The Sixers and Celtics have been engaged in a fierce battle through these first two games. Both teams have escaped mostly unscathed as far as injuries go. Elton Brand is nursing a shoulder/neck problem from the Chicago series. Avery Bradley left game two with a shoulder problem. Thad Young tweaked an ankle. Ray Allen and Paul Pierce have both been dealing with leg issues. Injuries alone don't tell the whole story of the toll the Celtics have paid.
Take a look at the chart above. Doc Rivers has been forced to use Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen for a combined 221 minutes over the first two games, with only one day off in between. That isn't even taking Rondo's 79 minutes into account, and Rondo has already gone down once with a tweaked groin and another time with a hand injury. One number matters above all in this series, wins. Coming in as a close second is the minutes for those four guys.
Think of this series like a baseball game, and you're facing a team with an ace on the hill and no bullpen. These first four games are the early innings and right now, the Sixers are running up the pitch count. Getting the wins is paramount, but if given the choice, you want these games to stay close. You want Doc Rivers to be forced to over extend his four-man rotation, because below those guys there's just nothing to speak of. Brandon Bass will hit the occasional jumper. Avery Bradley is a very good defender, and he'll get you 10-15 points playing off the big four, but as the minutes pile up for Garnett, Pierce, Rondo and Allen, the Celtics aren't going to have anyone to go to late in the game to create a shot. They aren't going to be able to run up and down the floor against the Sixers for 48 minutes. They aren't going to be able to hedge and recover on the high pick-and-roll, or run through a series of picks on the offensive end. They aren't going to be able to set picks without grabbing defenders, like Garnett tried to get away with tonight.
The Sixers have the luxury of a young roster. Through the first two games, Jrue (21), Turner (23) and Iguodala (28) are the only guys with more than 70 minutes played. On the other hand, the Sixers' oldest player, Elton Brand has combined to play only a minute per year on the planet, 33. And Thad Young, who already has a huge speed advantage, is also well-rested with only 35 minutes of action. The Sixers are set up. They're set up to unleash Thad and Brand on Boston right when Garnett, Pierce and company are running on fumes.
Doc Rivers went for the jugular in games one and two, as he should have. He overextended his main guys and looked to take a 2-0 lead into Philly and maybe break the Sixers' will. He played those guys heavy minutes with no conscience, and all he has to show for it is a 1-1 tie. Now it's time for the Sixers to place their foot firmly on the right pedal and never let up.
We'll definitely keep track of these minutes as the series continues.