Celtics

Celtics top Sixers, 85-75, advance to Eastern Conference Finals

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Celtics top Sixers, 85-75, advance to Eastern Conference Finals

BOSTON In the final seconds, Rajon Rondo did what Rajon Rondo seems to always do in big games - deliver in ways you least expect.

Sometimes it's assists. Other times, it's rebounds.

On Saturday, it was a 3-point shot in the fourth quarter that would serve as one of several big plays made by Rondo in helping the C's advance to the Eastern Conference finals with a 85-75 Game 7 win over Philadelphia.

The C's will now face the Miami Heat, with Game 1 in Miami on Monday.

Rondo was as clutch as we've seen him in this series, finishing Game 7 with a triple-double of 18 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds.

His play was among the many strong performances by the Celtics, who move on to the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in the Big Three era.

Boston also got big games from Kevin Garnett (18 points, 13 rebounds), Brandon Bass (16 points) and Paul Pierce (15 points, nine rebounds) before he fouled out with more than five minutes to play and the Celtics clinging to a three-point lead at the time. Although Ray Allen didn't shoot the ball that well, he was able to knock down a pair of 3-pointers in the second half that were like most Allen 3-pointers - quite timely. He had 11 points.

For the eighth-seeded Sixers, they were led by Andre Iguodala's 18 points along with 15 points and nine assists from Jrue Holiday.

Boston seemingly had a firm grip on the game until they came up on the short end of a 7-0 run near the end of the third quarter.

But the C's still managed to take a slim 55-52 lead into the fourth after a buzzer-beating jumper by Garnett to end the third.

The down-to-the-wire finish was so not how the game started for the Celtics, who seemed intent on delivering an early knockout punch akin to what they did in a 16-point Game Five win on the Garden floor.

With a loud, vibrant, early-arriving crowd, the Boston Celtics gave them plenty to cheer for as they opened the game with a 10-2 run before Sixers coach Doug Collins, looking to stop the bleeding, called a time-out with 8:14 to play in the first.

As they have done throughout this series, the Sixers chipped away at the Celtics deficit behind a 10-5 surge of their own to make it a 15-12 game before Doc Rivers called a time-out with 2:40 to play.

Philadelphia, well aware of how short-handed the Celtics are without Avery Bradley (season-ending left shoulder surgery on Friday), knew the C's would need Rondo to become a bigger factor in defending the Sixers guards.

So they put him in as many pick-and-roll situations as possible, with the goal clearly being to wear him down. Rondo got some rest in the first, but not the kind he would have preferred.

C's coach Doc Rivers took Rondo out shortly after he picked up his second personal foul of the quarter, resulting in him sitting the final 2:40 of the quarter. The Sixers were able to make the most of Rondo's absence, eventually take the lead briefly, 20-19, on a 3-point play by Lou Williams.

However, Garnett made the first of two free throws which would be the final points of the quarter which ended with the score tied at 20.

The second quarter was like so many games between these two teams - low on points, low on being aesthetically pleasing but high on intensity.

The teams were more than halfway through the quarter when a time-out was called with 5:17 to play, and the two had combined to score 16 points in the quarter at that point.

Fortunately for the C's, 10 of those 16 points belonged to them.

And coming out of the time-out, Bass added a couple more on with free throws that put the C's ahead 32-26.

Points continued to be hard to come by for both teams, but it wasn't necessarily because of great defense.

Both teams - but especially the Celtics - were failing to resist the temptation that SHE presents.

She goes by many names.

Around here, we call her the jump-shot.

It wasn't coincidental that a back-to-the-basket bucket from Kevin Garnett put the Celtics ahead by four points, but just as important, seemed to be just the spark they needed to make a strong push to end the second quarter and take a 41-33 lead into the half.

Kyrie Irving: Sitting out with shoulder injury 'just precautionary'

Kyrie Irving: Sitting out with shoulder injury 'just precautionary'

BOSTON – Kyrie Irving has long since understood the balancing act he must walk between embracing the moment while being mindful of the big picture. 

That’s why the decision to sit out Boston’s 89-80 loss to Philadelphia was one that, while certainly didn’t do Boston any favors against the Sixers on Thursday, it does provide him some much-needed downtime to rest his sore left shoulder.

MORE - Blakely's stars, studs, and duds from C's-Sixers

The good news is that tests taken on the shoulder show no structural damage. And with the way the schedule is shaping up now, Irving will have plenty of time to rest and be ready to play when the Celtics return to the floor on Sunday to host the Orlando Magic. 

