Basketball is a game of runs, and in the end, one team makes more plays than the other.
Sorry -- went all Rajon Rondo on you -- but seriously, the first two games of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers came down to a few plays that could have gone either way. After a narrow 92-91 Celtics win in Game 1 on Saturday, the Sixers hung on for an 82-81 win in Game 2 Monday, evening the series, 1-1.
"We don't go for splits," C's coach Doc Rivers said on WEEI. "We've got to play better. In my opinion, Philly has outplayed us in both games. We just happened to win one of them."
Rivers has it right, as usual. Philly has outplayed Boston for the majority of the series (roughly five of the eight quarters played), and even though the Celts have stepped up their game in the fourth quarters of both games, the Sixers answered the call, at least in Game 2.
Kevin Garnett, the Celtics' leading scorer in the series, scored 11 of his 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the final period of Game 2, and Boston outscored Philly, 32-25, but the Sixers made shots when it counted, making their final five jumpers and last six free throws.
"They have players that are capable of making big shots, they have players who are capable of carrying their team scoring," said Ray Allen, who scored 14 in Monday's loss.
On Wednesday, the Celtics will need to turn the tables on those players as they face the Sixers in Game 3 of the series at the Wells Fargo Center at 7 p.m. EST (TNT/WEEI).
How will Boston go about that? For starters, they must step up their individual defense.
"They were running, they were setting picks, getting to the point where they get their guys in isolation so it's up to us to be able to play great individual defense," said Paul Pierce.
Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday are two of the players who burned Boston in Game 2, scoring six and five in the fourth quarter to finish with 10 and 18 points, respectively. Holiday is the Sixers' leading postseason scorer, averaging 16.9 points in eight games.
"He's playing with a lot of confidence," Sixers forward Andre Iguodala (13 points in Game 2) said about Holiday. "It has a lot to do with a player's progression in this league, it shows how confident they are when they go out and play. Not being afraid to step up and make big shots when you need them. I've always said Jrue has that Cali coolness about him. It can be a gift and a curse. In pressure moments that's definitely a plus for us because he's always even keel out there and he doesn't let himself get too high or low emotional."
Boston lost home court advantage, for now, with the Game 2 loss, but where the Celtics play isn't as important as how they do perform once the ball is tipped off, according to Allen.
"I don't really worry about where we play," said Allen. "Being in there building down there really isn't going to affect us. It's all about how we play them when we get out there, how we take care and work together better than what we did [Monday]."
While the Celtics will deny that playing in Philly bothers them, it's exciting for the Sixers.
"It's going to be really crazy," said Turner. "It's a great game, our fans are definitely excited and it's going to be great to be in front of them to compete."
Rivers will have to have injuries on the mind prior to Game 3, with Avery Bradley re-aggravating his left shoulder injury in Game 2 and both Pierce and Allen still feeling the effects of their injuries. Bradley left Game 2 in the second quarter after his left shoulder popped out, an ailment he has dealt with all season long. Pierce suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee during the first round and Allen continues to battle bone spurs in his right ankle.
Ask all three, and they'll likely tell you they are ready to play (maybe not Allen, who has been the most honest about his injury). But there is no doubting that they are hobbled.
But as we've learned already, healthy or not, the Celtics have their work cut out for them.