Winners seemed to have triple the fun
PHILADELPHIA - No, Rick Pitino, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish didn’t come walking through that door here Wednesday night to lead the Celtics to a critical victory. But Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, and even Paul Pierce sure did.
As a result the men in green toyed with the upstart 76ers, spotting them an early 7-point lead before turning it on. A devastating stretch in which the Celtics hit 22 of 30 shots turned Game 3 of this series into a 107-91 rout in which they led by as much as 27 points. Now they’ll try to build on it in Game 4 Friday night, attempting to take a 3-1 lead back to Boston.
Playing before a packed Wells Fargo Center house, which included new Sixers goodwill ambassador Julius Erving, along with Michael Vick and a flock of his Eagles teammates, most were expecting more of the grit and grind-it-out defense that has marked the Sixers’ play throughout the postseason. But the Celtics had other ideas, particularly the new Big Three, as Ray Allen was content to play decoy.
Even without Allen in a starring role, Doc Rivers’s gang had more than enough.
“I really believe we needed this game,’’ said Rondo, who had 23 points and 14 assists, 13 of those those points coming in the first quarter to keep the Celtics within striking distance, trailing, 33-28, after one.
“We had two close games at home and wanted to send a message to them. I’d say we did a pretty good job.’’
Once Rondo went back to his usual floor leader role, Garnett simply took over. With Philadelphia helpless against him, once again he became “The Big Ticket’’ of years gone by. KG was everywhere in the second quarter, scoring in the paint and on the wings, tallying 13 points in the quarter.
Then, after a late Rondo flurry sent the Celtics to the locker room ahead, 60-49, finally it was Pierce’s turn. Entering the game shooting a brutal 25 percent, if nothing else Pierce made up his mind he’d pull the trigger as much as possible. Not even starting off 0 for 6 and getting his shot blocked twice stopped him. Pierce wound up with 24 points - 11 from the line - and 12 rebounds in 37 minutes.
“I just wanted to be aggressive and go to the bucket,’’ said Pierce, who did most of his damage during an 10-point third quarter in which a 29-17 Celtics tear broke it open, 89-66. “I’ve been getting limited to seven to nine shots a game. That’s not me.
“I gotta be aggressive in everything I do. Whether I shot the ball well or not, everything I did was going to be aggressive.
“Our offense finally came alive tonight. We really moved the ball. We came out well in the third quarter and established ourselves early. We haven’t really put together a good third quarter.
“That’s key on the road. That third quarter they wanted to come back out and get the crowd into it. We were able to silence them with a run.’’
This time, unlike Games 1 and 2, there would be no miracle comebacks predicated on shots banked in from 20 feet or twisting layups over three defenders. This time, the Celtics made sure they wouldn’t have to sweat out any moving screens or other calls, having thoroughly stated the case they’re back in the driver’s seat.
The new big three, Rondo, Garnett, and Pierce made sure of it.
“The first thing it means is we’ve regained home-court advantage,’’ said a previously struggling Brandon Bass, whose 10 points came on 5-for-10 shooting. But KG has really taken his game to another level.
“Now we want to build off his passion. When you have somebody down you want to try to keep ’em down.’’
In fact, the Celtics were even talking about getting the series over as soon as possible.
“Those guys stepped up tonight,’’ said Mickael Pietrus of the Rondo/Garnett/Pierce troika. “That’s what we need from them.
“After tomorrow we don’t want to come back here.’’
As the stunned Sixers and their disappointed red T-shirt-wearing fans sadly discovered, if the Celtics’ new Big Three walk through the Wells Fargo Center doors the same way they did Wednesday night, they may well not need to.