Bob Ford: Celtics playing as if they don't respect Sixers

"Everything we did against the 76ers was a prescription for what you don't do [to win]," Doc Rivers said.
"Everything we did against the 76ers was a prescription for what you don't do [to win]," Doc Rivers said. (SUCHAT PEDERSON / AP)
Posted: May 22, 2012

Long after the Boston Celtics had blown Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the 76ers in the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night, long after the final firecracker had popped and last stunned reveler had stumbled into the parking lot, Doc Rivers still stared at the box score.

He peered at it carefully like an accident investigator trying to separate the cause from the debris, but the numbers provided more questions than answers. They told what happened, but the "why" was left for Rivers to fill in himself.

"You would have thought we were down the whole game if you look at those numbers," Rivers said.

Only in the score by quarters was there any evidence that the Celtics ever had the game in hand or played with anything approaching efficiency. The ebb tide of the 92-83 final score, and the accompanying testimony in the free-throw, rebounding, and turnover columns, left the impression the Sixers had dominated from the start rather than earned the win with a mad, late rush.

"We started imposing our will on the game instead of letting them come to us," Thaddeus Young said. "The game changed."

Oh yes, it did, and it changed for a very simple reason: The Celtics still don't respect the Sixers.

Boston played a great first quarter and a good-enough second quarter to hold a 46-31 lead at halftime, and the Celtics must have thought their work for the evening was complete. That is not what teams do when they respect their opponent or anticipate that something other than ordinary effort will be necessary to finish the job.

"When you have a chance to go up, 3-1, in a series and you're on the road . . . they are going to get into you, they are going to grab your hands, they are going to foul you. What else are they going to do?" Rivers said. "To me, that's what they should do, but we acted like we were surprised by it, and I was disappointed by that."

They were surprised, because they didn't think the Sixers had it in them to keep fighting on a night they had shot a ridiculous 23 percent from the field in the first half. That's terrible even by the Sixers' shooting standards, which are pretty low on a good day.

And, of course, they were wrong to think it was over. But that is what happens to teams that have been champions before. They think the crown is still up there and lesser teams will bow to its glory, or they think there is some carryover effect to having survived these games before.

The Sixers are not going to be champions this year and perhaps not any time soon, but they are a dangerous team to underestimate. Assuming they will quit on a game is usually a particular mistake.

"I kept telling the guys that something good's going to happen here," Doug Collins said, although when the margin drifted to 18 points early in the third period he didn't really have much to back up that assertion.

All the Sixers had to give the game was effort, because native skill really hadn't worked to that point. If they are to take the series lead Monday night at TD Garden, effort will have to be the biggest part of the equation again. It could work the same way, because despite a one-point loss in Game 2 at the Garden, the Celtics probably don't fully respect the Sixers on the road yet.

On Friday night, the Sixers started hassling the Celts on every possession. Boston responded by not responding. The Celtics tried high-difficulty passes just to get rid of the ball and were rewarded with turnovers. They took shots just outside their preferred range and missed them. They became flat-footed and watched as the Sixers rediscovered their transition game.

The numbers that Rivers found on the box score by the end told of a butt-kicking: 17-5 on offensive rebounds, 36-19 on free-throw attempts, 17-11 on turnovers, and 27-13 on fastbreak points, all in favor of the Sixers.

"Everything we did against the 76ers was a prescription for what you don't do to beat them," Rivers said.

The Celtics said the right things afterward about giving the Sixers credit for the win, but they knew they had tossed away the game. It was another indication of a basic lack of respect, because they didn't fight back or play as if taking a three-games-to-one series lead was that important.

In the back of their minds, maybe even in the front, they figure that they'll still win the series, and that taking real control of it Friday night wasn't worth the effort the Sixers were requiring them to make.

The Celts might be right. They probably will still win the series. What is less true than it was before Friday night, however, is that they still deserve to win it.


Contact Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com, read his blog at philly.com/postpatterns, and follow @bobfordsports on Twitter.

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