“Just precautionary stuff, making sure everything's alright from a strength perspective,” was how Irving described the injury. “Obviously a few days will put me where I need to be. And we'll just see what goes on for Sunday's game, but you know it's nothing too crazy, just giving me a little discomfort over the last few weeks and I've just been playing through it doing what's best in terms of preparing best for every single game. I thought it was best just to get a few tests and make sure everything's alright so, everything's cool.”

Irving said the tests came back negative which is a huge positive for the Celtics and Irving who was selected as an NBA all-star starter for next month’s game. 

As far as how it happened, Irving said there was no specific event or play in which he suffered a blow to the shoulder or anything like that. 

“Gradual soreness” is how Irving described the injury.  “You know, kinda going into my shot, driving left, just not feeling as confident as I would like to be and just thought it would be best just to take a day or two to get it evaluated, meet with our medical staff, meet with our strength conditioning coach and strengthen it up and then hopefully go on Sunday.”

The Celtics (34-12) have now lost two of the three games they played this season without Irving. It is a small sample size, but there’s no denying the impact that a healthy Irving has on this roster when it comes to impacting winning. 

“First off, I just had to make sure some of the major parts of my shoulder just weren't damaged,” said Irving who added, “And then at this point it's just a strength program and doing what's best with that.” 

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Celtics score season-low 80 points in loss to Sixers

Celtics score season-low 80 points in loss to Sixers

BOSTON – Coaches and players talk all the time about the importance of playing with great energy and effort defensively. 

But what about on offense?

When it’s not there, you get games like the one we saw on Thursday night as Philadelphia held off a late surge by Boston to defeat the Celtics 89-80.

Now the knee-jerk reaction is to praise Philadelphia for playing a great game defensively. 

And to their credit, they did a lot of good things defensively.

But many of Boston’s struggles offensively were of the self-inflicted wound variety. 

“I just didn’t think we played hard enough on offense,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens who prefaced his statement by praising the Sixers as being a good team defensively. “We played hard on defense. And it’s, I guess, a unique game when you’re playing hard on one end of the floor but not on the other.

Stevens added, “we were very sloppy (offensively), over-dribbled, dribbled didn’t take us anywhere, not moving the ball, not getting to spots.”

Celtics guard Marcus Smart, filling in for Irving, had similar thoughts on how the Celtics played against the Sixers (21-20). 

“We need to play harder on both ends,” Smart said. “We were leaving guys on islands and forcing everybody to fend for themselves. On the offensive end we got real stagnant, trying to find it. Instead of being basketball players we became robots.”

Robots void of any plan or script on how to compete effectively at both ends of the floor. 

Said Smart: “We just acted like we didn’t know what we were doing out there.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 89-80 loss to Philadelphia. 

 

STAR

Joel Embiid: Not long after Thursday night’s announcement that he was being named a starter in next month’s All-star game, Embiid went out and played like one. He was as dominant as we’ve ever seen him against the Celtics, tallying a double-double of 26 points and 16 rebounds to go with six assists and two blocked shots. 

 

STUDS

Jaylen Brown: It wasn’t until the fourth quarter did Brown and the Celtics, start to play with a sense of urgency. Brown had 12 points for the game, six of which came in the fourth quarter. 

Shane Larkin: There were more minutes than usual for Larkin to take, and for the most part he made the most of his opportunity. Larkin’s energy was one of the keys to Boston rallying back into the game in the second half, as he finished with eight points on 3-for-6 shooting with two steals in 23 minutes with only Marcus Morris (27 minutes) seeing more action off the Celtics’ bench.

Marcus Morris: On a night when the Celtics needed someone to step their game up offensively with Kyrie Irving out, Morris came closer than any other Celtic to doing that. He had 14 points on 4-for-9 shooting. But just as important was Morris driving to the basket and being rewarded with free throw attempts – the kind of thing that Irving does when on the floor. The scoring, getting to the line four times in addition to grabbing six rebounds, were all important factors in Boston getting within striking distance in the fourth quarter. 

 

DUDS

Celtics offense: Using Kyrie Irving being out with a sore left shoulder is too convenient an excuse for the struggles Boston had offensively. Boston didn’t take care of the ball (19 turnovers), didn’t play with force at both ends of the floor were bigger factors. But the biggest factor of them all was Philadelphia’s defense which played at a consistently high level most of the night.

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