Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers Jan 20, 2003 7:30pm
Tonight’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers came just a couple of days after the Celtics had won impressively against the Indiana Pacers back in Boston.  But tonight's game would take place not at the FleetCenter, but in Philadelphia against a 76er team that was determined to show that they were better than their Eastern Conference playoff record against the Celtics would indicate.

Neither Tony Delk nor Tony Battie would be available for tonight's game due to injuries.  It was expected that the Celtics would take the opportunity to play Grant Long, who had just been acquired as a free agent for the rest of the season.  The Celtics went with a starting lineup of Antoine Walker, Eric Williams, Vin Baker, Paul Pierce, and J.R. Bremer.  Philadelphia had its own injury problems, as Todd McCullough was not available for tonight's game due to his injury.  The Sixers went with a starting lineup of Aaron McKee, Keith Van Horn, Derrick Coleman, Allen Iverson, and Eric Snow.

So far, the major drawback to this game was that Marv Alpo and Mike FratBoy would be doing the commentary.  It's times like this that I really miss Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn.

Tonight's game was especially important in the standings for several reasons.  Boston currently held the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference standings, 23-17, 5 1/2 games behind the Indiana Pacers.  Philadelphia held No. 6, at 21-19.  The New Jersey Nets, No. 2 in the conference, were putting their 28-11 record on the line against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City.  If Boston could beat Philadelphia, the Good Guys would put some distance between them and Philadelphia.  And if New Jersey were to lose to Utah, the Celtics would gain 1/2 game on New Jersey to boot.
 

First Quarter:

The Sixers won the tip off, and we got our first indication of how the game was going to start out as the Celtics were immediately called for a three-second violation.  Eric Snow shot the technical free throw, scoring the first point of the game.

Allen Iverson continues to make those circus shots where he runs to the basket with abandon, and somehow gets a basket, often drawing a foul.  On the following possession for Boston, I saw two things: first that Philadelphia was, as usual, going to be allowed to foul as often as they want, while only getting called may be one time out of five.  Second, I saw that the Celtics still have confidence in Baker, allowing him to take the ball going toward the basket.

But the Celtics offense wasn't going anywhere, as none of the Celtics on the floor seemed capable of scoring a basket.  To make things worse, the Celtics defense was porous; not only allowing Philadelphia to drive to the hoop at will, but letting Philadelphia get lots of rebounds without serious opposition.

The Celtics were neither scoring from the field nor drawing fouls.  The shot selection was mediocre, but not the fault of any one player.  Every Celtics player on the floor had taken at least one shot, and none of them went in.

With 9:17 to go in the first quarter, Paul Pierce scored the first basket Boston Celtics tonight.  Unfortunately, by this time Philadelphia had scored 8 points, so the good guys had a long way to go.  I had no idea just HOW long…yet.

Philadelphia continued its offensive onslaught, made all the more annoying by the fact that their shots weren’t particularly good: they just kept going in against a Celtics defense that seemed perfectly content to let the Sixers do whatever the they wanted.

I knew that the Celtics were working against history tonight.  Here we were, on a national holiday, playing a team they often had trouble with, on national television.  The last time that combination of factors came together was Christmas day against New Jersey Nets on ABC.  There’s a lot of precedent for Celtics fans to worry about.  Unfortunately, history seemed to be on the verge of repeating itself as the game got going.

I'll say this much, at least the Celtics weren’t relying on the outside shot.  Antoine Walker drove straight to the hoop, and what a surprise, they actually called the foul as he went in.  Walker made both free throws, which made the score 10-6 with 8:15 to go in the quarter.

The fact of the matter was Philadelphia was playing adequately, not brilliantly.  The Celtics got somewhat reasonable shots off, but they were being betrayed by their bad defense.  The Sixers were generally having their way with the Celtics as the first period went on.  Eric Williams had the ball taken right out of his hands after what he thought was a defensive rebound.  Instead he ended up committing the foul and sending the Sixers to the line.

But one of the few bright spots was Vin Baker going in getting a rebound off a missed shot from Eric Williams.  His offense seems to be a lot smoother, at least in comparison to some games played earlier this year.  You know things aren’t going well when Baker is described as a bright spot for the Celtics.

It was odd, because I really expected the Celtics to come out with more fire than this.  The Celtics were too slow, and completely unable to mount any kind of a consistent offense or defense.  Antoine Walker still likes to do that backing in move, for all the good it did him tonight.  They still use up for too much of the shot clock and ending up with very little-if anything-to show for it.

How bad was the Celtics luck in the first quarter? Pierce had the ball, slid down on his bottom, and recovered the dribble, only to have Eric Snow nearly poke it away.  J.R. Bremer recovered it and passed the pumpkin to Walker, who drove to the hoop for two.  The Celtics really need to learn to get baskets with a little less difficulty them that.

Allen Iverson once again drove to the hoop with about his much opposition as if he was facing a group of stuffed animals instead of a professional basketball team.  Antoine Walker did make an effort keep the Celtics in the game by hitting a three-point shot.  That made the score 16-13 with 5 minutes to go in the quarter.  This is not to say the quarter was a total disaster.  Eric Williams took down a rebound, and made the long outlet pass to Walker who was loitering under the hoop like he was Tony Battie.  Boy, would I love to see more of that!

With that, a timeout was called with 4:29 to go in the first quarter and the Celtics holding a one-point lead.

After the timeout, Philadelphia was getting the ball in without too much trouble.  If their shooting percentage had been even marginally better, the Celtics would me in very serious trouble by the end of the first quarter, instead of moderately serious.  Grant Long came into the game and immediately committed a foul.  He did make good efforts playing defense.   He was a slow on some of the moves, but he was moving quicker than then Baker could physically, so he wasn’t losing his man completely.  It was just a matter of getting him comfy with the C’s plays.

Long, even with a broken hand, knew how to make a nice pass to Pierce for a basket.  They say that he broke that hand while dunking a basket during practice.  I’m beginning to wonder of the Celtics should even be allowed to practice until the injuries heal.  But still, no matter what the C’s did in the first quarter, they were not able to catch the Sixers.  Boston went four possessions, getting three turnovers. When timeout was called with 2:53 to go, Philadelphia led 22-17.

