The Boston Celtics built a big lead Friday night in Philadelphia, then quit.
The Philadelphia 76ers, on the other hand, never quit. And once they pulled back into the game, that sustained effort translated into unstoppable momentum, a 92-83 victory over the Celtics in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, and a 2-2 series tie.
Game 5 takes place Monday back in Boston.
Bad Third for Celtics Keys Comeback Fourth for 76ers
The Celtics built a 17-point lead on a Paul Pierce (game-high 24 points) technical just over two minutes into the third quarter. Elton Brand picked up the technical, but his physicality ignited the previously lazy 76er defense. Over the first seven minutes of the third, the Celtics didn’t score a field goal. The 76ers, meanwhile scored 10 unanswered to cut the Celtics’ lead to 50-43.
Pierce’s three-pointer (one of four) built Boston’s lead back to 54-46 with five minutes left, but Philadelphia played the rest of the game fully confident they could win. Boston held just a 63-59 lead after three, and Philadelphia tied the game on back-to-back buckets from Thaddeus Young to start the fourth.
The two teams traded baskets throughout most the final quarter, with neither team building too big a lead. Pierce’s free throws put the Celtics up 74-72, but Young tied it again, then backup point guard Lou Williams hit a jumper for a 76-74 76er lead.
Ray Allen‘s three-pointer – his only field goal of the night – put the Celtics back up by one, and Kevin Garnett‘s free throws stretched the lead to 79-76. But the 76ers answered again, with Andre Iguodala tying the game with a three. Iguodala scored eight of his 16 total points in the closing 3:11, combining a jumper with a three-pointer to break an 83-83 tie and put the 76ers up five.
The Celtics couldn’t answer the 76ers again, and the 76ers finished the game on a 9-0 stretch. They out-rebounded the Celtics 52-38 Friday, using a 17-5 advantage on the offensive glass to extend possessions and exhaust a Celtics defense that had held them to 23 percent shooting in the first half.
Celtics Bench Useless
As Garnett has struggled or succeeded during these playoffs, so have the Celtics. But Garnett (nine points on 3-for-12 shooting) can’t perform every single night, especially when a defense focuses on him the way the 76ers did in Game 4. And either due to fouls or the basic human need to rest every once in awhile, Garnett has to sit now and again, as does every starter.
So far, the Celtics’ reserves have had numerous chances to prove their worth, and they’ve failed every single time. Celtics fans cringe whenever they sub in.
Five Celtics bench players combined for a whopping 12 points in Game 4. They shot a horrific 4-for-16 from the floor, forcing Doc Rivers to play Garnett, Pierce (looking even more recovered from his MCL sprain) and Rajon Rondo (15 points, 15 assists) for 40-plus minutes apiece.
By comparison, four 76er reserves combined for 44 points on 46.9 percent shooting. Williams (15) and Young (12) scored in double figures, as did Iguodala, Evan Turner (16) and Jrue Holliday (11) from the starters. And while backup power forward Lavoy Allen only scored eight, he grabbed 10 rebounds – one more than the entire Celtics bench.
All of Philadelphia’s bench players posted positive plus-minus ratings. All of Boston’s posted negative ratings.
Celtics Take Crowd Out Early
Though the Wells Fargo Center boomed with thunderous cheers by the end of the game, the crowd remained silent through much of the first half, save for occasional booing. The Celtics crushed the 76ers in the first half, out-scoring them 46-31 and mixing dynamic offense with smothering defense.
The Celtics opened the game with a 14-0 run that showed off Pierce’s mobility, Rondo’s always-mesmerizing passing and Garnett’s defensive prowess. A Garnett steal turned into an Avery Bradley three-pointer on the other end that made it 12-0. Brandon Bass (15 points, 6-for-10 shooting) then hit a jumper to cap the run.
The 76ers didn’t get on the board until the 8:25 mark in the first, but a beautiful bounce pass from Rondo to Pierce in traffic put the Celtics up 18-3, and they finished the first up 24-12.
Missed free throws kept the 76ers from cutting too much into the Celtics’ lead in the second, but the 76ers finished with 17 more free throw attempts (36-19). And despite a lack of execution in the paint and at the line, the 76ers realized in the second their front-court depth gave them a significant advantage inside.
That advantage meant more opportunities, and in the second half the 76ers finally tuned those opportunities into points.