Kevin Garnett had 27 points and 14 rebounds, Rajon Rondo scored 23 points with 14 assists and Paul Pierce had 24 points and 12 rebounds as the Celtics took a 2-1 lead over the Sixers in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals.
Game 4 is back here Friday.
Fourth quarter, 2:51, Celtics 105-86: Pietrus had a scary flashback moment when he was undercut while going to the hoop on the break, but he showed no hesitance cutting for a dunk off a feed from Rondo a few minutes later. Pietrus may have rediscovered his stroke against the Sixers. After scoring eight points on Monday, the veteran swingman had 13 points in 24 minutes of Game 3.
Fourth quarter, 5:58, Celtics 101-76: The rush to South Broad Street began. I gave some Celtics fans grief on Twitter for heading to the exits in a one-point game late in Game 2, but I could not begrudge these fans their decision to get out while they still could. Garnett spun off a defender and tapped in a lob pass as he drew a foul, which was pretty much the sign that the Celtics had this one well in hand.
Fourth quarter, 8:17, Celtics 95-74: The Sixers did not do too poorly in this game offensively, all things considered. They shot 41 percent from the field and 6-for-11 from three, and got to the foul line 18 times. But they were unable to get the easy baskets they thrive on due to the Celtics protecting the ball and attacking the glass.
End of third quarter, Celtics 89-66: And the boos rained down. It is hard to blame the Philly fans for reacting that way. Their team fell behind by as many as 25 points, presenting the trampoline-dunker dudes with the challenge of firing up a crowd that probably wanted to see its own team tarred and feathered.
The Sixers scored the same number of points in the first quarter (33) as they did in the second (16) and third quarters (17) combined.
Third quarter, 2:51, Celtics 85-62: One way or another, this would be one of the most memorably horrible performances imaginable.
Either the Sixers continued to be dreadful at the defensive end, where they allowed the Celtics to shoot 60 percent from the field, or the Celtics would suffer a near-historic collapse after leading by 25 points.
There was a lot of "flexing," the dance Dooling has unofficially trademarked, going on for the Celtics in the third quarter. Garnett and Rondo were each up to 23 points, while Pierce had nine rebounds.
Third quarter, 7:46, Celtics 71-51: Garnett and Rondo made the athletic Sixers look like they had rocks in their shoes, bursting to a 20-point advantage and each reaching 21 points for the game. The Celtics opened the second half on an 11-2 run.
With more than four minutes gone in the second half, the Celtics had committed two — count 'em, two — turnovers, and outrebounded the Sixers 28-19. Teams seldom lose those two indicators that widely and have a chance to win.
Halftime, Celtics 60-49: The second quarter belonged to the Celtics. Led by Garnett, Boston shot 13-for-20 and doubled up the Sixers in scoring 32-16 to take a strong lead at the half. The Celtics owned the glass in the quarter, grabbing 15 rebounds to the Sixers' six. They also committed only one turnover in the frame.
The Good: Garnett was not merely good in the second quarter, when he scored 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds. He had 17 points and nine rebounds overall. … Rajon Rondo looked for his own offense much more than usual, but he still managed to get his teammates involved. Rondo compiled 17 points and five assists with only one turnover. … If you do not know about Jrue Holiday by now, you have not been paying attention. The Sixers point guard led his team with 10 points and five assists in the first half while not turning the ball over once. … Thaddeus Young gave the Celtics all sorts of problems off the bench. The Sixers' "other" sixth man was 5-for-9 for 10 points in less than 15 minutes.
The Bad: Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes shot 2-for-8 combined and grabbed four rebounds. The small lineup could be in order again for the second half.
The So-so: Paul Pierce only shot 2-for-10, but he provided two highlight-reel dunks and had six rebounds with three assists and two steals.
Second quarter, 2:35, Celtics 51-43: Garnett is, uh, sort of into this game.
Normally, a physical style of play would favor the defensive-minded big man, but he has not been happy with the chippy play. Garnett knocked down a pair of jumpers and yapped loudly to Hawes and the officials on his way back on defense.
Maybe that was the fuel Garnett needed. He had 11 points in the second quarter with a little less than three minutes to go in the first half.