After the timeout, Keith Van Horn went to the line and made both shots.  The Celtics tried a scrambling offense, but the only one who seemed to be moving without the ball was Grant Long, and the ball never came his way.  He worked hard to get the rebound, but got boxed out.  I think that once he has more experience with running on the Celtics, he’ll make some nice moves into the hoop.  That's something Celtics could use a lot more of.

But the foul situation was once again bordering on ridiculous.  Despite the current statistical parity, the fact of the matter was that there were a number of fairly obvious fouls not being called against Philadelphia.  Ranging from bumps on the hips to outright slaps, and one notable instance where one of the Philadelphia players literally grabbed a Celtics player’s jersey to hold him down the ground.  You would think that an optometrist would be required to check these officials out at least once every year or so.

In the last few minutes of the quarter, the Celtics couldn't generate a basket if you held a gun to their collective heads.  As I said, Philadelphia was plain decently, but not brilliantly.  On a normal night they would be neck and neck with the Celtics, and this would be an exciting game right from the start.  Instead, the Sixers went on a 9-2 run, and were in serious danger of running up a double-digit lead before the quarter was over.

Philadelphia, in stark contrast to Boston, was moving quickly on both sense of the court.  The Celtics at least were making it looked respectable as the quarter drew to a close, eliminating what had been the threat of a double-digit lead.  The Celtics took the last shot of the quarter, a three-point attempt by J.R. Bremer, which missed.  The quarter ended with Philadelphia leading 27-20.

There was good news, and there was bad news.

The good news was that the Celtics, while behind, were doing better than their effort had warranted to this stage of the game.  The bad news was that the second quarter was about to begin, and THAT was going to recall nightmares of Christmas Day and Halloween.

The Celtics were individually playing their own games, and not playing as a team.  TNT broadcast part of a timeout between the quarters in which Jim O'Brien said he wanted a “plus eight in turnovers."  Mike FratBoy explained, redundantly, what Jim O'Brien meant by he “wanted more turnovers" it was fairly obvious that he wanted to force the 76ers to make more mistakes, and for the Celtics to capitalize on those mistakes.  It doesn't take rocket science, which is good news for the TNT broadcasters.
 
 

Second-quarter:

The Celtics opened up the quarter or with Kedrick Brown going to the free throw line, and promptly missing his first one, though he made the second.  The Celtics were rebounding, and Baker had come back in early in the second and was fighting for the boards.  I really enjoyed seeing Baker going for the rebounds at last!  Not only that, but he got fouled and went to the free throw line.  Unfortunately, he still doesn’t shoot free throws very well.  Sigh.

On the other end, Skinner went to the basket, got the score, and drew the foul.  And when HE went to free for line, he made his shot.  This gave Philadelphia that double-digit lead I had worried about in the first quarter.  It was now 32-21, with 10:52 to go in the second-quarter.  The physical play continued to be annoyingly one-sided, as Pierce got directly in front of an oncoming Philadelphia player, was knocked out of his socks and into the basket support, and I don't think anyone even noticed he was gone.  I was amazed that he had enough of his senses left to attempt a three-point shot at the other end.  If I had been hit like that, I'd still be asking for the license number of the truck, and whether or not a local hospital would take me.

The officials proved they can still call stupid fouls, as they dragged one out of the dusty end of the rule book, getting Kedrick Brown for one before the ball had been in bounded.  Then Baker lost the ball to Eric Snow of the Sixers, not that he was going to be alone on that score.  The Sixers were going to steal a lot of balls tonight.  Then another instance of poor officiating reared its ugly head.  J.R. Bremer had recovered the ball and was making his way toward half court; when he was tripped by one Philadelphia player, held down by a second, and stood over by a third.   All three of them were holding Bremer down on the floor while trying to get the ball away from him.  The Celtics managed to call a timeout while Bremer was being taken down.  I was rather surprised that there wasn't more aggravation shown from the Celtics bench about the fact that Bremer had essentially been literally mugged and dragged down to the floor with not so much as a questioning glance from the officials.

Following the timeout, the Celtics took the ball inbounds and once again stood around on offense.  Walter managed to get the ball into Eric Williams, who put up a soft shot toward the hoop.  He did draw the foul, but he should have made the basket.  Instead of going to the line for one in a three-point play, he had to shoot two, one of which he missed.  By contrast, the Sixers took the ball to the hoop, got the basket and drew the foul.  He would now go to the line to shoot one, which he made, giving him an old-fashioned three-point play.   This gave Philadelphia is biggest lead, at 37-22.  With 9:17 to go, Philadelphia was shooting 41 % from the field, while the Celtics for shooting 29%.  Those kind of statistics don’t encourage people to think that the Celtics will win.

On the good side, J.R. Bremer show that he still likes to run with the ball, even if the other Celtics seem to have forgotten what that means.  They still spend for too much time standing around waiting for the ball to get to whoever was going to take the last second shot.  Antoine Walker tried a modified version of his alley–oop shot by firing down to Pierce just outside the semicircle and letting Pierce take the ball and go straight up to the basket.  If we can figure a way to do that with Vin Baker consistently, we get a lot of easy shots.  It was essentially very a variation of what Tony Battie did but without the strength inherent in Battie's shots.

I began to see the problem.  Unless somebody like Eric Williams was totally wide open, the Celtics were simply waiting for Pierce and Walker to take the shots.  But what they need to do is to encourage the other players to get open and give Pierce and Walker some other options.  They're not used to seeing those options, so they often don’t look for them anymore.

To give you an idea just how many fouls are actually being committed, proceed-as all good Celtics fans do-on the assumption that for every foul that is actually called on the other team, they committed least five.  With 7:14 to go in the second quarter, Philadelphia was over the limit.

My thoughts at this point were fairly simple, and equally obvious.  Keep going to the hoop, and try to draw the foul.  Even if they only call one out of five, it gives you SOME chance at the line.  Unfortunately, as Eric Williams missed his second free throw, Antoine Walker and Walter McCarty were both working to get the rebounds, but were unable to get either rebounds, a basket, or the foul.

Walter McCarty made a nice steal from Eric Snow, but then promptly lost the ball out of bounds.  Normally Walter doesn't have quite that loose a grip, but they called the ball out of bounds on Philly for some reason, so the Good Guys got another break.  The Celtics made the most of that as Shammond Williams fired the ball into Pierce, who drove to the basket and got a dunk.  With 6:34 to go in the quarter, the score was 41-32, Philadelphia leading.

