Early on, the Boston Celtics looked flat and lethargic, but they quickly turned the tables thanks to the stellar play of Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce on the way to a 107-91 win over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia to take a 2-1 series lead.
"Number one, we made shots," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "When you make shots, everything looks better. It's a make, miss league, it always will be, and we made shots."
Garnett led the way with 27 points, 17 of which he scored in the first half, while Rondo finished with 23 points and 14 assists and Pierce came back strong from a poor showing in Game 2, amassing 24 points and 12 rebounds. Mickael Pietrus, playing in Philly for the first time since suffering a debilitating concussion earlier this season, played well and scored 13 off the bench. Boston out-rebounded Philadelphia, 44-37, and shot 51.9 percent (40-for-77) from the field while turning the ball over seven times.
"It was really good" said Pierce, who only scored seven points in Game 2. "Our offense finally came alive, we were really moving the ball. We knew that's what we were going to have to do. For us to score 100 points against Philly, a defensive team, is pretty good."
Thaddeus Young had a career night, scoring a personal playoff high 22 points on 10-of-16 shooting. Jrue Holiday had 10 points in the first quarter, but did not score again until the fourth quarter and finished with 15 points. Lou Williams and Jodie Meeks both scored 13 off the bench for Philadelphia, which was limited to 40.7 percent shooting (33-for-81).
Philadelphia was the one with the hot start this time around, jumping out to a 10-4 lead while making four of its first six baskets. Boston, which missed its first six baskets, answered with eight straight points, four from Rondo on driving layups, to go ahead 12-10 at 6:43. The Sixers would again pull away and take a 19-14 lead by the 4:07 mark.
By that point, Rondo and Pierce had clearly had enough, as the Celtics' star duo would combine to score the final 14 points of the quarter, but a Williams buzzer-beating three put Philly on top, 33-28, after one. Rondo had a game-high 13 points in the opening frame while Pierce had nine points to score 78 percent of Boston's points (22) in the frame.
Garnett took the baton in the second quarter, scoring Boston's first six points in the second quarter and 13 of his 17 first-half points in the frame as the Celtics outscored the Sixers, 32-16, to take a 60-49 lead into halftime. Rondo, meanwhile, finished the opening half with 17 points and Pierce was scoreless in the period. Boston shot 54.8 percent in the half.
The wheels came off in the third quarter for Philly, which surrendered an 18-5 run for Boston to start the quarter. Boston was able to build its lead to a game-high 25 points (85-60 at 3:47). Garnett, who scored six in the quarter to bring his total to 23 points, sat down with 5:48 left, opening a door for Philly. But the Sixers couldn't take advantage of Garnett's absence, and Pierce scored five down the stretch to make it 89-66 through three.
Philadelphia outscored Boston, 25-18, in the final quarter but couldn't erase the difference.
Boston takes on Philly in Game 4 at 8 p.m. EST on Friday. The series returns to Boston for Game 5 on Monday, with Game 6 back in Philadelphia and Game 7 in Boston, if necessary.