Presented with a double-digit lead and a chance to sweep two games in Philadelphia, the Celtics squandered it. Instead of a commanding 3-1 lead, the Celtics head back to Boston locked at 2-2 with the pesky Sixers.
Fourth quarter, :36.9, Sixers 88-83: The Sixers,who supposedly do not have a player who can close out games, got five straight points from All-Star Iguodala to put the Celtics in a tough position in the final minute.
The Sixers may not have one option for the end of games. They have several. Williams contributed a bucket and Allen threw down a dunk to continue to Sixers' comeback.
Fourth quarter, 2:39, Celtics 81-79: We could be here all night. Neither team gave an inch in the fourth, with Iguodala tying up the score again with a three before Rondo calmly canned a 17-footer to push Boston back into the lead. The difference between a 3-1 series lead for the Celtics and 2-2 is huge, so a lot was on the line in this one.
Fourth quarter, 3:34, Celtics 79-76: Ray Allen is still Ray Allen. After Williams hit another jumper to give the Sixers a two-point lead, Allen collected the ball in the left corner and dropped a three to give the Celtics the lead.
Allen got mugged on the next play, but there was no call and Garnett extended the lead with a pair of free throws.
Fourth quarter, 5:48, game tied 74-74: It looks as though Game 3 was an aberration. The first two games were tight, and it looked like the fourth game was headed for a similar fate.
There is no way to sum up how the first six minutes of the fourth quarter went, except to say they were back-and-forth. Neither team led by more than three points, which came on a Turner dunk before Pierce swiftly answered with a three-point play.
Young and Allen made several big plays and made a number of big baskets, with Young's putback the most recent bucket to knot it up.
Fourth quarter, 10:01, game tied 63-63: The Celtics were outscored 32-17 in the first 14 minutes of the second half, forcing the first tie of the game and giving the Sixers a chance at their first lead all ballgame.
The Celtics suddenly looked frazzled, and the Sixers turned up their defensive pressure.
End of third quarter, Celtics 63-59: Hand it to the Sixers. They may not be able to hit water if they fell out of a boat, but they fought back to pull within four points and edged back into the game again after the Celtics extended the lead yet again. They outscored the Celtics 27-17 in the quarter.
Lou Williams delivered a pair of and-one running jumpers against Rondo and Dooling to help the Sixers get back into contention. Both Bradley and Rondo have four fouls heading into the fourth quarter, which could drastically change how the Celtics are able to defend in the final 12 minutes.
Third quarter, 3:41, Celtics 58-49: After all that, we were close to being right back where we started. The Sixers pulled within five points before the Celtics rebuilt their lead back to nine points. Throughout the Sixers' run, Rivers declined to call a timeout to regroup. His players ended up finding their rhythm and fighting off the Sixers' surge.
Third quarter, 8:12, Celtics 50-39: The Sixers outscored the Celtics 8-4 to begin the second half, but from the sound of this arena, the Sixers just went on a 20-0 run.
Hawes muscled in a short jumper and Iguodala threw down an alley-oop dunk to pull the Sixers within 11 points and edge their shooting percentage up to a cool 24 percent.
Third quarter, 9:43, Celtics 49-33: Time for some technicals!
Garnett and Brand picked up techs on back-to-back plays as the interactions became nearly as ugly as the play itself. There were not enough technicals in the world to make up for the Sixers' shooting, however.
Halftime, Celtics 46-31: The Philly faithful were trying really hard to find something, anything to cheer for in the first half. There was not much.
The Sixers shot 23 percent from the field and issued only four assists in a dreadful first half. The Celtics played strong defense, but the Sixers also just missed many wide-open shots.
The Good: Rajon Rondo may not get a triple-double, but this one could qualify as one of his best games of the playoffs. He scored nine points on only six shots and handed out nine assists with only two turnovers. He pushed it when he had to, was patient when he needed to be and was in complete control. … Brandon Bass seemed confident from the jump and carried that over throughout the first half. Bass hit five of his eight shots and led Boston with 12 points. … Lavoy Allen was an undersized post player taken in the second round of last year's draft, but he was the Sixers' best player in the first half. He had a game-high six rebounds and also swiped two steals. … Paul Pierce had a steady first half, scoring 12 points with three rebounds. Nothing spectacular, but he could be on his way to a decent 20-point, eight-rebound night.
