Following an atrocious first half in which they fell behind by 19 points and gave up 46 points in the paint to the team with the second-worst record in the NBA, the Boston Celtics recovered Monday to put a scare into the Philadelphia 76ers. Yet this game ended with a third Celtics loss in this depressing season series, this time by a 113-108 score.
Green scored 11 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter and Olynyk achieved a career-high in scoring for the second straight game by dropping 28, but the hole the Celtics (25-56) dug themselves turned out to be too much when their execution fell apart in the clutch. Despite many attempts by the hapless Sixers (18-63) to give the game away, the Celtics were doomed by two needless turnovers in the final 25 seconds.
“We just didn’t play hard enough consistently,” Avery Bradley said. “In the first half, we didn’t play hard. I feel like we came out in the second half and we picked up our defensive intensity. That’s why we got back into the game.”
Down by five points with 25 seconds to go, the Celtics were whistled for a five-second violation on an inbound. When the Sixers coughed up their own opportunity to ice the game and handed the ball back to the Celtics, down three, with 15 seconds remaining, Chris Johnson stepped out of bounds before he could heave a desperation 3-pointer.
Despite the failures in the waning moments, Celtics coach Brad Stevens echoed Bradley’s criticism about the problems arising much earlier in the game.
“I felt better about our defense in the second half,” Stevens said. “I thought we were slow and not very reactive in the first half. Whether that is not being completely engaged together, whether that’s tired, whether that is whatever, I don’t know the answer to that.”
It wasn’t his imagination. The Celtics gave up 67 points before halftime to the Sixers, who averaged only 99.3 points per game. They allowed Philadelphia to shoot 60 percent from the field and handed them 14 fast-break points, thanks largely to 10 turnovers. Despite no big man scoring more than Thaddeus Young’s 10 points, the Sixers racked up those 46 points in the paint — just four points fewer than the Celtics managed as a whole in the first half.
“I think it was the guards,” Bradley said. “The bigs, for the most part, to me, played well on the defensive end. We were letting the guards beat us off the dribble and we were putting the bigs in a bad position. They ended up having to come up and help, and they were either fouling or the guards were dumping the ball off. We were putting them in bad situations.”
Stevens noted that his backcourt did a better job of containing Michael Carter-Williams, Tony Wroten and the rest of the Sixers’ guards in the second half. Even against one of the league’s worst teams, though, it was too little, too late.
Another game, another career high for Olynyk. Two days removed from scoring 25 points and nabbing 12 rebounds in a blowout win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the rookie compiled 28 points — 18 of them after the half — to set a new career mark.
Olynyk has made strides, particularly in the last week, as injuries have given him more regular duty. Here is the most telling aspect of his improvement, however: It’s not cause for celebration.
Think about it. Rajon Rondo nearly had a triple-double with eight points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds on Monday, and nobody cared because everyone has come to expect production like that from him. Now, a 20-point performance by Olynyk is becoming just another day at the office. That is quiet, understated progress.