It's taken me more than 24 hours to gain enough perspective on this game to put my thoughts down. It took about 12 for me to separate the result from the game, and specifically the effort. Ultimately, we should be proud of what we saw from the Sixers on the court against Boston. They did everything we could've reasonably expected, and more. They followed the script almost exactly, matching Boston blow-for-blow throughout the night, and even delivering what could've, would've and should've been the knockout blow in the closing seconds. Unfortunately, the last team with the ball won.
I can't get into what went wrong on that last play any more. Derek Bodner and I spent about a half hour talking about it during SixersBeat, so please listen to the replay
if you want the breakdown broken down.
The final 6.6 seconds of this game were heartbreaking, and you can focus on that moment if you like. You can look at it and say the Sixers played the Celtics even for 47 minutes, 53.4 seconds and that would be an accomplishment. I want to dial it back a little bit, though. Yes, the Sixers were even with Boston to that point in the game, but take away two stretches and the Sixers dominated the Celtics.
The mandatory timeout in the third quarter came with 2:39 left on the clock, the Sixers held an 80-72 lead after Lou came out of the timeout and hit two of three from the line. Rajon Rondo banked in a three at the buzzer to cap a 9-0 run for Boston. In the fourth quarter, the Sixers took a 97-93 on a short jumper by Elton Brand with 1:58 left on the clock. Kevin Garnett's game-winner capped a 9-4 burst for the Celtics over that stretch. In 4:37, the Sixers were outscored 18-4. In the other 43 minutes and 23 seconds, the Sixers outscored Boston 97-84.
Over those two stretches combined, the Sixers shot 2/7 from the floor, grabbed 2 rebounds (1 offensive, 1 defensive), handed out zero assists, turned the ball over three times and committed 2 personal fouls. Boston shot 6/6 from the floor, 2/2 from three, 4/4 from the line with 4 boards, 4 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 2 turnovers and 2 fouls. The only stops the Sixers got came on offensive fouls by Davis and Erden.
I'm sure there are a bunch of games where you can pick out a couple of bad stretches that decided the game, these stuck in my mind because the Sixers had this game. They had Boston on their heels and a hoop here, a stop there, anything to stop the huge momentum swing in Boston's favor, and this game is a win, possibly a convincing win. Also, think about the stark contrast between those two stretches and the rest of the game. The Sixers methodically took Boston apart for the vast majority of this game. They bullied the Celtics. Boston's largest lead of the night was 3 points. Even with those horrendous stretches, the Sixers offensive efficiency rating was an astounding 118.38 points-per-100-possessions. Boston's defense yields 100, including last night's game.
Do those collapses, and when they happened say something about this Sixers team? Probably. It probably says that Boston is a veteran-laden team, and they know when they have to put the pedal to the metal. The Sixers are a bunch of kids and Elton Brand. Not too many of them have had a moment to rise to in their brief careers. This is a learning experience, and two lessons should come out of this game:
- Finishing quarters strong can make up for ten minutes of poor play, and vice versa
- If they execute and play with the energy they should have in spades, they can hang with anyone in the league.
If you want to take a step back, this game basically came down to two teams with absolutely no presence in the middle. Boston made 19 of their 24 attempts at the rim (79.2%) and the Sixers weren't far behind at 16/22 (72.8%). The Sixers only attempted 12 long twos, an excellent ratio. They took care of the ball. They dominated Boston on the glass. They kept their eFG above .500, which has been a benchmark. They went to the line more, they hit 9 threes. There's really nothing the Sixers didn't do well on the offensive end, and you know what? Their defense wasn't even bad except for those two stretches to end the third and the fourth.
Play this game against about 26 other teams in the league, and the Sixers walk away with a double-digit win. That's gotta count for something, no?
Player of The Game:
Elton Brand. 13 points, 14 boards, 3 blocks.
vs. New Orleans, Sunday afternoon. I'll be there.