Every minute counts here
Team learning to stay focused
The 76ers insist they had the right plan to beat the Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday night, they just dropped the ball at a few crucial moments.
The Sixers led throughout the first half, and weathered Celtics runs of 10-2 and 11-2 in the second, but ultimately the Celtics won, 92-91, leaning on Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo to manage the final minutes. Game 2 is Monday night at TD Garden.
The Sixers acknowledged the Celtics had the advantage of playoff experience.
“They just did a good job,’’ said Andre Iguodala, who led the Sixers with 19 points. “They’ve been in that situation before. It’s new territory for us, so we’ll definitely learn from it and hopefully we can improve when the time comes again.’’
Coach Doug Collins said his young team is still learning how to finish off a victory. It’s a team that didn’t win many close games in the regular season but got past the top-seeded Bulls in the first round. Can the players keep learning fast enough to beat the Celtics?
“I think our guys feel confident if we play well, we can win,’’ Collins said after practice Sunday at the Garden.
But Collins added that his players need to play better at the beginnings and ends of quarters. He pointed to the end of the first half Saturday night when the Celtics climbed back from a 13-point deficit to trail by just 5. He also cited the start of the third quarter and then the finish of the game.
“We just walked our guys through how we let some great opportunities slip away,’’ Collins said. “At the end of the half that really was the time that really, really hurt us. We were in great position, we had the ball up 11 with about two minutes to go. We didn’t finish well and let them get it to 5.’’
When the Celtics sent out their smaller lineup, the Sixers failed to use their size, allowing Boston’s quickness, particularly in the form of Rondo, to pick them apart.
“When they went to a smaller lineup, it’s tough to put E.B. [Elton Brand] and Spencer Hawes out there together,’’ said Collins. “Or E.B. and Lavoy [Allen] or whoever. They did a good job with that matchup.
“My philosophy has always been if a team goes small on you, then pound them. But we don’t have that kind of team.’’
Iguodala said the Sixers made one small adjustment as far as their rotation, one that should help them stop Garnett (29 points) more often. In Game 1, Garnett had a crucial 3-point play with less than three minutes to play that gave the Celtics an 86-84 lead. Then he nailed a jumper.
“We have to do a better job of not letting the pick-and-roll be dragged out as far, so be up a little higher on the pick by the big,’’ Iguodala said. “We saw it on film and we just have to execute.’’
The key question for the Sixers is how steep is their learning curve?
“I think our guys saw that there’s a lot of opportunity there for them, but this Celtic team is a championship team,’’ said Collins. “The core of the team has won championships and been in a lot of games like this, and coming down the stretch they were sharper and we’ve got to be better.’’
The Sixers have two players nursing new injuries: Thaddeus Young has a sprained right ankle and Brand has neck spasms. “It’s pretty painful,’’ said Brand, “but I think everyone has an ailment who’s been in the league over five years, so it’s nothing that’s going to not have me out in the game.’’ Young said his injury came courtesy of a Ryan Hollins knee to his shin, which also caused him to roll his ankle. Young said he then had trouble pushing off. “Every time I tried to push off it was like a shot of pain through my whole leg, but at the end of the day, I’ll be fine,’’ said Young. Collins said he expects both to be ready for Game 2 . . . At the end of practice, Sam Young was so full of energy he did a twisting double somersault across the court, to the delight of his teammates. “Where did that come from?’’ said Iguodala.