On the next possession, a timeout was quickly called.  I found it annoying when the commentators spent a great deal time discussing about whether Allen Iverson wanted to be, would be, or should be on the Olympic team.  Yet no one mentioned a word about whether or not Antoine Walker or Paul Pierce would be given the same kind of consideration.  Or any consideration whatsoever, for that matter.  To me, it would depend on who else was going to be on the team, and whether or not they would complement the rest of the players as well as the reverse.  It is a touchy situation, and given the adverse effect Paul seems to have suffered from playing last summer, I would be tempted to say it might actually be better for the Celtics if they were to sit out the Olympics.  On the other paw, I know if I were in their place, I’d certainly want to play.

Philadelphia was getting the game the way they wanted, and Iverson was making his shots. They weren’t good shots, but they did go in.  The only way the Celtics were able to stop the Philadelphia fast break was to foul on the way to the hoop.  But to my exasperation, the Celtics didn't show any real inclination to be going to the hoop themselves, despite having put Philadelphia into foul trouble more than two minutes previously.  The Celtics also need to learn that if they're going to draw the fouls, they need to finish the shots.  Because sooner later teams are going to wise up, and stop fouling Pierce altogether, daring him to take the shot.  With five minutes to go, Philadelphia now led 46-34.  And it was about to get much, much worse.

Pierce launched a three that went absolutely nowhere, unless you want count the rebound Philadelphia got.  The really annoying thing is that Shammond Williams was open from the other side of three-point arc, and Grant Long was in the process of working his way toward the middle of the lane.  I wish he had faked a three, dropped down inside, and try to draw Long’s defender away from him just a little bit.  To complicate matters, when Pierce took his shot, he had two defenders converging on him and was clearly fouled as he released the ball.  That was the problem the bothered me most about Celtics offense on this particular trip.   Philadelphia had two defenders on Pierce, three loitering near Grant Long, and the Celtics had two players who did not even make it over half court before Pierce took his shot.

Shammond Williams got the ball and was fouled twice by Iverson before he got anywhere near the half court.  Then Derrick Coleman took his shot at Williams, as none of the Celtics seemed willing to help him out as he was stuck right at the half court line.  By reviewing the tape, and checking the placement of his feet.  Shammond Williams’ left foot never crossed the half court line.  This meant that the over and back violation was invalid according to the rules.  Of course, the fact that Derrick Coleman proceeded to foul him two more times is ALSO supposed to be against the rules.  Mike FratBoy said the Celtics stranded Williams.  That is true, but the officials also stranded him, by their ignorance of the rules, and their willingness to let Philadelphia do pretty much what they wanted physically, short of actually drawing blood.  But I could see where the officials might have missed the call.  On the replay in slow motion, the angle was from across the court approximately where the official would have been watching the view of play from his side.  From that angle, it did look like Shammond's left foot crossed the line just barely.  But the normal view of play in real-time happens to be centered on half court line and I had a clear look at Shammond’s foot.  He didn't cross but it's possible the perspective of their view may simply have fooled the refs, quite literally.

Following a 20-second timeout, with 4:04 to go in the quarter, Philadelphia led the game 48-34.  This was bad.  No, it was not the worst; the worst was yet to happen.  Eric Snow, on the next possession, slammed into Grant Long; and instead of being called for the charge, watched as Long was called for a blocking foul.  Again watching the replay in slow motion, Grant’s feet were set before Snow reached him.  His feet were planted firmly on the ground outside the semicircle and in the paint.  Long was standing straight up with his arms raised above his head, and Pierce had blocked Snow’s right side.  The view from under the basket was perfect.  Snow clearly leveled Long with his left elbow, and was rewarded by going to the line.

Philadelphia now had a 50-34 lead to go in the second quarter.  The Sixers were called for a three-second violation on defense, and Pierce put the free throw in. Pierce’s free throws seem to getting a little shaky again, a serious cause for concern considering that he's been making his living scoring wise at the free throw line lately.

Iverson then proceeded to back Walter McCarty down and scored another basket.  Allen continued to make himself useful in defense by stealing the ball from Pierce.  Why Pierce was dribbling into a quadruple team, I have no idea.  There was a significant example of the lazy Celtics offense in the quarter, when Pierce took the ball toward the top of the three-point arc.  Grant Long was moving down the right side of the lane, and Eric Williams was parked in the opposite side, as Walter McCarty was going back to the arc.  When Pierce was in the process of trying to beat the multiple defenders, Grant was sitting under the hoop by himself.  Eric Williams was sitting in the corner by himself.  Walter McCarty was near the elbow of the three-point arc by himself.  All Pierce would have had to do was pass to any one of three people depending on which direction he happened to be facing at the moment, and there wouldn’t be a single thing Philadelphia could have done to prevent a clean shot.

If Pierce is going to insist on running the offense, he needs to run it smarter than that.  Alan Iverson took the ball, and only an alert steal from Shammond Williams prevented Eric Snow for receiving the pass and getting in easy dunk on the fast break.  Unfortunately, the Celtics still weren’t running very well, nor moving well without the ball.

Eric Snow drove to the basket, literally brushed past Long, and got a foul call on the deal.  It was that kind of quarter for the Celtics.  Timeout was called with 2:33 to go, and Philadelphia leading, 52-35.

During the timeout, Jim O'Brien expresses displeasure in no uncertain terms saying, “Play a little basketball!  You run around like you don't even want to be here tonight!"  He hoped, I think, to provoke the Celtics into making a run to close the gap before the end of the quarter.

Marv Alpo once again felt compelled to comment of Celtics recent horrible win-loss record, while extolling the virtues of the Philadelphia team.  Just once, would it kill him to say something nice about the Celtics?

J. R. Bremer was put back into the game, supposedly to generate some energy.  Walker displayed some offensive energy—if not smarts—of his own, as he took a pass from Walter.  Pierce was at the top of the key, guarded by one person.  J. R. Bremer was only being somewhat paid attention to by Iverson.  All Antoine would have had to do was fake a pass to Pierce, as Iverson would immediately leave Bremer to get to Pierce.  That would’ve left Bremer totally open.  Instead, when Walker got the ball he was immediately covered by two people and Derrick Coleman was running over to make it three.  By the time he received the pass and turned around, Derrick Coleman was able to easily reject his shot by literally rising up over the back of his teammate, who then passed the ball to Eric Snow.  Pierce did make himself useful defensive end, by rejecting Thomas when he went to the basket.  It was good that he did that, as Thomas had blown by Vin Baker like a hurricane passing a snail.

