PHILADELPHIA — By the end, more than half of the seats appeared to be empty, with fans streaming for the exits in hopes of beating the traffic on South Broad Street. It was difficult to blame any of the Philadelphia 76ers fans for calling it an early night, having watched their team get dominated by the Celtics for more than three quarters on Wednesday.
The Sixers never really had a prayer, which was somewhat odd given the relatively even box score. On paper, the Sixers had a pretty effective offensive night, hitting more than 50 percent of their 3-pointers and getting to the foul line 22 times in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Those numbers were influenced by a first quarter in which the Sixers shot nearly 62 percent from the field, but they did not simply stop missing shots. The Celtics cut off the Sixers' most effective avenue of scoring by all but refusing to turn the ball over and hitting the glass with fervor.
"They're obviously a team that's very athletic and makes a killing in the transition game, so that's a point of emphasis for us, to keep them out of transition," Celtics guard Keyon Dooling said. "We did a good job [Wednesday]. We protected the paint, we closed out on shooters, we kept the ball on one side of the floor, we contested shots. We did a lot of good things out there. We've just got to continue to play that way."
The Celtics committed only four turnovers through three quarters and held an 11-rebound advantage on the boards. Long defensive rebounds and opponent's turnovers are two of the primary ways the Sixers generate fast break opportunities, and without those, they could not get the easy baskets necessary to stay with a well-executing team like the Celtics, no matter what the overall statistics said.
Boston's Game 2 loss was blamed on a number of things, from a controversial foul on Kevin Garnett to a questionable intentional foul to a sense of complacency by the Celtics overall. The biggest, and simplest, explanation may have been how the Celtics tried to do things out of their norm, and how they let the game get sloppy. The Celtics committed 17 turnovers to the Sixers' 16 in that game, and while the Sixers can turn such a style in their favor, the Celtics are not built for that.
"After that game, I just came in and said, 'We're not going to beat anybody, and that includes JV teams, high school teams, if we don't play together," Garnett said. "We work so hard to get where we're at and we got here together."
With Rajon Rondo playing almost three quarters without a single turnover, the Celtics handed over the ball only seven times in Game 3. They almost never freelanced, except when Rondo pushed the ball and made the plays that developed in transition.
The fans recognized what the score sheet did not. The Celtics took away the Sixers' personality. The one the Sixers assumed looked fine enough on paper — it just was not much to witness on the court.