The Philadelphia 76ers collectively don’t have a lot of playoff experience, but it didn’t matter in Game 2 against the Boston Celtics.
The 76ers outlasted the Celtics and won an 82-81 decision, a game that was ugly for more than 40 minutes until the clubs went back-and-forth answering shot after shot until Philadelphia was left standing.
“Our young guys just keeping growing and they’re really becoming men,” Doug Collins said of his team. “I’m so proud of them. Doc Rivers is arguably the best coach in the NBA and for our guys to just scrap through that game tonight. We just found a way.”
In the early going, it didn’t look like the 76ers were ready for the intensity of Game 2 with the potential of falling into an 0-2 hole very real. Boston jumped out to a 9-0 lead after a little more than two minutes, going 4-for-4 from the field while Philadelphia missed their first five shots.
The 76ers refused to fold, however, drawing to within two (38-36) at halftime as the Celtics slipped into an offensive coma. Boston scored 40 points in 36 minutes after their initial explosion before coming back to life in the final period.
Trailing 57-49 after three quarters, the Celtics scored on their first five possessions of the fourth to get into a rhythm and energize their anxious home crowd. They went on a 16-8 run to tie the score at 65 apiece with 4:30 left in regulation.
Philadelphia appeared to come unhinged a bit, dribbling away a few possessions, but they steadied themselves and matched the battled-tested Celtics down the stretch.
“I think we play some of our best basketball on the road,” Collins said. “We’ve played 11 of our last 13 games on the road. I think our guys are very comfortable with that. We had to win on the road to get into the playoffs. I think we have a comfort level.”
Evan Turner elevated his game in crunch time, scoring four points on consecutive possessions to turn a one-point deficit into a three-point advantage. He gave the 76ers the lead for good on an incredible acrobatic layup in traffic.
“I was really happy that he bounced back because he was really out of sync the entire night,” Collins said. “He had that look in his eye and I said ‘Evan, you got to do it. You’ve got to calm down’ and he did it.”
The Celtics had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds, but Kevin Garnett was called for a moving screen. It something he does often and doesn’t get called for, leading many to question the timing of the whistle.
“You know, that’s the name of the game sometimes,” Paul Pierce said. “You know they make a call, you got to live with it.”
Garnett told reporters that referee Michael Smith “made a good call,” but there was subtle sarcasm in his tone.
Overall, Garnett had a quiet night despite a productive stat line. He finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds -- his final three coming on a last second shot that meant nothing in terms of the game’s outcome. Roughly 48 hours after he turned back the clock in Game 1 to the tune of 29 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks, he looked a step slow.
The 76ers gave Garnett some different defensive looks with Lavoy Allen logging more than 30 minutes as he used his strength to bother Garnett. Allen played less than 20 minutes in Game 1.
“We tried to put some strength on him,” Collins said of Garnett. “We tried to take away his rhythm shots. They do such a great job of getting you strung out and throwing back to him and all those shots he catches in rhythm he just doesn’t miss. So really it was trying to disrupt his efficiency and the timing just a little bit.”
Allen produced offensively as well, scoring 10 points and grabbing eight rebounds (three of which gave the 76ers second chance opportunities).
Both coaches talked about limiting fast break and second-chance points before Game 2, something each team succeeded in doing. They were dead-even with 12 second-chance points and combined for just five fast break buckets.
The 76ers, however, won the battle at the foul line by a wide margin. Collins likes to see Philadelphia get to the line to counteract poor shooting and they attempted 12 more foul shots than Boston.
“I have to tell you, all season long we couldn’t win these games and now our guys are believing they can do it,” Collins beamed. “It’s pretty special to watch.”