The problem was, despite the openings Philadelphia gave the Celtics, Boston was not able to make any field goals.  It was reaching the point where they couldn't find a basket if they had a guide dog.  It was a bad combination, that Boston was playing bad offense on a night when the Sixers, and Iverson in particular, were playing good offense.  The Celtics were simply not properly challenging the Philadelphia team, and that was allowing the Sixers to get out to a good lead, despite the fact that they were turning the ball over the making some bad plays of their own.

The Celtics had gone over five minutes without a field goal with 1:32 go in the quarter.  As if to emphasize the point, Walter McCarty had the ball outside the three-point line, and the Sixers were playing man-to-man coverage, essentially daring him to make the three-point shot.  Bremer got loose, and a drove to the hope for a mediocre shot.  By comparison, Alan Iverson made a pass from the top of the key to Derrick Coleman under the hoop.  It was good for two and Philadelphia now had a 20-point lead, with just under a minute to go in the half.  Vin Baker surprisingly drew a foul, and went to the line. Even more surprisingly, Vinnie made both shots.  Philadelphia took possession of the ball, and decided to work some clock.  The Celtics exercised some more futility offense, as J.R. Bremer went to the hoop, and missed.  The Sixers managed to blow an open layup, and took a 20-second timeout, presumably to laugh at Coleman for blowing an easy shot.  God knows the Celtics weren’t inspiring concern.

After the timeout, Instead Iverson got into the lane—literally—as he slid into three people on his way to the hoop.  Of course, HE was the one went to the line, not the Celtics.  He made both his free throws, and Celtics went for the last shot of the game with seven seconds left.  The shot went off the rim, emphasizing the Celtics poor offense in the second quarter, which had gone 0-10 with no field goals in over six minutes.  The first half ended with Philadelphia holding a lead of 20 points, 58-38.
 
 

HALFTIME:

Cookie Break!!

Craig Sager interviewed Eric Snow as halftime began and Snow was questioned specifically about blowing leads.  Sager said, “You’re not going to blow this lead, are you?"  Eric Snow responded “No, we've gotta win it."

The torture unfortunately, did not end with the declaration of halftime.  We now had to sit and listen to the “Round Mound of Sound”-otherwise known as Charles Barkley-give his rather crude pronouncement of the Celtics play in the first half.  Barkley said, “Larry Bird's got to be rolling over in his grave tonight watching the Celtics play!”  Ernie Johnson interjected a comment to the fact that Larry Bird had not died, to reassure any nervous fans.  Barkley them went on to comment, “Kevin McHale's got to be rolling over in his grave to watch this crap."

Gee, what incisive, thoughtful commentary that was.  If this was the way he talked to opposing players back when he was a player himself, its no wonder nobody liked him then.  I guarantee you; nobody in Boston likes him now.

What really bothers me about halftime reports on TNT, is the instead of spending their time breaking down the game in progress, they'd rather talk about the Lakers—when they’re not going out of their way to impress us with how stupid they can be. Things did not get much butter, as Alpo and FratBoy came back on the air.  FratBoy referred to the Celtics as a “lightweight team", apparently oblivious to the fact that this “lightweight team" had just beaten Indiana and Milwaukee.  Though I will credit FratBoy with accurately pointing out that the Celtics did miss Tony Battie's presence under the hoop.  The statistics for the Good Guys were NOT good.  The Celtics were shooting 28%, while Philadelphia was shooting 47%.  Bench points were largely irrelevant.  Given the injury situation, the bench was essentially playing as starters.  Philadelphia was out rebounding Boston, 32-19.  Neither team was shooting well from the arc, as Boston went 2-12 while Philadelphia went 1-6.  Boston had gone the last 6:38 with no field goals.  Boston had gone 11-39 from the field to get that 28%.

So, what did Jim O'Brien have to say to his team during the halftime?

Not much.

Coach O'Brien reported to Craig Sager that he and the assistants had simply watched the TNT halftime show-but Dick Harter had apparently made an issue of Barkley’s comments to the team.

The Celtics definitely had their work cut out for them.  Their poor play across the board had resulted in a 20-point halftime deficit.  They were going to need every single bit of their ability to come out of it Fortunately, I’m so stubborn, I was firmly convinced that this was indeed possible—not LIKELY—but possible.  Most people would've given up on them, turned off the television, and checked E-Bay to see about selling off those season tickets.

It's not like it was any great secret about what needed to improve in the third-quarter.  Everything.  But as it turned out, this was going to be one of those magical times.  The Celtics were about to show Philadelphia exactly what happens when you start pissing them off.  I kind of wish they’d get pissed off earlier, and a little more often.  My nerves aren’t what they used to be.
 
 

Third-quarter:

The Celtics opened a third-quarter or with J.R. Bremer sinking a deep two.  It was a small beginning for what would become such a huge quarter.  Aaron McKee responded by hitting a three-point shot, which gave the Sixers a lead of 21 points.  On the next possession, Eric Snow striped Paul Pierce, which led to a Sixers fast break basket.  With 10:43 to go in the third quarter, Philadelphia now held its largest lead of the game—23 points.  The score was now 63-40.  Very few people would have believed this at the time, but this was to be the high point of the game for Philadelphia and their fans—it would all go downhill from there.  The Celtics did not panic, but then they never move fast enough to look like they’re panicking.  Bremer had an open three-point shot after the Celtics exhibited good ball movement for the first time in at least 14 minutes.

Bremer also managed to prevent a shot from being made by Philadelphia, and then got the ball quickly up court.  Pierce then drove to the hoop and drew the foul in the process—as he made the shot!  This is the sort of thing that I want Pierce to do, make the basket and get the foul.  Now he would go to the line, from which he made his free throw.  This meant that the Celtics had scored 6 points in two possessions.  With 9:52 go, the score was now 63-46.

Philadelphia was about to have a VERY bad night.

