s lead was still at just 10 points.

Celtics players agreed that not finding a way to increase their lead with James out was among the more pivotal stretches of play in Game 4.

“They did a really good job of not letting it (the 10-point lead) get out of control while he was on the bench,” Boston’s Marcus Smart told CSNNE.com. “Every time we scored, they came back and scored.  They answered back with everything we answered.”

While many will point to that stretch as a time when the Celtics failed to make the necessary adjustments to increase their chances of winning, it wasn’t as if the Cavs are a one-man team.

“They still have two All-Stars out on the court,” said Boston’s head coach Brad Stevens, referring to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. “With the best player in the world they go to unreal, but they’re still a pretty darned good team when those guys are out there.”

Irving had a playoff career-high 42 points which included him scoring 12 of Cleveland’s 14 points in the final 6:46 of the second with James on the bench.

“He’s one of the best point guards in the NBA, and you know, you can tell he puts in a lot of work in his game, a lot of respect from myself, my teammates,” said Avery Bradley. “We have to do a better job at defending him as a unit, trying to make everything hard on him. He definitely got a great rhythm going tonight, and I felt like we had a chance to make it harder on him.”

James still finished with a strong stat line for the night – 34 points, six assists, five rebounds and a blocked shot.

As good as he was on the court, the Celtics have to be kicking themselves for not doing more with the time James on the bench in the second quarter which in hindsight, was among the bigger factors in them now returning home facing elimination as opposed to being tied at two games apiece in this series.

“What are you going to do?” said Cleveland’s Kevin Love. “You have to continue to fight through it. At halftime, we were down 10. We made some adjustments on the defensive end and we just fought; we needed to. They got everything out of us tonight in that second half, but we played more inspired basketball as well.”

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics don't take advantage of LeBron's foul trouble

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics don't take advantage of LeBron's foul trouble

CLEVELAND – Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Tuesday night’s Game 4 matchup between Boston and Cleveland which ended with the Cavs rallying for a 112-99 win. Boston now trails Cleveland 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.

 

STARS

Kyrie Irving

He was simply the best player on the floor by a mile in Game 4 as he tallied a career playoff-high 42 points with 21 coming in the pivotal third quarter.

LeBron James

Despite picking up four personal fouls in the first half – a first for him in a playoff game ever – James bounced back with a dominant performance. He finished with 34 points, 15 of which came in the decisive fourth quarter. He also had six assists and five rebounds.

 

STUDS

Jae Crowder

He continues to be one of the more consistent Celtics in this series. In Game 4, he had 18 points on 6-for-12 shooting with eight rebounds and four assists.

Kevin Love

Most of Game 4, Kevin Love found ways to make life difficult for the Celtics. He ended up with a double-double of 17 points and 17 rebounds with five assists and two blocked shots.

Avery Bradley

Boston’s Game 3 hero couldn’t deliver like that in Game 4, but Bradley still managed to score a team-high 19 points to go with five rebounds, three assists and two steals.

 

DUDS

Boston’s sense of urgency

They had the Cavs in prime position to be beaten. But they didn’t play with the kind of effort and focus in the second half, that we saw through most of the first. And that 6:46 stretch in the second quarter when LeBron James was on the bench, and they didn’t increase their lead? That was a major, major factor in the game’s outcome.