Marcus Hayes: Celtics tap into fountain of youth

Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett confer on the court during the third quarter of Game 3.
Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett confer on the court during the third quarter of Game 3. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: May 18, 2012

NOBODY PLAYS perfect, lockdown defense every night.

It is unlikely, against any combination of competition.

It is impossible in the playoffs, against a team as talented, as professional and as well-coached as the Boston Celtics.

Wednesday night, the Sixers delivered their defensive clunker. It had been a nice run.

Remember, the Sixers needed to win a slew of road games at the season's end just to secure the final playoff slot. They ran off three in a row.

They then held top-seeded Chicago and fourth-seeded Boston to 92 points or fewer in the last seven games, an average of 82.3 points per game. They limited the Bulls and Celtics to 38.4 percent shooting from the floor in the previous six games.

That sort of effort is exhausting.

That sort of effort creates an appetite for more.

The Sixers had no more to give Wednesday night.

With the former mayor on one side of the court and the former owner on the other, the Sixers sleepwalked through a 107-91 laugher. The Celts shot 51.9 percent.

It hurt them more because they had just won in Boston and evened their semifinal series after two games.

It hurt them more, with fans giddy from a first-round win settling into the Wells Fargo Center to witness what would come in the second round.

"A good, old-fashioned ass-whipping," said Spencer Hawes. "They beat us at their game. They beat us at our game."

They beat them. Inevitably.

"When you play a team like the Boston Celtics," said rookie Lavoy Allen, "they're bound to have a game where they go off."

Kevin Garnett went off. By design.

The Celtics pounded passes into Garnett, who made 10 of his first 13 shots. He finished with 27 points, the third time in four games he has scored at least 27, each more than he'd scored in any game this season . . . and all Celtics wins.

Garnett added 13 rebounds, his playoff high this year, tying his second-best output of the season.

Allen and Hawes combined to muzzle Garnett in Game 2. One of the secrets to Garnett's Game 3 success was his willingness to speed up the court and establish position deep in the post.

"One thing we have to do is slow their transition. They pushed us in transition," Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday said. "I mean, that's what we do."

"They played very fast tonight," Allen said.

Garnett turns 36 on Saturday. Can he keep it up?

Can the rest of the Celtics?

"To me, age doesn't mean anything," Allen said. "Not if you can play."

Allen taped to his locker a newspaper photo of Garnett breathing heavily into Allen's ear during a lull on the court. Allen knows his chief job is to make the Big Ticket feel like a Punched Ticket.

The Sixers backcourt needs to make point guard Rajon Rondo shoot from outside of the paint.

Failure No. 2. Rondo had 23, a playoff high and the most he has scored in more than 2 months.

"We've got to take that away," Holiday said.

They have to take away Garnett first.

The Celtics offense works best when it runs through Garnett. His effective presence and the threat of Pierce spread the floor and loosen things for Rondo.

It is a simple, effective formula.

It only works when Garnett is fresh and focused.

Garnett cannot remain fresh and focused. Not after 17 high-mileage seasons and 12 playoff runs. Not after 68 games this season condensed into 143 days, six of them playoff games played in the last 13 days.

He dominated the third and fourth of those six games. He disappeared in the fifth but was resurrected last night.

What will he be tomorrow?

Beyond?

Garnett is the only player who matters. With Paul Pierce and Ray Allen ailing, Garnett stands as the only real weapon Boston brings.

The Sixers have no Garnett. Or Pierce. Or Rondo, really.

So, the question: Will the aged Celtics erode?

Clearly, the youthful, errant Sixers cannot cope when the Celtics execute with precision and with energy.

Clearly, the Celtics are far too old and too worn out to consistently execute with precision and energy. Right?

No other playoff series this spring pits exuberance vs. excellence the way the Sixers/Celtics does. Not even Spurs/Thunder, if it comes to that. Maybe Celtics/Thunder, but that's never going to happen.

By then, the Heat will have melted the hearing aids out of the Celtics' lame gamers. The Sixers might send the Cs packing yet.

Because the Celtics cannot play this hard as often as they need to, and they played amazingly hard last night.

Twice, Rondo outraced Andre Iguodala to the Celtics' basket. Result: Four points for the Celtics.

That is, simply, desire.

The Celtics wanted it worse from the start. They missed their first seven field-goal attempts. Pierce and Garnett hadn't even fully thawed from their cryogenic chambers; they missed five of the seven.

They missed mainly because they were shocked they were so wide-open. They won't miss those bunnies Friday night.

The Sixers swear they won't give them bunnies in the first place.

"They made some contested jump shots and some layups, and we got out of our game plan. We had the wrong mindset coming in," Hawes said. "We paid for it."


Contact Marcus Hayes at hayesm@phillynews.com

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