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Sixers wanted it more

Aggressiveness got them victory

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / May 20, 2012
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There is plenty of time to process the effects of the 76ers’ second-half stuffing of the Celtics before the teams meet in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series Monday night in Boston.

After the Sixers’ 92-83 victory Friday night, mea culpas were expressed by point guard Rajon Rondo and coach Doc Rivers.

Rivers also noted the Sixers’ aggressiveness contributed to the Celtics’ collapse. And reserve guard Keyon Dooling agreed.

“We’ve never taken this team lightly,’’ Dooling said. “You know, they’re a very resilient team. They have a never-say-die attitude. They have great athletes. If you allow them to get out in transition and if you’re bothered by their pressure, that plays to their strengths.

“You’ve got to just tip your hat to them. They did a good job. Second half, they dominated on both ends of the floor. In the first half we kind of were able to get everything we wanted. For whatever reason, in the second half we weren’t able to get an offensive rhythm. So when in doubt, you have to give them the credit. They took us out of our stuff.’’

The Celtics often go through “skeleton’’ offensive drills in preparation for games, basically a half-speed rehearsal. And that is what the opening minutes of Game 4 looked like. The Celtics ran their “stuff,’’ the Sixers passively observing as the lead grew to 14-0, then to 18-3.

With the Celtics leading by 18 early in the second half, the Sixers gained a sense of urgency and soon gained momentum. Philadelphia scrapped its way back into the game, overtaking the Celtics early in the fourth quarter, then clinched the result with a clinical finish.

“They did a good job,’’ Dooling said. “I mean, I think we kind of got away from our core principles that were working so well for us - yeah, defensively. When you’re giving them free throws and letting them score, it does affect the offensive end.’’

Brandon Bass (22 minutes) and Avery Bradley (27) were limited by foul trouble (both finished with four personals). Kevin Garnett also had four fouls and Rondo was whistled for five. But the Sixers were drawing fouls, often because they were driving to the basket and also because they were getting to spots quicker than the Celtics.

“They owned the free throw line, for whatever reason,’’ Dooling said. “We’re not intentionally fouling them, it’s not like a must-foul situation. They were aggressive, obviously, we let our guard down. They had a step on us, so a lot of fouls, we had to challenge at the basket.

“It’s frustrating for us but it’s a game of runs. Playoffs is an unpredictable game, you can never predict the tempo, the way the game is officiated. Sometimes it’s physical, sometimes it’s not. There’s a lot of things that you have to factor in playoff games.

“We weren’t able to execute at the level we were able to in the first half. When they got out in transition - for their team, if you let them get in transition, they’re pretty good, they’re pretty hard to stop. We turned the ball over, they were able to get to the free throw line, we weren’t. So, a combination of all those things led to our demise.’’

The Sixers accomplished little in the opening half, but they did send a message that they were going to drive to the lane. That led to 36 total free throw attempts and, eventually, to a disruption in the Celtics’ rotations. Bass (15 points) and Bradley becoming non-factors in the second half.

The Celtics might have pulled out a victory had they regained their composure in crunch time. But Paul Pierce (24 points) missed a layup with 2:15 to play, which turned out to be the Celtics’ last chance to retake the lead. Ironically, it was Pierce’s best shooting game of the series. After going 11 for 37 in the opening three contests, he shot 8 for 13 in Game 4.

In the final minutes, the Sixers took command. They confidently stepped into jumpers - Andre Iguodala hit two 3-pointers and a 17-footer in the final 3:11 - and they made the so-called “extra’’ pass, setting up Lavoy Allen for a dunk 22 seconds after Pierce’s missed drive.

That type of precision in finishing off a game has been a formula for the Celtics’ success. But the Sixers showed they can close out a victory, as well.

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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