The Bad: The worst of the worst were Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes, who shot 0-for-3 with two rebounds, two fouls and two turnovers combined. Just about everyone on the Sixers held some culpability for the atrocious first half, though.
The So-so: Jrue Holiday shot an efficient 4-for-6 from the field and grabbed four rebounds. The Philaldelphia point guard did not record an assist, in part because none of his teammates hit any shots.
Second quarter, 2:14, Celtics 39-28: The incredible shrinking field goal percentage reached 22 percent for the Sixers after a particularly contact-filled foray to the hoop for Evan Turner.
Somehow, the Celtics did not pick up any fouls despite a ton of physical play, yet Garnett was whistled for an illegal screen on offense. If not for the Celtics' 14 fouls, leading to 19 Philly free throws, the Sixers would have had trouble getting out of single digits in scoring.
Second quarter, 5:30, Celtics 31-22: The Sixers are known as an underwhelming offensive team, but until you see it up close, it is hard to understand just how deep their issues go.
The Sixers played excellent defense on the Celtics in the second quarter, but they could not throw the ball in the Delaware River. They were down to 24 percent shooting from the field and got nothing of consequence from their starting frontcourt of Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes.
Second quarter, 8:33, Celtics 27-18: After Game 3, the Celtics should know better. They have seen a hot start turn into a rout in the other direction quickly.
The Sixers came out of the shoot with a 6-0 run to begin the second quarter, closing the gap to six points on a reverse layup by Lavoy Allen. (Allen might be the player of the series for the Sixers for his defense on Garnett, plus a few timely offensive plays.) The Sixers shot 2-for-7 from the field during that run, so in keeping with the theme of this series, even a clear offensive run on paper was hardly pretty.
Rondo came back with an and-one layup, but the Sixers had kept the Celtics from running away with it early.
End of first quarter, Celtics 24-12: The Sixers shot 3-for-16 from the field, committed five turnovers and had as many points at the free throw line (six) as they scored from the field.
Bass, who has been on a milk carton for most of this series, nearly matched the Sixers' entire scoring output with 10 points. Rondo got off to a roaring start with five assists, two steals and no turnovers. The crowd got a brief laugh when he airballed a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock, but Rondo came back and knocked down a 15-foot jumper.
First quarter, 3:22, Celtics 20-5: Jrue Holiday hit a jumper nearly four minutes in to finally get the Sixers on the scoreboard. It took more than three minutes for them to score another basket, in which time the Celtics built a commanding 15-point lead.
The Celtics did not miss a shot until the 8:07 mark and had assists on seven of their first eight field goals. Brandon Bass was a huge part of the attack with eight points on 3-for-5 shooting and Rondo had four assists with no turnovers.
First quarter, 10:03, Celtics 9-0: The one negative the Celtics took away from Game 3 was that they needed to get off to better starts.
Something like 9-0 in the first two minutes, for instance.
Pierce opened the scoring with a jumper from the top of the key and finished off the Celtics' early run with a step-back 3-pointer. A raucous Wells Fargo Center crowd was quickly muted.
7:18 p.m.: Could all the planets be aligning for another championship in Boston?
Let's not get ahead of ourselves. The Celtics still need to deal with the pesky Sixers, who they take on in Game 4. But Sixers coach Doug Collins put forth the theory prior to the game that the Celtics have seen injuries to key players in Chicago and Miami and have seen an opening.
"There's no question they saw Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah go out and maybe thought the bracket opened up," Collins said, adding that Chris Bosh's abdominal injury has created a possible weakness for the Heat as well.
The Sixers beat the bedraggled Bulls in six games in the opening round, and the Pacers lead the Heat 2-1 in their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
The Celtics deny looking farther than the next game, but they could put themselves one win away from the Easter Conference Finals with a victory Friday. That would give them the chance to close out the series at home on Monday.
The probable starting lineups appear below.
8 a.m.: The Sixers showed the Celtics a good deal of brotherly love on Wednesday, when the Celtics cruised to victory to take a 2-1 lead in the series.
If the Celtics intend to wrap up the series at home on Monday, they need a win in Game 4 first. The Sixers, meanwhile, have revenge on their minds after the Celtics' blowout victory in the first game in Philadelphia.
Mickael Pietrus and Brandon Bass showed signs of coming out of their playoff funks, and Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo maintained their high level of play. Now they will try to carry over that success and draw within one win of advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 8 p.m.