The Celtics did more than beat the Sixers on Wednesday to take a 2-1 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal series. The Celtics embarrassed the Sixers in front of their own fans, who streamed for the exits early in the fourth quarter and filled up the radio airwaves with disgusted phone calls long into the early morning hours.
The bitterness was to be expected, but the Celtics did all they could to avoid adding verbal disrespect to the drubbing they handed out on the court. Momentum can shift in the playoffs with every possession, and the Celtics have been wary of the scrappy Sixers ever since Andre Iguodala hit those two free throws to beat the Chicago Bulls in the first round.
“This team has a lot of guys with young legs, a lot of individual players that can put up buckets, and we have to respect them and be ready for them,” Kevin Garnett said. “When you beat a team like this at home, we have to respect them coming out to play with a lot of energy. We’ll be ready and we’ll have a lot of energy out there, so we’ll see what happens.”
The Celtics know what it is like to suffer a tough home playoff loss, because they were in a comparable position on Wednesday. Coming off a one-point loss at the TD Garden in Game 2 on Monday, the Celtics absorbed a 33-point first quarter by the Sixers before resolving to send a message in quarters two and three, when the Celtics held the Sixers to a mere 33 points total.
“We ran into a Celtics team that had a real sense of purpose about them [Wednesday],” Sixers head coach Doug Collins said.
To be clear, there are several differences between the Celtics’ situation after Game 2 and the Sixers’ position after Game 3. The Celtics’ loss was a last-minute heartbreaker, whereas the Sixers’ loss was not even as close as the 107-91 final score indicated. Also, the Celtics had to win their bounce-back game on the road, whereas the Sixers get another shot on their home floor Friday.
Experience may play a part, too. The Celtics are used to dealing with and responding to adversity, as Collins noted after Wednesday’s game. The Sixers may exhibit a renewed resolve in Game 4, or the memory of Wednesday’s beatdown may cause them to crumble. There is too little on their resume yet to determine how they will answer.
“This is a new experience for us,” Collins said. “Boston has been through that. They’ve been through losing home court and going and winning. They’ve been through no Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo suspended, and winning a Game 2 on the road. It’s not like they haven’t seen anything. Right now, this is all new for us and it’s good. It’s good that we’re going through this and we’re learning from this and hopefully we’re going to be a lot better in Game 4.”
Keyon Dooling was one of a number of Celtics who acknowledged the close loss in Game 2 left him disappointed and even a little angry. Dooling, like the rest of his teammates, refocused their displeasure into a dominating performance.
“They came in and they hit us in our mouth on our home court,” Dooling said. “That didn’t leave a good taste in our mouth, so we did a good job of bouncing back and making a statement.”
If the Celtics are not careful, Game 4 may be the Sixers’ turn to make a statement.