The Sixers lost the ball again, and this time Bremer went to the hoop himself, drawing the foul as he went.  Bremer went to the line, and made both free throws.  They had dropped the lead to 15 points with 9:22 go in the quarter.  Philadelphia missed again, and Baker got the rebound this time.  The Celtics moved the ball around court, then sent Pierce to the basket, getting his own rebound when his shot missed.  The ball went out of bounds, and quite amazingly, the Celtics retained possession.  At last, a break for the Good Guys!  The Celtics took the ball back in, and Pierce drove to the hoop, drawing the defense before passing it out to an open J.R. Bremer—who calmly sank another three-point shot.  With 8:42 to go, the Celtics had cut the Philadelphia lead to 63-51.

Philadelphia once again tried to score, but then Baker came flying down the lane—and I do mean flying—to reject Eric Snow completely.  Bremer brought the ball backup court, and Walter got the ball to Walker, who then shot the open three.

This is where some confusion comes into the game concerning Walker.  After Walker hit his shot he was obviously limping back up court, leading people to think that he had injured himself while making the shot—but if you look at the tape, when he hands the ball off to Bremer before getting it back in return to make the shot, he was already limping by that time.

 I had to go back to the previous possession of Philadelphia, where Baker rejected Snow’s shot, to see where Walker hurt himself.  Walker was underneath and approaching the basket from the opposite side and Eric Snow fell across the back of Walker's right leg down to the floor.  Walker obviously stumbled after that impact.  So he did NOT injure himself shooting the three-point shot.  He got injured going on the defensive boards to support Baker, only to get landed on by Eric Snow.   He would remain in the game, although he was obviously having trouble moving and was in some considerable pain.  How fortunate the Celtics are that he chose to tough it out instead of giving up and sitting on the bench.  Say what you will about Walker’s occasional immaturity, his explosive temper, and his occasional determination to drive the ball into the teeth of the defense.  But you can never say he's not willing to throw himself into every play until final whistles blown.  He stayed in until the end of the game.

(Due to the length of time it’s taken me to do this review, I’ve received the news that Walker will be out approximately two weeks due to damage to his knee from the collision.  God knows he’s earned the rest.  What bugs me is that I was watching ESPN2 when I heard about it, and there was no concern for the severity of his injury on the part of the people at the sports desk.  They just took the opportunity to denigrate Walker for being the majority of the C’s offense—completely ignoring the fact that this is the Coach’s specific offensive plan, and not a sign of Walker being selfish.)

Philadelphia took a timeout following Walker's three with 8:17 to go, and the score now 63-54.  In less than 2 1/2 minutes, the Celtics had brought a 23-point lead down to 9 points.  And it was going to get much worse for Philadelphia from there, as Boston showed they were not about to give up no matter what happened.

Following the timeout, Philadelphia brought the ball up strongly, attempting to go back to what had worked so well for them in the first half-that is, throwing their bodies against every defender they came across on their way to the basket.  It began when Derrick Coleman tried to flatten J.R. Bremer, and then slammed into Baker, which should have been a charge.  That was the only means the Philadelphia had to successfully score basket at this time of the third-quarter.  The Celtics had scored 14 unanswered points before that Philadelphia basket.

But Pierce froze the Philadelphia defense by faking a drive down the lane, then passing it out to an open Antoine Walker at the three-point line.  Unfortunately his aim was off on this one, due, I suspect, to his injury.  This caused some concern, as Walker could very easily become a liability if he wasn't able to move or shoot.

Philadelphia got the ball into Iverson, who was not able to penetrate as easily as he did in the first half.  Then he tried to run around the perimeter and go inside only to be met by Vin Baker.  Granted, Vinny is still a little slow, but in this case I think he read Iverson perfectly and only got beat becomes Iverson is that fast.  Otherwise Iverson might have been called for a charge.   Give Baker a lot of credit for that defensive move—if he hadn't planted himself in the way, Iverson would have scored an easy basket.

Philadelphia brought back in again and Iverson’s long shot missed.  Derrick Coleman found himself surrounded by Celtics players as he tried to bring down the rebound, only to have Eric Williams tear the ball out of his hands and throw it out to J.R. Bremer down the side.

Bremer got the ball to Walker, who looked for his opening, then put the pumpkin in the hands of Pierce, who got a nice shot off at the hoop.  It was counted as a basket when Derrick Coleman was called for goaltending.  The replay clearly showed that the only way Coleman could block that shot was to put his hand between the ball and the rim.

Philadelphia got possession again, and this time, Keith van Horn made a three-point shot.  With 6:52 to go, the score was now 67-56.  This score would indicate that Philadelphia was in command.  The flow of the game clearly showed that this was not the case.  The crowd was silent—at least a silent as any Philadelphia crowd ever is.  The Celtics were making their stand.

Walker brought the ball over mid-court, handing off to Baker.  The ball made its way back and over to Pierce; whose shot was off just a little bit, but it was a good shot to take in that situation.  It was just outside the lane and a good shot well within Pierce’s normal range.  I think Pierce is forcing his shots just a little bit, rushing because Iverson had been known to steal the ball from Pierce before.  Pierce needs to have a little more confidence in his ability to elevate over Iverson.

Philadelphia took possession, and Iverson passed it over to Snow, who lost it out of bounds, but got the call from the officials who placed the ball back into hands of the Sixers.  They took the ball back in bounds to see if they could do any better.  The Celtics defense forced the Sixers into a three-point shot from Iverson, which missed.  Eric Snow attempted a rebound shot that missed everything except the waiting hands of Baker as he took the rebound.  Bremer brought the ball over half court, and drove to the hoop, only to be fouled-of course the officials were only willing to call it out of bounds.

You don't REALLY expect me to be completely objective about the officiating in Philadelphia, DO you?

Nah.  Didn’t think so.

The Celtics took the ball back in bounds, feeding it to Bremer in the corner.  After drawing the defense, he calmly passed it back to Walker, who had taken Bremer's former position in the corner—the same place from which Tony Delk normally fires his three-point shots. Walker hit with no apparent problem, even though he was still limping is way back up and down the court.  With 5:52 go, the score now was 67-59.  The Celtics defense was clamping down inexorably.

In what could finally be called case of justice asserting itself, Baker found a way to stop Keith Van Horn—Vin grabbed him by the pants and tried to pull his shorts down around his ankles.  How Baker didn't get called for that one, I have no idea.  The officials simply must have been literally looking in the other direction, as even a friendly Boston official—if there is such a thing—would have felt obligated to call that one against Baker.  Van Horn tried to pass the ball to Snow, but was intercepted by Pierce.  Pierce picked up the ball somewhere around his ankles as he ran past Snow, who did his best to try to bring him down before he got away.  Snow fouled him once more before Pierce took off just inside the free throw line to dunk the ball for an impressive two points.  With 5:32 go, the Celtics had cut the Philadelphia lead to 67-61.

