Kevin Garnett turned in another dominant performance, putting up 29 points and 11 rebounds as the Celtics beat the Philadelphia 76ers, 92-91, in the first game of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
It was Garnett's second straight instant classic, a flurry of sheer will and shot-making that rivals anything else in Garnett's brilliant career. Rajon Rondo put up a triple-double of 13 points, 12 rebounds, and 17 assists in the win. Up one with 3.4 seconds left, the Celtics ran a play to get Rondo free in the backcourt and run out the clock.
The Celtics struggled in the first half but cranked up their defense in the second, using a three-guard lineup to stymie the Sixers. The trio of Rondo, Bradley, and Ray Allen was just the thing, but it took an exceptional performance by Garnett to make it work. Not to be forgotten, Paul Pierce hit a huge elbow jumper to give the Celtics the breathing room they needed late in the fourth.
It didn't come so easily before halftime. The Sixers scored the first seven points of the game and built a 10-point lead after the first quarter. The Celtics shot 30 percent from the field in the first. More specifically, everyone but Garnett shot 2 of 14.
The Celtics found themselves down double-digits in the second quarter before mounting a charge before halftime. The Sixers missed 11 of their last 15 shots as the Celtics closed to within 47-42 at the break.
The Celtics rested key players and still managed to outscore Philadelphia by one in the third quarter. With Garnett and company back in the game, the Celtics were able to finish strong. Game 2 is Monday night in Boston.
Final, Celtics 92, Sixers 91: Holy moly. Great play call by Doc Rivers, inbounds to Rondo in the backcourt. Rondo runs out the clock.
3.4 seconds 4th quarter, Celtics 92-91: Rondo gives the foul on Holiday to prevent a potential game-tying 3-pointer. Holiday makes both.
1:18 4th quarter, Celtics 90-84: Pierce punctuates it with the jumper. You lie in wait long enough and eventually you get a chance like that. You can't overstate what big-time players Pierce and Garnett are in big moments.
2:52 4th quarter, Celtics 85-84: Avery Bradley makes up for a Celtics turnover by blocking a potential layup. Leads to an and-one on the other end for Garnett. What a play by Bradley.
3:37 4th quarter, Celtics 83-82: Rondo puts the Celtics ahead and gives himself a triple-double at the same time. He's got 11 points, 11 rebounds, and 15 assists.
6:26 4th quarter, Sixers 80-77: Both teams stepping up the defense. Celtics using a three-guard offense of Rondo, Bradley, and Allen along with Pierce and Garnett.
8:33 4th quarter, Sixers 79-73: First team to 80 will not win this game. Both teams have shooting percentages in the 40's now, though. Here's where experience usually comes in. The Sixers blew a lead against Chicago Thursday before hanging on.
END 3d quarter, Sixers 71-67: KG's up to 26 minutes. Ray Allen looks like he's tweaked his ankle twice in this game, though he's stayed in the game both times. He had a great driving layup near the end of the quarter. He's got 10 points.
Paging Paul Pierce (10 points). It's your time. Heavy does of Pierce and KG here and the Celtics will come through.
2:47 3d quarter, Sixers 64-59: Stiemsma is giving the Celtics good minutes with Garnett off the floor, but obviously it's not equal. C's need to hang tough here and not get down by too much.
6:19 3d quarter, Sixers 57-53: Good answer by Philadelphia after that last Boston run. It sounds crazy, but the Celtics have no answer for Evan Turner, who has 16 points and 10 rebounds.
9:15 3d quarter, Celtics 48-47: Avery Bradley sprints end to end to give the Celtics their first lead of the game. That gets the home crowd going. KG is playing out of his mind right now.
Halftime, Sixers 47-42: The Celtics are right back in this thing thanks to a 10-2 run to end the half. Philadelphia missed 11 of their last 15 shots to end the half while the Celtics shoot 50 percent in 2nd quarter. Garnett is carrying the Celtics for the second straight game. He has 14 points.
6:18 2d quarter, Sixers 37-32: Brandon Bass gets a layup in the post. Celtics are getting better shots. Ray Allen has eight huge points off the bench. He's been a real spark this postseason.
8:59 2d quarter, Sixers 35-25: Like the energy by Keyon Dooling and Mickael Pietrus off the bench, though the Celtics aren't getting ahead. Like the effort by Ryan Hollins, too, though a dribble drive to the hoop is probably a bad idea.
End 1st quarter, Sixers 28-18: Bad start for the Celtics. They've made just 6 of 20 field goals. The jump shots are there, they just aren't falling. Celtics not named Kevin Garnett shot 2-14 in the first quarter. Andre Iguodala leads all scorers with 10 points.
2:53 1st quarter, Sixers 19-12: Greg Stiemsma getting some minutes here early. No assists for Rajon Rondo thus far.
5:18 1st quarter, Sixers 15-6: This is what the Celtics were afraid of. Sixers come out hot, hitting 7 of 13 shots. Celtics are settling for jumpers and are 3 of 13. Sixers have gotten out on the break twice on long rebounds. You know Doc Rivers is bringing that up in the huddle.
9:55 1st quarter, Sixers 7-0: Brandon Bass has missed three jump shots. He's been pretty much wide open. If that's by design from Philly, maybe they know something we don't.
Pre-game: Ray Allen and Paul Pierce are a go. Doc Rivers wants to keep this a halfcourt game. Doug Collins has been impressed by his team's composure late in games in the playoffs. Let's get it.