With eight minutes left in the third quarter, Paul Pierce committed a clear path foul on Andre Iguodala, giving the Philadelphia 76ers two free throws and the ball. At that point, the Boston Celtics trailed 57-53 and the anxious crowd at TD Garden had yet to explode.
Staring at a momentum swing in favor of the 76ers, the Celtics somehow ripped off a 10-0 run and took a six-point lead three minutes later. Philadelphia still had some life left, but before long the pivotal Game 5 belonged to Boston and ‘Gino’ made a rare playoff appearance on the JumboTron at the Garden.
From the moment Pierce fouled Iguodala, clearly the turning point in the game, the Celtics outscored the 76ers 48-28 riding an unlikely playoff hero by the name of Brandon Bass.
“We’ve got a few good players on the team that they had to focus on,” he said. “That left me open, and I was able to take advantage of my opportunity.”
Bass scored 18 in the third quarter alone as he totaled 27 points and six rebounds in 37 incredible minutes. The unassuming forward was 9-for-13 from the field and 9-for-10 from the foul line.
With sweat accumulating on his forehead, Bass admitted after the 101-85 victory that he was making his first trip to a postgame podium.
“Yeah, man,” he said, “This is the first time for a lot of things.”
While Celtics dominated the second half, the 76ers were red-hot in the first two quarters. They came as close as you can to owning a half without actually accumulating an insurmountable lead.
Philadelphia shot 54.8% and grabbed eight offensive rebounds in the first half, but only led 50-47. Part of the reason was their lack of free throw attempts – the 76ers attempted just two against thirteen for the Celtics. It wasn’t that they weren’t attacking the basket. A majority of their early buckets came from the interior and they attempted 24 of their 42 field goals in the paint.
The usually polite and verbose Doug Collins was clearly agitated about something, presumably the loss itself or the perhaps the officiating, when I asked him after the game about Philadelphia’s lack of foul shots in the first half.
“We just didn’t get any of them,” he said when pressed. His initial response was even less insightful, asking me: “What would you like me to say?”
Things didn’t get much better in that department as the game wore on. The 76ers finished 10-for-16 from the line. The Celtics went 26-for-33. I don’t think the officiating was particularly bad, but when you take a look at the box score any potential beef might have some statistical merit.
The Celtics attempted 46.3% of their shots from the paint, but the 76ers went inside more often (54.5%). I’m not saying there is a direct correlation there, but it is food for thought.
Collins likes to address the media when he reaches the podium in favor of immediately fielding questions and he instantly pointed out the clear path foul as the turning point in the game. Doc Rivers, however, wasn’t so sure. You can’t blame him for failing to pinpoint one particular moment given all that went well for the Celtics after the break.
“I don’t know what the turning point was, honestly,” he said. “You could say the foul called on Kevin [Garnett] – I thought from that point on we exploded. You know, it was one of those games; we needed something to ignite us together. And I don’t know if that did it, I don’t know what did, but something did and once we started playing together then we played very well.”
Rivers was referring to an offensive foul called on Garnett less than 20 seconds after Pierce’s foul on Iguodala. Boston scored on five consecutive possessions after the Garnett foul.
Meanwhile, the 76ers struggled given the chance to break the game open.
Not only did Iguodala miss both free throws after the Pierce foul, but Philadelphia committed a turnover on five straight possessions. Two of the miscues came on bad passes, two on lost balls and another on a three-second call on Elton Brand.
Collins lamented all the lazy passes his team tried to make against the Celtics.
“You can’t make careless, one-handed passes against this team,” he said. “They’re too good. We did not meet the tenacity that they played with from the middle of the third quarter on.”
This series has lacked any sort of momentum on a game-by-game basis with neither team stringing together two wins. Doing so on Wednesday would be as good a time as any for the Celtics, who played one of their most complete games of the postseason given the extra rest between Games 4 and 5.
Closing out the series in six would afford the Celtics at least two off-days before the start of the Eastern Conference Finals and as many as four off-days if the Indiana-Miami series goes seven games.
“It would just be nice to win two in a row. That would be terrific,” Rivers said. “It’s not going to be easy. This series has been hard. Every minute, you think we’re leaking oil physically.”