In the first half, the Celtics had been shooting 28% from the field, while Philadelphia was 47%.  Through the third quarter, Philadelphia was now shooting only 44%, while Boston was shooting at 73%.  Don't you just love it when bad things happen to annoying teams?

Philadelphia brought the ball over half court, slowly and obviously unsure of exactly what they were going to do next.  Baker explained what they're going to do next by cutting off Eric Snow's path to the hoop.  Anton Walker and J.R. Bremer explained to Iverson that he was not going to be allowed to drive to the hoop with impunity.  This resulted in a foul, but it was a good foul.  No easy hoops; that was the Celtics credo during this quarter.

Philadelphia took the ball out again, once again placing their trust in Iverson, who tried to drive into the hoop from the three-point arc.  Bremer wouldn't let him get any serious penetration, so Allen fired up a shot.  It managed to roll in, but there wasn’t that clean look and self-assurance that seemed to exude from the Sixers in the first half.  The p[layers were as wobbly as that shot.

Boston still liked to walk the ball up the court, normally a source of aggravation for me personally, as I'd refer to see them running the court and passing the ball out.  In this case, I might have to cut them some slack since it was getting more and more obvious that Walker was in no condition to move that quickly.  Normally, I suspect Celtics might have sat him down, but for two problems.  First, Delk and Battie were already on the bench and unable to play.  Their bench still wasn't that deep that they could afford to sit yet another player down without any chance of him coming back into the game.  Second, despite his injury, Walker was still playing effectively.  He might have been playing on adrenaline, but the adrenaline was working.

Bremer took the ball hard to the hoop on the next possession, Baker rebounded the miss, going up hard.  Baker took the foul, but he needs to really start powering that ball over people like Keith Van Horn.  At least this time, he didn't try to wind up quite so much before going up with it.  In going against Van Horn, though, he was differently going to need extra oomph on that shot.  Apparently, they decided it was not a shooting foul.  I'm not sure how that was possible, since Baker was clearly going up toward the basket with the ball in his hands when he was fouled.  In any case, the Celtics put the ball back in bounds.

Pierce was somehow called for an offensive foul as he tried passing the ball out to Walker. Keith van Horn has apparently been taking acting lessons again.  Or else the officials know as little about acting as they do about Basketball.  Philadelphia brought the ball up over half court, having finally done something to give the fans something to cheer about.

Eric Snow could not work is way around Walker or Baker, settling instead for passing the ball back to Derrick Coleman, who buried a jump shot just inside the three-point line.  This brought Philadelphia back up to a ten-point lead with 4:15 to go in the third quarter.  Bremer got the ball over half court, and passed to Baker. Vin made a lazy, dangerous pass to Williams, which was gleefully intercepted by Alan Iverson.  The Sixers had a 2 on 1 fast break, with Iverson and Snow going after Eric Williams.  Baker ran hard, but was a step behind Iverson. Allen took off from the free throw line trying to draw the foul as he careened toward the hoop.  The shot didn’t go as Iverson himself went flying off the court.  Derrick Coleman rebounded it in midair and tried to put it in, but that shot also missed.  He managed to catch the rebound, and went back up to attempt to put the ball in for the third time on the same possession.  This time, it worked.  The Celtics then called timeout with 3:55 to go, and the score now 73-61.

The Celtics had made their stand at the beginning of quarter; now the Philadelphia 76ers were responding.  Give them credit, they didn't lay down and die like some teams might have done, any more than the Celtics had.

Following the timeout, the Celtics worked the ball back in to Pierce, who drew the foul from Aaron McKee.  Pierce hit both free throws to bring the lead back down to 10 points.  There was 3:42 to go in the third quarter.  Philadelphia went to Iverson once more, who made a quick pass to Keith Van Horn, who had inexplicably been left open under the hoop as the Celtics defense over committed to Iverson on the other side of the lane.

The Celtics culminated the next possession by Walker hitting another three-point shot.  With 3:02 to go, the score was now 75-66.  In the first half, the Celtics had shot miserably from the three-point line.  In the third-quarter alone, they were 5-6 from the arc.

Philadelphia had decided to rely on Iverson to keep them in the game, as he hit another dubious outside shot.  Pierce responded immediately, and Philadelphia's worst nightmare was coming to pass.  Most teams get sweaty at the thought of Pierce OR Walker getting hot.  But now BOTH of them were approaching incandescence.  The Celtics had scored 68 points in the game.  Pierce and Walker were responsible for 48 of those points.

When Philly’s next shot missed, Pierce got the ball directly into Baker under the hoop, and Vinnie showed he knew exactly what to do as he powered it down.  With 1:45 left in the third-quarter, it was now 77-71.

The Celtics defense insured that Philadelphia's possessions right through the end of the quarter were an exercise in total futility.  To add insults to injury-quite literally—Antoine Walker, gimpy leg and all, spun into the lane and got a basket.  Coach Larry Brown called timeout, with 1:12 to go and the score now 77-72.  I'm sure he wanted to explain to his players that it was really embarrassing when the man that got you was essentially functioning on one leg, got past the defense and scored with no visible opposition.

After the timeout, the Sixers tried to set up some offense.  And it was a good try, right up until the air ball bounced into the waiting hands of Paul Pierce, as the Celtics took possession once more.

Walker was doing is best to embarrass the Sixers defense, by twisting and in making another shot from the side of the lane.  Philadelphia tried once more, only to watch the ball go sailing out of bounds on a bad pass to the corner.  The Celtics defense was making its presence known at last.  The Celtics then played for the last shot a quarter, when Philadelphia was called for the defensive foul.  The Sixers had one to give, so with 7.7 seconds to go on the third quarter, the Celtics took the ball in once more.  Pierce put a resounding emphasis on the third quarter with the three-point shot that tied the game at 77.

The Celtics had begun the third quarter with a 23-point deficit, and had outscored Philadelphia 39-19 in the third quarter to totally erase that deficit. To illustrate the difference between the second and third quarters, in the second quarter the Celtics were 4-19.  In the third quarter, they were 14-19.  This made it essentially a 12-minute game.

