The Celtics won ugly in the seventh game of an ugly series, earning a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals and a date with the Miami Heat with an 85-75 win over the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday night.
Paul Pierce fouled out and the Celtics missed their first 14 3-pointers on their way to shooting 42 percent for the game, but they did enough to beat the Sixers in the deciding game of the series. Without Pierce late in the fourth quarter, the Celtics got some unorthodox offense in a pair of long jump shots by Rajon Rondo, the second of which was a 3-pointer. Rondo had 11 points, 4 assists, and 3 rebounds in the fourth quarter after struggling in a loss in Philadelphia in Game 6. He finished with a triple-double of 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists, joining Larry Bird as the only Celtics player to record a triple-double in a Game 7.
Ray Allen, another player who's struggled all series, was just 3 of 11 from the floor, but he broke the Celtics' 3-point drought with 9:51 left in the fourth quarter. He hit one more 3-pointer in the game and finished with 11 points.
When it was all over, fans at TD Garden chanted "Beat the Heat" in reference to the team's next series, which begins Monday night in Miami.
The Celtics led at halftime despite shooting 38 percent from the field and missing all nine of their 3-point attempts. They led because they forced Philadelphia into an even more dismal 28.2-percent shooting half. On both sides, the defense had a lot to do with the misses. Kevin Garnett in particular was a standout, at one point covering Elton Brand so well on an inbounds pass that Brandon Bass was able to jump into the passing lane and take a steal coast to coast for a dunk. Bass was the only play in double-figures in the first half with 10 points.
The third quarter has generally been where the winning team in this series establishes itself, and the Celtics were on their way to a good one until it came off the rails late. The Celtics committed four turnovers in the third and lost the quarter, 19-14. Only a buzzer-beating jump shot by Garnett provided any kind of positive momentum heading into the fourth.
Pierce picked up four fouls in the fourth quarter, but the play of Rondo and Garnett (18 points, 13 rebonds) gave the Celtics the victory. The Celtics have one day off before facing the Heat Monday night.
Final: Celtics 85, Sixers 75
57 seconds, Celtics 81-73: Garnett makes one of two at the line after a 3-pointer by Holiday. Not over yet.
1:45 4th quarter, Celtics 80-70: Rondo hits a real 3-pointer this time, then gets himself to the line and hits both. Wow.
2:47 4th quarter, Celtics 75-68: Paul Pierce the happiest guy in the building after that last Rondo shot. It was called a 3-pointer but changed to a two.
4:16 4th quarter, Celtics 71-68: Paul Pierce just fouled out of the game. Goodness.
5:16 4th quarter, Celtics 69-63 Allen hits another 3-pointer. They're leaving him open to double Pierce. Meanwhile, Pierce just picked up his fifth foul on a drive by Iguodala.
7:26 4th quarter, Celtics 64-57: Pierce just gave two fouls on purpose, but he's got four now. He's got to be careful.
9:27 4th quarter, Celtics 60-55: Evan Turner went UNDER the screen on Ray Allen, who buries the first 3-pointer of the game for Boston in 15 tries.
End 3d quarter, Celtics 55-52: What an awful stretch to end the quarter for the Celtics, but they end it well with a jumper from Garnett. The Celtics had four turnovers in the period as Philadelphia won the quarter, 19-14.
Maybe this is how it's going to be. Maybe the Celtics are going to be just not ugly enough to get this win. Or maybe the Sixers finally get over the hump in the final 12 minutes.
3:10 3d quarter, Celtics 53-45: Allen (1 for 9) can't hit a shot, so he's out and Mickael Pietrus is in. Garnett is also out, which means the offense has to come from Pierce. He's providing so far, with six points in the quarter.
5:07 3d 3d quarter, Celtics 49-45: The Sixers are making a run. They refuse to go away. Pierce with a nice block on Evan Turner there, though, to prevent further damage. If Philadelphia is supposed to wilt away like an inexperienced team, no one gave them the memo.
8:36 3d quarter, Cetics 47-38: If Paul Pierce is going to score with one second remaining on the shot clock on a broken play, the Celtics are going to be in good shape.
