BOSTON - Brandon Bass made his presence felt when it counted most, rebounding from a mediocre first half to score 18 of his game-leading 27 points in the third quarter and help the Boston Celtics turn the tables en route to a 101-85 win over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Monday evening inside TD Garden.
"It was just me taking advantage of my opportunity," said Bass, who is averaging 14.8 points this series. "We got a few good players on the team that they've got to focus on so they left me open tonight and I was able to hit the shots."
Boston, which now only needs one win to finish off the Sixers, lagged behind Philly for nearly all of the first half before Bass made his move in the third quarter. The Celtics finished 36-of-69 from the field (52 percent) and improved dramatically at the free throw line, making 26-of-33 shots after going 16-for-19 in their Game 4 loss last Friday night.
Kevin Garnett had a strong first half, scoring 14, and finished with 20 points and six rebounds. Paul Pierce scored 16 and Rajon Rondo amassed 13 points and 14 assists while Ray Allen, who started in place of an injured Avery Bradley, finished with five points.
"I didn't have to do anything any differently," Allen said. "He's an extraordinary defensive player, but I tried to do what I'm capable of and be a part of the defensive unit. Any time you have a player down you never take on that person's role, you just try to go out and do your job."
Elton Brand has his best game of the series, scoring 12 of his 19 points in the first half for Philadelphia. Lavoy Allen scored 12, Jrue Holiday added 10 points, Evan Turner had 11 points and 10 rebounds and Andre Igoudala totaled eight points. Philly shot 47 percent (36-for-77) and won the rebounding battle, 37-31, and turned the ball over 15 times.
"We played great, phenomenal in the first half, but only a three point lead showed for it," Brand said. "And once we got out a little bit in the second half, we couldn't stop their run. We brought it up to 6, seemed like we could get some separation but our turnovers hurt."
Rondo scored six of the Celtics' first nine points, leading them to an early 9-8 lead. After the first stoppage in play, Greg Stiemsma (10 points) checked in for Garnett and chipped in with some instant offense, scoring six straight, but Boston still trailed 18-17 behind a balanced Philadelphia scoring attack. Philly led 27-23 after twelve minutes.
Philly controlled the tempo throughout most of the second quarter, in which it led nearly all the way. The game was tied twice in the frame -- 33-33 at 8:24 and 35-35 at 7:43 -- and the Sixers built their lead up to as many as six points once and five points four times. However, the Celtics still outscored the opposition, 24-23, in the quarter and trailed 50-47 at the break. Iguodala and Brand (12 first-half points) each scored six in the quarter, but Garnett (14 first-half points) came alive for Boston, scoring 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting in the frame, and Pierce scored all nine of his first-half points in the quarter to pace the Celtics.
Boston made its move in the third quarter, with Bass and Garnett fueling a 15-4 run the took the Celts from five down to seven up, 63-57. Bass scored 10 points during the run -- four at the free throw line and four via dunk. Bass would finish the quarter with 18 points and had a game-leading 23 points for the game, putting the Celtics on top 75-66 entering the fourth.
"We defended, we changed everything we did with our energy," Pierce said about the third quarter. "I think we picked it up, got into them a little bit more, made it a little tougher for them to get to their spots, denied the ball a little bit, rebounded better and we got on transition. Once we were able to run and get some easy baskets, just open it up, we fed off the crowd and never looked back."
By the start of the fourth, the damage had already been done, and the Celtics built their lead up to 81-66 with 8:14 left and never looked back, winning the all-important fifth game in a tied series. Boston heads back to Philly for Game 6 on Wednesday, when they will try to eliminate the Sixers and reach their third Eastern Conference Finals since 2008.