Celtics

Celtics roll in second half, take 3-2 series lead over Sixers

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Celtics roll in second half, take 3-2 series lead over Sixers

BOSTON Because of the earlier than usual 7 p.m. start, the Boston Celtics had a late-arriving crowd at the TD Garden for their Game 5 matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers.

The same could be said for the Celtic players, whose slow start had many in Celtics Nation ready extremely nervous.

But as the game wore on, the crowd grew louder.

And as they continued to make their presence felt, the players did the same.

When all was said and done, the C's pulled away for a 101-85 Game 5 win that gives them a 3-1 series lead. Boston now needs one victory to advance to the Eastern Conference finals to face either Indiana or Miami.

This game, like so many for Boston, certainly had a heavy dose of that Green team defense fans have come to know and love.

And while there were a number of moments in which the Celtics showed signs of life, they ultimately got a spark from about as unlikely a place as you could imagine - the officials.

Trailing 57-53, Kevin Garnett drove into the lane for what he thought was a foul.

It was a foul against him, with official Ed Malloy ruling that Garnett used his arm to shield the defender, Spencer Hawes, from cleanly blocking the shot.

After the play was shown on the Jumbotron, the crowd came to life with a chorus of boos that seemed to be just what the Green team needed to hear.

From there, they reeled off 10 straight points before the Sixers called a time-out.

That was just the beginning, as the Celtics went on to close out the quarter with a 22-9 run that gave them their biggest lead of the night at that time, 75-66.

The key player during that run by Boston was Brandon Bass, who went into the fourth quarter having already scored a playoff career-high 23 points. He finished with 27 points and six rebounds.

Boston's fantastic finish came after the Sixers dominated the first half with some hot shooting and strong rebounding.

Philadelphia connected on 54.8 percent of their shots in the first half compared to 48.6 percent shooting by the Celtics.

Much like the third quarter foul against Garnett provided an unexpected spark, the same could be said for the contributions in the first half made by Greg Stiemsma.

Having been replaced by Ryan Hollins as the first big man off the bench for Boston, C's coach Doc Rivers opted to go back with Stiemsma on Monday.

Good call, Doc.

Stiemsma responded with his best game of the series, scoring eight of his career playoff-high 10 points in the first half which included a driving lay-up just seconds after stepping on to the floor.

It was indeed a bizarre first half that at one point, had Stiemsma and Ryan Hollins having more points scored (10), than Garnett and Bass (8).

The game also saw the Celtics establish themselves as the aggressor, and they were rewarded with a slew of free throw attempts.

In the first half, Boston had 13 free throws taken compared to just two for the Sixers.

Celtics-Hawks preview: C' defense looks to keep up historic pace

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C' defense looks to keep up historic pace

As the wins continue to pile up for the Boston Celtics, so does the praise and adulation from others throughout the league. 

It’s a double-edged sword if you think about it. 

Acknowledging how good the Celtics are, is indeed a sign of respect. 

But it also means Boston plays every game with a large target on its back unlike any of Brad Stevens’ previous Celtics teams. 

And that means every game they play, even those like tonight’s matchup at Atlanta where they will be heavily favored, are dangerous matchups.

Because for some teams, the next best thing to competing against the champ (Golden State) is facing the team with the best record who just knocked off the champ. 

That will be one of the dynamics at work tonight when the Celtics (14-2) kick off a three-game road trip against a trio of sub-.500 teams beginning with the Hawks (3-12).

Boston has shown tremendous focus and attention to detail during their 14-game winning streak. But in that span, the Celtics have never had a trio of teams right behind each other that struggled as much as the Hawks, the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks have this season. 

Not including games played on Friday, Boston’s next three opponents are a combined 11-33. 

All three of those teams would love to be the one to knock off the Celtics, the kind of victory that could significantly shift the direction of their respective franchises from their current downward spin. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics will look to continue to play with the kind of defensive temperament that has catapulted them to the top of the NBA’s defensive standings in several categories. 

“The way they’re beating teams it ain’t pretty,” a league executive texted NBC Sports Boston. “But they win. Last I checked, that’s what matters most.”

And that success has to a large degree, put a bigger bullseye on the Celtics than ever. 

“Now that we have a reputation, I think everyone is coming for us,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Now we have to come play even harder, and I think we can do that. I think we are more than capable.”

Especially if they continue to defend at a level we haven’t seen in years. 

Boston has a league-best defensive rating of 95.4. A key component in Boston’s strong play defensively has been their ability to win the battle of the boards. They come into tonight’s game with a .530 rebounding percentage which is second in the league to Portland (.539).

And that defense, while praised for how it functions collectively, it also consists of some pretty good individual defenders as well. 

Among guards averaging at least 20 minutes per game, Boston has four players ranked among the top 10 in defensive rating (Marcus Smart, 93.5 defensive rating, 2nd); Jaylen Brown (93.6, 3rd); Terry Rozier (95.0, 5th) and Kyrie Irving (96.4, 8th). 

When you look at forwards, Brown headlines a trio of forwards that includes himself, Al Horford (94.2, 3rd) and Jayson Tatum (96.1, 7th). 

Aron Baynes has the best defensive rating (90.6) among centers, followed by Horford (94.2).

“Our guys are locked in and really trying and again we can really play some pretty ugly basketball at times,” Stevens said. “But I do think that we are competing which is really good.”