BOSTON - Through three quarters of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Saturday, the Philadelphia 76ers outworked the Boston Celtics. The last quarter, though, was the one that mattered most. Boston outscored Philly, 25-20, giving it enough of a boost to walk out of TD Garden with a 92-91 win and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Paul Pierce and the Celtics (5-2) will try to make that a 2-0 lead when the host the Sixers in Game 2 of the conference semifinals at 7 p.m. EST on Monday in Boston, MA (TNT/WEEI).
Boston's comeback was mainly fueled by two players -- Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett. Rondo recorded his eighth career postseason triple double (13 points, 12 rebounds, 17 assits) and made three critical jump shots down the stretch and Garnett scored a season-best 29 points and scooped up 11 rebounds while blocking three shots in 38 minutes.
"He's great. He really is," Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said about Garnett. "He's making it - it's so hard when he's off the floor for those 12 minutes or 10 minutes, I mean you're in a panic right now. And that's an area we're going to have to improve; he's going to sit for 10 or 12 minutes a game. And we have to - our plus/minus with him off the floor right now is horrendous - so that's an area we have to improve on. But when he's on the floor, he's doing everything for us. He had a great block late in the game, he's making big shots, he's posting, he's getting to the foul line, he's just playing fantastic."
Garnett has logged some heavy minutes in his first seven playoff games, playing an average of 37.9 minutes. But as Rivers said, KG has been spectacular all postseason, and he's putting up some vintage numbers, averaging a team-high 20.1 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks. For Boston, the game plan is relatively simple -- go through Garnett.
"We feel like that's our advantage," Pierce said about feeding KG. "We feel like that's our advantage every night when you look at the Eastern Conference, the teams that got to match up with (Garnett). We are going to ride Kevin all the way until his wheels fall off and he's bringing it every night. He understands the sense of urgency with this ball club and he's giving it everything he got out there for us and he's looking like 04' MVP, definitely."
"That's the game plan all the time," Rondo echoed. "When we get away from [that], we take a lot of jump shots. We're a jump shooting team. But when we need a bucket we tend to go to Paul and Kevin. [Kevin] had a lot of great looks that he wanted and he made his shots."
The win is what counts, but there's still the important matter of addressing what went wrong in the first three quarters, which all featured Philly coming out ahead on the scoreboard.
"We didn't have it early," Rivers said. " I just thought they came out and they attacked us. I thought they played harder, quite honestly, the first ten minutes of the game. I thought we came with the right intent and I really thought, and we've done it before, we miss seven-to-eight just point-blank wide-open shots to start the game, and I thought we start thinking about our offense. I thought that allowed them to up their energy and get into us."
Philly is at its best when it executes in transition, which the Celtics must be ready for.
"They're really fast, especially when they go small so you can't turn the ball over a lot, they really take advantage of them because four of the five guys that get it can push the ball," Pierce said. "[Andre] Iguodala's really fast, Jrue Holiday, [Evan] Turner pushes the ball a number of them, so its hard to really keep them out of transition when you turn the ball over. The thing for us is to execute, get a good shot up every time and get back on defense."
The series transitions to Philadelphia for Games 3 and 4, which take place on Wednesday, May 16 (7 p.m. EST) and Friday, May 18 (8 p.m. EST). Both games will be aired on TNT.