Avery Bradley broke out with 22 points while Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett each logged less than 30 minutes, so any criticism of the Celtics’ victory over the Sixers on Tuesday needs to be tempered with those three facts. Any time Doc Rivers‘ guys can earn a “W” without forcing their aging All-Stars to carry a heavy load — particularly on the first leg of a road back-to-back — the Celtics win in more ways than one.
Getting out of Philadelphia with a 109-101 victory therefore was a mission accomplished, but the Celtics were not without flaws in the game. Somehow, they managed to commit 22 turnovers, which might be the most impressive statistic of the entire night. It was the only thing that kept the Sixers in the game, long after the fans at the Wells Fargo Center had grimly accepted the fate of another defeat.
“It’s amazing we turned it over and won,” Rivers said. “That’s what they do. They do a great job of forcing turnovers, but overall I loved our effort.”
Not only was the Celtics’ 22 cough-ups a season-high, it was their most in a game since Feb. 19 of last season. The Celtics had committed 22 turnovers or more in a game just four previous times since 2010. All told, it was a dazzling display of carelessness with the basketball.
This was damaging enough against the Sixers, who for all their youth and inexperience protect the ball very well. With all due respect to Rivers, forcing turnovers is not “what they do.” Despite committing the second-fewest turnovers in the NBA, the Sixers have a negative turnover differential because their opponents commit the 10th-fewest in the league. On the list of reasons the Sixers are mired near the bottom of the Atlantic Division, that is a good place to start.
All the turnovers by the Celtics helped the Sixers score an absurd (for them) 64 points in the paint, however, since turnovers tend to translate into layups on the break or in secondary transition as the defense scrambles back into position. This is a warning sign for Wednesday, when the league’s toughest defensive squad awaits the Celtics in Indiana. The Pacers are not known as ball thieves, either. They only force 13.6 turnovers per game, fewer than the Sixers do, and less than 13 percent of their opponents’ possessions end in a turnover. But they do possess the league’s toughest overall defense at only 96.2 points per 100 possessions.
The Pacers do not need any help shutting down an offense, so Tuesday’s performance will be a teachable moment for Rivers. Missing shots, which the Pacers will force them to do, and turning the ball over will be a bad combination for the Celtics.
“When we watch film in the morning, Doc will get on us about it,” Bradley said. “We’ll fix it. We just have to keep continuing to play the way we’re playing, taking steps forward and not taking steps back.”
The Celtics got the win, while Pierce and Garnett were able to watch the closing moments from the leisure of the bench. There are still elements to be cleaned up, though, and they should not be glossed over just because the Celtics escaped with an ugly win over a bad team.