The entire outcome of the game would be dependent upon how well—or how badly—the Celtics played in the fourth quarter.  The Sixers were by no means a weak team, and it was fully expected that this would be a fight to finish.
 
 

Fourth Quarter:

Philadelphia began by pressing its attack on the basket.  Iverson drove straight down the lane, managing to beat the Celtics defense and score the basket.  The Sixers forced a turnover on Paul Pierce, as the first possession of both teams had been to the Celtics detriment.

Assistant Coach Lester Conner reportedly reminded the Celtics before the start of the fourth-quarter of Charles Barkley’s televised comments on TNT’s halftime show.  Apparently, the biggest mouth in basketball hasn't learned a whole lot since his playing days.

Philadelphia tried to go to the hoop again, only to have Eric Snow's shot blocked.  Pierce grabbed the rebound.  Walker brought the ball over half court, and passed to Pierce, who cycled it over to Bremer in the quarter for an open three.  Bremer's shot was just a little bit off however, and Philadelphia roared back.  Unfortunately—for them, anyway—they blew the layup, courtesy of Vin Baker, who then got the ball to Pierce.  Pierce fired the ball straight down the lane to Kedrick Brown who dropped it into the basket for two.  With 10:22 to go, the score was tied once more at 79.

The Sixers then tried to run their way through the Celtics defense again.  But the Celtics were not neatly stepping out of the way, they held their ground, as Iverson slammed into Walker's shoulder, and bounced off Kedrick Brown on his way to the side of the court, where he collapsed to his knees.  In the meantime, Eric Snow was going to the free throw line for two shots.  He rattled the first one in, and dropped the second one cleanly.  Walker took the ball out of bounds for the Celtics possession, and he was obviously favoring his leg all the way down the court.

It is an axiom that when of player is not really injured—or least not that seriously—that his pain tends to show more on defense than on offense.  That's mainly because a lot of players don't like playing defense, and use injuries as an excuse.  But given Walker's penchant for launching up shots, the fact that he was hobbling on offense spoke volumes about the amount of pain he was in.

Walker got the ball into Pierce, who drove to the hoop, drawing the foul as he went.  Pierce went to line for two free throws, hitting the first but missing the second.  Philadelphia took down the rebound in went up court.  Pierce needs to work on his free throws again.  Aargh.

The Sixers kept trying to drive in toward the hoop, but were frustrated at every turn.  Walter McCarty intercepted a bad pass; then dished off to Shammond Williams, who brought the ball up court.  Shammond weaved through the defense, then passed the ball back out to Walker.  Walker did the same thing, giving Shammond an open look from the top of the three-point arc.  Unfortunately, Shammond took a second to line up his shot, and whenever he does that, the shot inevitably doesn't go in.  He needs to understand that for some reason, his shooting style is unorthodox; he needs to simply catch and shoot.  I don't know why, but the ball does tend to go when he does the catch and shoot.

So the score was now 81-80, with 9:22 to go.  Philadelphia got the ball once more, and Thomas scored the basket even after he took a shot to the face on his way to the hoop.  He was in considerable pain, pounding the floor as timeout was called to give Thomas a chance to recover and go to the line to shoot the free throw.  He missed, and the Celtics took the ball back up again, now down by three points.  Pierce got too overconfident, as he tried to spin immediately as he caught the ball, only to have it slip out of his hands.  He tried to recover as the entire defense converged on him.  The ball ended up going out of bounds to Philadelphia.

That was the Celtics 11th turnover of the game; the Sixers had 12.

Iverson tried to drive once again, and throw the ball toward Eric snow for an alley-oop.  The Celtics objected to this, as Walter McCarty blocked the past and sent the ball back up the floor.  Walker got a good look at a three-point shot, but it was obvious he didn't have the lift in his legs for the particular shot.

The score remained unchanged as Philadelphia to the ball into the offensive end once more.  A bad pass was recovered, resulting in a bad shot at the basket.  The Celtics managed to deflect the ball out of bounds, very nearly getting a steal.  Skinner made an unimpressive flop and draw the file, but the officials ultimately did choose to believe him, perhaps out of pity, anyway, he made both free throws, and the Philadelphia lead was now five points.  Pierce objected to that notion and managed to draw a foul while attempting a three-point shot.  More to the point, he encouraged the foul by faking the shot, drew the contact, and THEN fired the ball toward the hoop.  He went to line to shoot three free throws, going 2-3

With 7:45 to go in the game, the score was now 85-82, Philadelphia still leading.  The Sixers brought the ball up, only to make the mistake of getting too fancy near Paul Pierce, who relieved them of the pumpkin and passed it up toward J.R. Bremer who brought the ball up court.  Bremer drew the defense by faking the three and a pass before giving it up to Pierce, who beat his man and launched a deep two.  Allen Iverson responded on the next possession by taking off from the three-point line, and didn't stop flying until he had scored the basket and slammed into the hardwood in the process.  One of these days, someone’s going to wake up and put padding over the floor of the out of bounds area.

Pierce answered the Answer by stepping back and hitting a deep two of his own.  The Sixers were doing their best to try to stay ahead of the Celtics onslaught.  But Pierce drove to the hoop once more, this time getting fouled by Aaron McKee.  He went to the line, making the first, missing the second.  I realize that the Celtics are accustomed to Pierce making his free throws—if only the rest of them were that consistent.  But the only Celtic who attempted to rebound the missed free throw was J.R. Bremer.  Even Pierce himself had turned away from the free throw line and was going back up court practically before the rebound came down.  Philadelphia could not penetrate the Celtics defense and they settled for an outside shot from Snow that went in.  With 5:32 to go, the score was now 91-87.

The Sixers then played intelligent defense of their own the next possession, when Paul Pierce let his emotion—and perhaps his ego—overwhelm him a bit, as he tried to drive to the hoop through the entire Philadelphia defense before launching a shot just inside the free throw line that clanged off the front rim. Fortunately, Kedrick Brown slapped the rebound out to Walter McCarty, who passed over to Walker, who calmly sank the three-point shot.  With 5:02 to go in the game, the score was now 91-90, Philadelphia leading.

Iverson took a wild shot from the corner that ended up in the hands of Celtics.  Pierce took the nice running jumper and rattled it in.  It was a nice move, as he sliced down the side of the defense on his way to the basket.