Second quarter, 5:26, Celtics 44-39: The officials must have forgotten their whistles. These teams played physically, to say the least, and both seemed to get away with a number of traveling violations because of the bumps and bruises.
Bass was able to find space in the forest of bodies to knock down two jumpers to help the Celtics move ahead by five points. Keyon Dooling and Lou Williams, who come off the bench to give their respective teams a spark, fulfilled their duties. Dooling drove and kicked out to Bass for a jumper and Williams hit a fadeaway jumper to stem the Sixers' bleeding.
Second quarter, 8:51, Sixers 37-34: It is tough to believe Pietrus is really shying away from contact, as he said prior to Game 2. Pietrus popped off the bench and took some hard contact on two straight plays, going to the deck both times.
Pietrus stepped in front of Jodie Meeks' drive attempt to try to draw a charge, but Pietrus picked up a blocking foul. He then took the ball to the basket on offense, but was wrapped up by Evan Turner with the ball flying out of bounds.
Garnett, who was also frustrated by the lack of foul calls in the first quarter, came on in the second quarter with six points early in the quarter.
End of first quarter, Sixers 33-28: If Pierce's knee bothered him in the first quarter, it was impossible to tell. The Celtics' captain played an inspired final few minutes, sparked by some physical Philadelphia play and a few would-be fouls Pierce thought should have been committed.
Pierce muscled to the hoop for two dunks, drawing a lot of contact on both. On the second, he hung on the rim for a second and then slapped the backboard as he dismounted. How he avoided a technical foul is beyond me.
Still, the Sixers shot 62 percent in the quarter to hold off the Celtics. Lou Williams capped it off by catching a bobbled would-be steal by Rondo to cash in a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
In a rarity, the Celtics had fewer assists than the Sixers. Philly had eight assists to only two for Boston as Rondo looked for his own offense with 13 points in the first quarter.
First quarter, 5:35, Sixers 14-12: Rivers and the referees are not going to be friends after this game.
Rivers, who usually stays pretty docile toward the refs, at least until the second half, was in their ear almost from the tip. The officials have let the Sixers be extremely physical, especially with Garnett, which has to displease Rivers considering KG had two personal fuls and the zero-tolerance approach the officials gave The Big Ticket in Game 2.
First quarter, 6:43, Celtics 12-10: Rajon Rondo always seems to enjoy hostile environments, and there are few environments as hostile as Philly.
The Sixers jumped out to a 7-2 lead thanks to some outstanding defense by Andre Iguodala, Spencer Hawes and Elton Brand. The Celtics turned that around with a 10-3 run, led by Rondo pushing the ball and showing off his fanciest dribbling moves.
Brandon Bass also made two solid plays, one of which came on defense with a block of a Hawes jump shot attempt. If Bass can find other ways than scoring to get involved, that may help solve his shooting woes.
6:55 p.m.: Super-agent David Falk, and a tall young man who appears to be Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, are sitting courtside along the baseline near Boston's bench. Sullinger signed with Falk in April, even though Falk reportedly said in March that this was a "one-player draft" (referring to Kentucky's Anthony Davis).
Falk also represents Austin Rivers. Falk and Doc Rivers shook hands during warm-ups.
6:11 p.m.: Both coaches were in good spirits prior to the game, which can happen when both teams stand about an equal chance at winning the series after splitting the first two games.
Sixers coach Doug Collins joked about his undefeated record as a TV analyst, cracking that he "won an Emmy for that." Celtics coach Doc Rivers seemed to want to make a joke about his being named to the NBA's competition committee, which proposes rule changes, but he stopped short. He did confess that he learned of his appointment when he received an email from the league.
Everyone is good to go, at varying degrees of health, for this one. The probable starting lineups appear below.
8 a.m. ET: The Sixers must not have gotten the memo about this series being a cakewalk for the Celtics.
The Celtics needed some big-time plays by Kevin Garnett and a few fortunate bounces to win Game 1, and their comeback bid did not pay off in Game 2. Now the series turns to Philadelphia, where the Sixers will host Game 3 with renewed confidence.
Join us for updates and analysis from the Wells Fargo Center during the game, which tips off at 7 p.m.