Celtics

Blakely's Celtics-Sixers Game 6 preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Sixers Game 6 preview

PHILADELPHIA You hear NBA coaches and players talk all the time about playing four quarters of good basketball in order to win.

But in this Boston-Philadelphia playoff series, success has been defined by one specific 12-minute stretch of play -- the third quarter.

More reliable than Miss Cleo or a Ouija board, the third quarter has been the ultimate truth-teller when it comes to figuring out who will win.

In the first five games, the team to score more points in the third quarter has won every time.

For Sixers coach Doug Collins, that was among the reasons why he was so disappointed in how his team seemingly came unglued in the third quarter which ended with the Celtics on a 22-9 run that set their 101-85 Game 5 victory into motion.

"I thought we were playing very well," Collins said. "We had a six point lead, a clear path, foul, missed two free throws and had five straight turnovers. That really was the deciding point in the game."

Which team comes out and asserts their control to start the second half, as has been the case in every game thus far, will go far in determining the winner of Game 6. That will be among the many factors to contribute to tonight's outcome. Here are some other keys to tonight's game as the Celtics try to close out the series against a Sixers team that will be desperate in their quest to force a Game 7 back in Boston on Saturday.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- If Avery Bradley (shoulder) has to miss a second straight game, Ray Allen is expected to get the starting nod once again. One of the reasons the C's put Bradley in the starting lineup ahead of Allen, was because of the defensive presence Bradley brought to the floor. "Hes an extraordinary defensive player," Allen said of Bradley. "Any time you have a player down you never take on that persons role; you just try to go out and do your job."

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Brandon Bass vs. Elton Brand: Both players had breakout performances in Game Five, with Bass scoring a playoff-career high 27 points while Brand led the Sixers with 19. The scary part for Philadelphia has to be that many of the shots that Bass made, were shots that he has had throughout this series. If he's knocking those shots down now, it has the potential to open up more scoring opportunities for the rest of his teammates. "We got a few good players on the team that theyve gotta focus on," Bass said. After the way he ripped the Sixers defense apart in Game 5, Philadelphia might want to add him to that list.

PLAYER TO WATCH -- Once again, it's Kevin Garnett. He's always going to draw the attention of defenses. But after alluding to the Sixers supporters as fair-weather fans, the chorus of boos for him are sure to be amped up even more so and Garnett is going to love it. He is a guy that's always searching for added incentive, added motivation to elevate his game. A room full of folks booing his every move? That'll do it.

STAT TO TRACK -- Jrue Holiday is more of a scoring point guard than his Celtics equivalent Rajon Rondo. But his ability to limit his turnovers has played a vital role in the game's outcome. When he has kept his mistakes to a minimum, the Sixers have had success. But when he has struggled with turnovers, the Celtics have emerged victorious. In the two Philadelphia wins, Holiday has averaged just one turnover committed. In the three losses, that figure more than doubles to 2.67 turnovers per game.

Larkin provides fourth-quarter spark, Celtics beat Sixers, 102-92

Larkin provides fourth-quarter spark, Celtics beat Sixers, 102-92

PHILADELPHIA – Despite playing its second straight game without a key rotation player, the Boston Celtics did just enough to get their first win of the season, 102-92, over Philadelphia.

Boston (1-2) was led by Kyrie Irving’s game-high 21 points, but it was Shane Larkin's floor game down the stretch that truly catapulted Boston to its first win of the season.

Larkin, who was seeing action in large part because Marcus Smart was out with a left ankle injury, provided a huge spark in the fourth before finishing with 10 points and four assists.

He drained a 3-pointer that tied the game at 75-all, which was part of an 18-9 Celtics run.

The Sixers (0-2) were led by J.J. Redick and Jerryd Bayless who had 19 and 18 points, respectively. Joel Embiid got off to a slow start, but finished with a double-double of 11 points and 13 rebounds.

Boston played with a lead for most of the first half, but Philadelphia took over with a 7-0 run to end the second quarter and had the Celtics playing catch-up for all of the third and some of the fourth quarter.

Boston was once again short-handed, with Marcus Smart out with a left ankle injury. He replaced Gordon Hayward, whose left ankle injury in the first quarter of Boston’s loss to Cleveland on Tuesday, is expected to keep him sidelined for the rest of the season.

But with players out, that opens up opportunities for others to step up.

Larkin, who walked away from a contract overseas that would have paid about $5 million more than he’s making with the Celtics, was one of those players.

Aron Baynes, who got the start with Smart out, had 10 points and eight rebounds. Boston also got another strong game off the bench from Terry Rozier who had 14 points and seven rebounds

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Moving to power forward 'presents a different challenge' for Horford

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Moving to power forward 'presents a different challenge' for Horford

PHILADELPHIA – For the third time in as many games, the Boston Celtics will field a different lineup.

It will have a domino effect on Boston’s usual starters, but no one more than Al Horford who will slide over to power forward with Aron Baynes inserted into the starting lineup where he’ll be charged with trying to defend Sixers 7-footer Joel Embiid.

Meanwhile, Horford will be assigned to defend Robert Covington who is one of Philadelphia’s better perimeter scorers.

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“I feel like one of my strengths is being able to play multiple positions,” Horford told NBC Sports Boston. “It presents a different challenge for me, which is making sure I do a good job of covering him out on the perimeter, staying between him and the basket.”

In Philadelphia’s 120-115 season-opening loss to Washington, Covington led all Sixers with 29 points which included him going 7-for-11 from 3-point range in addition to grabbing seven rebounds.

While Covington will be Horford’s first defensive assignment, he knows he will also be called upon at times to defend Embiid who ranks among the best centers in the NBA despite having played just 32 games over the course of three NBA seasons.

In the loss to the Wizards, Embiid had a double-double of 18 points and 13 rebounds.

Horford’s defense will be critical for Boston (0-2) to get its first win of the season, but the Celtics will also need him to take advantage of scoring opportunities as well.

“We have some guys down, but that creates opportunities for other guys to step up and contribute,” Horford said. “It’s going to all of us, the veterans, the young players, all of us to get that first win.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens agreed.

“I think that’s how we have to look at it,” Stevens said. “We’re going to have to make a few tweaks on how we do things, obviously. Hey, it’s gonna be something that we’re going to have to do really, really well on the fly.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE