No backup was provided
PHILADELPHIA - Those who enjoy the scratching of chalkboards or out-of-key elementary school bands would have relished the offensive display by the Celtics Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Celtics were putrid when they had the ball, and while the 76ers played strong defense for most of the night, those All-Star-caliber players depended on to produce were plain awful or waited too long to find a rhythm.
Take away Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and the other nine Celtics who played in the 82-75 Game 6 loss were 12 for 47 for just 31 points. And the 76ers adopted a different defensive approach this time, allowing the Celtics to shoot jumpers, then taking the long rebounds and pushing the ball down the court.
The Celtics cooperated fully, missing a litany of open jumpers that began to discourage those who usually release those shots without conscience. And those shooters, primarily Ray Allen and Brandon Bass, hesitated and then responded with poor decisions.
Bass, who scored a game-high 27 points in Game 5, got those same scoring opportunities but bungled them, and when the jumper was erratic he tried driving to the basket, where he was snuffed on three occasions. After one stretch where he had the ball taken while he lifted for a layup, he screamed at official James Capers, “Call a foul!’’
Capers remained silent and Bass could not overcome his frustration. Allen, on the other hand, couldn’t take advantage of the 76ers’ decision to allow him to shoot, something that probably hasn’t occurred with Allen since his rookie season. He missed 7 of 11 shots, unable to get untracked until the final minutes.
When Allen is on the floor, he has to produce offensively. His defense has been subpar at best, and Wednesday night Sixers coach Doug Collins unleashed Evan Turner on Allen, who picked up three first-half fouls and continued to struggle guarding the ball. Allen has never been a strong defender, but his ankles are preventing him from staying in front of younger opponents, and the issue is getting worse.
While Doc Rivers can counter with a better defender in Mickael Pietrus, he can’t score with consistency, either. He made 2 of 6 shots Wednesday, and is now shooting 37.9 percent for the series. Without a reliable secondary scorer, the Celtics are helpless when Pierce and Garnett aren’t in takeover mode.
The good news for the Celtics is Garnett found his shooting stroke in the fourth quarter after a two-game absence, and Pierce continues to get to the free throw line. But if the Celtics are to win Saturday’s Game 7 and have any success in the next series, they desperately need another scorer.
“Offensively, we were challenged tonight, we probably didn’t get the ball movement we got in Game 5, if you look at the assist total,’’ said Pierce. “So we’ve got to make some adjustments offensively. We got pretty good shots that didn’t go down. I thought we got good shots.’’
The 76ers are forcing Rajon Rondo to become a scorer, and he missed 10 of 14 shots, most open jumpers. He generally shoots out of obligation or when his teammates can’t get open, and such was the case Wednesday. His teammates were missing open jumpers and lost confidence, and Rondo felt inclined to score.
In a stretch of the third quarter, the Celtics’ best offensive plays were consecutive Rondo putbacks after they didn’t record a field goal for the first 5:27. Scoring has been an issue all season with the Celtics, but Pietrus and Allen picked their moments to shine, and that needs to occur again.
“We’ve got to do a better job offensively. I thought we had a lot of empty possessions,’’ Rivers said. “We played in random a lot tonight, really never established Kevin. Even though he got points, but not the type of points he needed. I thought our spacing was horrendous. And they actually allowed Ray to get loose but he just didn’t make shots. I think that would be good for Ray coming into the next game now that he knows he can get shots now. Hopefully, he can get his feet under him and get some rhythm.’’
Allen said before the game that his shot was feeling fine and perhaps a positive was that his misses weren’t short as they were in previous games, which signaled a lack of lift. This time, he just plain missed, which doesn’t happen often. But the Celtics can’t afford to rely strictly on Garnett and Pierce every night. They need support.
“We muddied it up with our offense,’’ Rivers said. “Bass had 12 shots, and I would say nine of them were very good looks. They just didn’t go in. Bass had a great [Game 5, but] I didn’t think Philly was going to change their game plan over that. They’ll still give him shots. Tonight, we just didn’t make them.’’
The Celtics have been able to get away with poor offensive showings from their bench, but as defenses adjust to their shortcomings, they are eventually going to get caught, and it could result in the unceremonious end of the Big Three era.