Halftime, Celtics 41-33: The Sixers aren't going to win this game shooting 28 percent. That's why the Celtics lead by eight despite shooting 38 percent themselves.
Garnett is a defensive monster right now. Just before that steal and dunk by Brandon Bass, Garnett had his man locked down, preventing the inbounds pass. With that option covered, Bass was able to gamble and jump into the passing lane. It's the same principle that says that Avery Bradley's killer defense on his man allowed Rondo to freelance and get steals. Garnett (9 points, 7 rebounds) is a different player tonight than he was in Game 6.
2:36 2d quarter, Celtics 34-30: KG goes up for a dunk and loses the ball, coming up front-rim on the attempt. Maybe he was trying to lay it in. Either way it's a metaphor for aging, coming up short, etc. that the Celtics don't want to visit right now.
5:17 2d quarter, Celtics 30-26: When Rajon Rondo plays in random, good things happen. Rondo gets the and-one and gets the crowd going. When Ryan Hollins puts the ball on the floor, bad things happen. Great offensive rebound, but he lost the ball when he tried to dribble it.
8:01 2d quarter, Celtics 27-22 Rondo and Allen combine for the steal, and Allen takes it coast to coast for the layup. Nifty play for the old man with the bad ankle. A big thanks to Amalie Benjamin for handling the blog while I got a replacement laptop. If you notice the quality of the writing going downhill from here on out, you know why.
9:55 2d quarter, Celtics 25, Sixers 22, 9:55 Rondo gets some rest at the start of the second quarter, with KG back on the floor. KG's going to have to play serious minutes tonight. Pietrus, by the way, is doing some nice work on the glass with three rebounds so far, including an offensive rebound-and-putback off a Ray Allen miss.
End of the first quarter, Celtics 20, Sixers 20 One of the big differences in this game from Game 6? The Sixers are making their free throws. After missing about half of their free throws through the first three quarters in Game 6, the Sixers are 7-for-7 from the line tonight. The Celtics are 6-for-7 from the line.
With KG on the bench, the Sixers were able to come back and take the lead from the Celtics, though they finish the quarter tied. Philadelphia definitely has the advantage any time KG is off the floor, so it will be up to the Celtics not to let the Sixers go on runs when that happens.
2:07 1st quarter, Celtics 17, Sixers 12 A dunk by Pietrus just woke up the crowd in here and gave the Celtics a five-point lead.
2:40 1st quarter, Celtics 15, Sixers 12 The Celtics just took a time out after a Philly bucket. The Sixers are shooting just 24 percent from the floor (4/17), but the Celtics haven't been able to open up any sort of lead, with Philadelphia hanging around. The Celtics started out hot, and are down to 36 percent from the field (5/14).
4:38 1st quarter, Celtics 13, Sixers, 6 Pietrus comes in for Ray Allen. Stiemsma is in the game, too, for Garnett. Stiemsma has already picked up two very quick fouls in a short time on the court.
Evan Turner was touting his ability to rebound at shootaround this morning. He's leading the Sixers this postseason with 7.5 rebounds per game. So far tonight he has five already.
7:47 1st quarter, Celtics 10, Sixers, 4Talking to other writers before the game, there was a sense that no one really had a feel for what was going to happen, but that most leaned toward the Celtics winning. It does feel a lot like Game 5, with the Celtics coming off a disappointing loss, coming back to Boston from Philly, with two games off in between games.
And the Celtics have certainly come out with energy against a Philadelphia team that has almost no Game 7 experience. (Heck, not that much playoff experience at all.)
9:25 1st quarter, Celtics 6, Sixers 2 Doug Collins knew that it was going to be loud in the building, and he knew that he wanted his team to start fast and start strong. That hasn't exactly happened for the Sixers. It's been the Celtics getting off to the quick start, scoring the first six points in this game.
Pregame: A serious vibe from Doc Rivers before the game. The coach said he wants Rajon Rondo to play with high energy. He isn't sure what to expect from Ray Allen. This could be the last time we see the New Big Three together in a Celtics uniform. The Sixers, meanwhile, have nothing to lose. Let's get it.