Pierce was upset on the next Sixer possession, as a foul was called against Boston.  On the other end, Pierce had taken yet another shot to the face with no call.  Walker tried to get Pierce away from the officials, but it was too late as a technical foul was whistled on Paul.

Iverson then hit both his free throws.  With 4:14 to go when the gain in, the score was now 94-90 Philadelphia leading.  The Pierce then acted is a decoy, driving down the lane with the ball and drawing the defense, before passing the ball outside to Walter McCarty, who nailed an open three-point shot.  Philadelphia then took possession and moved the ball around the perimeter, trying to get the ball inside.  Snow got it to Van Horn, who then blew the layup.  McCarty got the rebound, but lost it to Thomas, who wasted his opportunity by driving his shoulder into Walter as he went toward the hoop.

The Celtics took possession of the ball as Walker dropped the ball off to ball to McCarty, who passed to Pierce, who sneaked around and hit a jumper from the free throw line.  The Boston Celtics got their first lead of the game with 3:14 to go, and the score now 95-94.

Iverson’s next shot didn't go, and Pierce grabbed the rebound.  Bremer brought the ball up, leading to Walker, who let Pierce take his shot, which was good.  Timeout was called with 2:35 to go in the game and the score now 97-94.  Following the timeout, Philadelphia brought the ball of court.   The 76ers had one timeout left, and one foul to give.  The Celtics had three full timeouts, a 20, and no fouls to give.

Philadelphia tried to drive inside once more, but got nowhere.  Eric Snow had to take a shot from the arc with the shot clock running down, and got the basket.  As the Celtics brought the ball over half court with two minutes to go, the score was tied at 97.  Iverson came out deep to try to defend the inlet pass, but Bremer gave the ball up to Pierce who fired the three.  He missed, and Philadelphia walked the ball up court, trying to capitalize, as Iverson fired a deep two that also missed.  The Sixers tried to get the rebound, but lost the ball out of bounds to Boston.  There was now 1:28 to go.

Walker took the ball out, got it to Pierce.  Paul tried to work his way in, and took an awful leaner that didn't work.  The Sixers tried to run the ball up hard and Aaron McKee got a running jump shot to go with 1:05 to go in the game and the score now 99-97, Philadelphia leading as timeout was called.

Following the timeout, the Celtics to the ball in bounds got to Bremer, who got it to you-know-who.  Pierce lost his footing as he spun around, and lost the ball to Iverson.  Philadelphia took control of the ball, and Keith Van Horn launched a three that did not go in.  Bremer took the rebound, as the score remained unchanged with 35 seconds to go.

Antoine Walker then launched a three-pointer shot off a pass from Paul Pierce, making the score 100-99 with 29.7 seconds remaining.  Then, something unusual happened.  Philadelphia had a time out, and this would have been a good time to take it.  But for some reason, they chose to simply go the distance without a timeout.

They brought the ball over half court, got it to Iverson, who was just outside the three-point line.  Allen tried to get past Bremer, but by the time he started to move past Bremer, two more Celtics had converged in the area.  The Sixers kept grabbing rebounds and trying to put the ball back in, but at last, Walter McCarty slapped the ball away, and time expired as the Celtics won the game, 100-97.

The Celtics got to celebrate on Philadelphia's home court, and it was a very impressive win.  Craig Sager interviewed Paul Pierce immediately following the game, and Pierce had this reply, “First off I want to say something the Charles Barkley.  He said we’re so terrible, hey Charles, we pulled out the win.  What you got to say now, buddy?"  It was interesting that Pierce seemed to be quite aware of Barkley’s comments; as later on, Coach Jim O’Brien stated he knew nothing of the TNT comments until after the game. Yet, supposedly, the players got it from the coaches!  Maybe Obie was too embarrassed to admit to watching something as bad as the TNT halftime show.  :>)

This is almost certainly overused, but it really was a tale of two halves.  Philadelphia won the first half, and Boston won the second half.  In the first half, the Celtics had absolutely no offensive flow, and their defense was almost totally absent in the second quarter.  By halftime, the Sixers enjoyed a 20-point lead.  To make things even better for them, they actually extended the lead to 23 points after the third quarter started.

But you’d think people would learn.  Too many times this season, teams have been coming back from these 15-20 point deficits and won the game.  Boston especially has an uncanny knack for that.  They won the game in the third quarter, not the fourth.  They broke Philly’s spirit when they outscored the Sixers in the third quarter 39-19, just after the Good Guys had been shellacked in the second quarter 31-18.  The fourth quarter was won in spirit before it had been played in fact.  The Sixers knew that the C’s weren’t lucky—they had outplayed and outclassed the Philly team, and even the normally irrepressible Allen Iverson knew it afterward.

This was a huge psychological win for Boston, and it could have hardly come at a better time.  The Celtics are likely still without Battie, and just lost Walker for as much as two weeks.  Tony Delk MIGHT play against Milwaukee, but nobody knows for certain.

The C’s will need every edge they can get against Milwaukee.  A lapse like they had against the Sixers in the second quarter in this game, and the C’s are doomed.  The Bucks won’t let that opportunity pass by.  The C’s beat them last week, and you can bet they want it back.

They also need to have everyone else step up.  In this game, Pierce and Walker scored 73% of the total Celtics points.  Walker won’t be there for a while, and Pierce CAN’T do EVERYTHING.

HEROES AND ZEROS:

Heroes:

Antoine Walker:  33 points on 50% shooting, (by the way, he was over 50% from three point land), 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and only 1 turnover.  Then, he hit the game winning three while playing on one leg.

Paul Pierce:  40 points—also on 50% shooting (though he was considerably less accurate from the arc), 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals and a block.

J.R. Bremer:  10 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals

Vin Baker:  6 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks, only 3 fouls.  He’s getting there, people.
 

Zeros:

The entire Celtics team in the second quarter:  That was waaay too embarrassing.

Celtics free throws throughout the game:  23-34 for 67%  Bleah.

Shammond Williams:  Didn’t get a whole lot accomplished out there.
 

Now, let’s root for this M*A*S*H unit as they return to the 4077th—er, the Fleet Center, to face the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night.

And that’s the view from the doghouse.
1st Q 2nd Q 3rd Q 4th Q Final
Celtics 20 18 39 23 100
Sixers 27 31 19 22 99