BOSTON - Reversing the trend, the Boston Celtics started strong but faded through the first three quarters of Monday night's Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers. But just like in Game 1, the Celtics surged back from a deficit in the fourth. This time, though, Philly was ready, and it fended off Boston for the 82-81 victory.
"Our young guys just keep growing, and they're really becoming men," said Philadelphia head coach Doug Collins, whose team won a playoff game in Boston for the first time since 1982. "We just found a way. Again I have to tell you all season long we couldn't win these games and now our guys are believing they can do it, and it is pretty special to watch."
Jrue Holiday led Philadelphia with 18 points in 15 minutes and Andre Iguodala scored 13. Evan Turner finished with 10 points, six of which he scored in the decisive fourth quarter, and Lavoy Allen made his presence felt once again, totaling 10 points off the Sixers' bench. Philly shot 40.8 percent (31-for-76) from the floor and won the battle on the boards, 47-36.
"I think we're growing, we have a young team," said Holiday. "Again, I can't preach enough on our vets. Really, just taking us under their wings and just keeping us focused and paying attention to detail, the little things that help us win the game."
Kevin Garnett, who carried the Celtics in Game 6 in the first round as well as Saturday's Game 2, didn't do much in the first three quarter, but dialed it up in the fourth, scoring 11 of his 15 points in the frame. Garnett made 5-of-7 shots in the fourth but 7-of-12 in the game.
"We tried to put some strength on him," said Collins. "We tried to take away his rhythm shots. They do such a great job of getting you strung out and throwing back to him and all those shots he catches in rhythm he just doesn't miss. So really it was trying to disrupt the efficiency and the timing just a little bit."
Rajon Rondo, who posted his eighth career postseason triple-double in Game 1, neared the mark again, finishing with eight points, seven rebounds and 13 assists. Ray Allen scored 17 off the bench and was 2-for-6 from long range, Brandon Bass had 12 points and Paul Pierce finished with just seven points for Boston, which shot 41.8 percent (33-for-79).
"We're upset we lost the game," Pierce said. "Nobody likes to lose in this type of setting."
Boston avoided the sluggish start that almost cost them the game in the series opener, running out to a 9-0 lead. Philly missed its first five shots and opened the game 2-for-11 from the field. A late push by the Sixers would knot the score at 15 with under four minutes left in the first, but a 10-6 Celtics run to close out the quarter put them up 25-21 after one.
Lavoy Allen's jumper at 9:24 in the second would tie the game at 27, and both teams would go back and forth for the rest of the quarter. Boston's biggest lead in the period was four, which it achieved twice in the quarter. Holiday's three with 1:08 left gave Philly a 36-35 edge, but Pierce answered with a late three, putting the Celtics up, 38-36, at halftime.
Philly came to life midway through the third, using a 16-6 run to close out the frame with a 57-49 lead. Boston was held to 11points in the quarter and was held without a basket for 4:41 after Allen's jumper at 4:43 and Pierce made two free throws to close out the period. Elton Brand powered the Sixers' run, scoring seven points in the third.
The Celtics chipped away at Philadelphia's lead early in the final quarter, thanks to the re-emergence of Pietrus, who made back-to-back threes and had a block to bring Boston within two points, 61-59, with 8:53 to play. Iguodala's 17-footer at 6:50 put Philly back up by four, forcing a Celtics timeout. Garnett scored six of Boston's first 16 points in the quarter, including back-to-back jumper to tie the game at 65 with 4:33 remaining.
Both teams traded big buckets down the stretch, with both Bradley and Allen making threes for Boston and Holiday hitting a three and Turner making an athletic layup, which gave the Sixers a 76-75 lead with 40.4 seconds to go. Allen missed a leaning two with 28 seconds left, giving Philly an opportunity to kill the clock. Pierce was forced to foul Turner with two seconds left, and he made both free throws, making it a 78-75 game. Garnett committed an offensive foul on the next possession, and Philly sealed the game at the free throw line.
"I don't like the fact that we took almost three quarters to play the right way offensively," Celtics head coach Doc Rivers said. "Listen, we knew the blueprint before the game. It took us three quarters to get into it. ... Somehow I have to figure that out with our guys."
The series, tied 1-1, now transitions to the Wells Fargo Center, which will be the site for Games 3 and 4 on Wednesday (7 p.m. EST) and Friday night (8 p.m. EST), respectively.