Philadelphia’s defense never rests
PHILADELPHIA - The 76ers and Celtics aren’t dead even in this series simply because an illegal screen called against Kevin Garnett denied Boston a chance to tie Game 2 Monday. Or because a couple of desperation shots by Lavoy Allen and Evan Turner somehow went through the hoop.
No, the real key to the Sixers’ success has come at the defensive end, where Andre Iguodala has made life miserable for Paul Pierce to the tune of Pierce shooting just 5 for 20 in the series. That, and the way Allen, the unheralded rookie from Temple, has made Garnett work for his shots, too.
“Pierce, you have to make him work on every possession,’’ said Philadelphia coach Doug Collins, downplaying any talk of injury that might be slowing Pierce down. “When he comes off those screens, make it hard for him to get shots.
“Dre is out there to take that challenge on. He’s 6-7, with long arms and he’s got great anticipation. Plus, he’s very aware you can never relax on a scorer, because anytime you take a breath, that guy’s going to beat you.
“We have so much trust in him.’’
And, surprisingly, in Allen, who likely wouldn’t have played this season had starting center Spencer Hawes not been sidelined 29 games with assorted injuries. Suddenly, the second-round pick has emerged as a mainstay in Philadelphia’s lineup, primarily because he is best suited to match up with Garnett.
“He’s a great competitor and he’s tough to guard,’’ said the 6-foot-10-inch Allen, who is averaging 11.0 points and 7.0 rebounds in the series, well above his 4.1 points and 4.2 boards for the season. “I’m just trying to push him away from the basket.
“I wasn’t expecting to play this much. But I’ve gotten the opportunity and played pretty well. But now we’re trying to put that game behind us and focus on Game 3.’’
Playing before what is certain to be a raucous crowd in Philadelphia Wednesday night, Allen, Iguodala & Co. hope to continue frustrating the Celtics’ front line, while at the same time keeping Rajon Rondo under wraps. Then again, Iguodala has played this role before, though never in the second round.
“I’m just trying to stay alert and guard him the same, whether he’s healthy or not,’’ said Iguodala, who’ll be playing at home for the first time since he sank the free throws that eliminated the top-seeded Bulls in the first round. “I take it as he’s gonna give me his best shot.
“I try to do the same thing against him as the other scorers I match up against, whether it be Carmelo [Anthony], LeBron [James], Kobe [Bryant], or Kevin Durant. You have to try to make them work on defense. Get out as far as possible and try to take them out of their comfort zone.’’
So far it has worked, with Pierce not only unable to get his usual shots, but also not getting to the line, having shot just 10 free throws, eight in the series opener. In fact, the Celtics as a whole haven’t visited the stripe much, shooting just 28 free throws, only nine in Game 2.
Still, the Sixers are taking nothing for granted, knowing how slim a margin of error they have.
“We have to be confident but not overconfident,’’ said veteran Elton Brand.
And as much as there is pressure, Collins wants his team to enjoy the ride.
“You have to have fun,’’ said Collins. “If you think of this is as a heavy burden you’re carrying, you can’t enjoy it.
“This is the fun time for me.’’
Having drawn even with the next two games at home, Collins is hoping the fun is just beginning.