Marcus Hayes: Days off a blessing for old Celtics

Lou Williams knocks the ball away from Celtics’ Ray Allen in Game 4 as Thad Young looks on. RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ).
Lou Williams knocks the ball away from Celtics’ Ray Allen in Game 4 as Thad Young looks on. RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ).
Posted: May 22, 2012

ALL THIS rest might kill the Sixers.

Tied at 2 in their Eastern Conference semifinal, the Celtics own homecourt advantage. Both Celtics home games come off 2 days of rest.

They had Saturday and Sunday off, at home, with balmy temperatures and light breeze. That’s nectar for the elderly.

Three of their top seven players rank in the top 14 in games played among active players: Kevin Garnett (No. 2), Ray Allen (7) and Paul Pierce (14). All three rank in the top 15 of playoff games played by active players.

Each of the Big Three is in the top seven in minutes played in the regular season, and is in the top 12 of playoff minutes played.

They might be high-performance machines, but they are high-mileage, high-maintenance machines who relish every hour they spend off the street.

“It probably benefits them,” said Sixers coach Doug Collins, who in his previous career as an elite analyst was famous for his research. He knows the tread is worn thin.

“These guys have played a ton of minutes,” Collins said. “I’m sure Doc [Rivers] gave them plenty of rest. They’ll be ready, with a lot of energy, in Game 5.”

That energy has waned.

Best evidence? The defense they played in the second half Friday night.

The Celtics spent the first three games glued to Lou Williams.

They spent the first three games abusing slight Thaddeus Young.

Williams’ 13 second-half points both led the comeback and kept the Celtics down.

Young’s eight points, seven rebounds and frenetic effort in the second half took Boston’s breath away.

Williams and Young were focal points all series, but the Celtics just could not stay with them Friday night.

That will change.

Tonight, because of the 2-day layoff, the Celtics will be recharged, and, in the case of the Big Three, reanimated.

After all, this is a club whose principals need to spend an hour or so after each game in the trainer’s room. That’s how long it takes to disassemble, lubricate, then reassemble them.

Imagine how well-lubricated they will be at tipoff for Game 5.

“We expect them to execute well,” said Elton Brand, the most experienced Sixer.

Including playoff action, Brand has played 18,015 fewer minutes than Garnett.

Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes have played about 18,000 regular-season minutes, combined.

Two days off also gives Rivers, the best coach in the East, extra time to strategize.

No disrespect to Collins and Co., but giving Rivers and his assistants extra time to scheme four games into a series is just unfair. The league should have confiscated their DVD players and locked them out of their facility in Waltham, just to level the playing field.

The Sixers cannot expect another miracle like Friday night’s 18-point miracle – a comeback that ranks up there with Lazarus and Aerosmith.

Yes, the Spurs came back from 24 against the Clippers on Saturday … but the Spurs are, well, good. Their core won three of the franchise’s four titles. The Sixers have won nothing.

Which is why the Sixers’ Game 1 loss hurts so much today.

These Celtics will be sharp tonight. As sharp as they were in Game 3, when they outclassed the Sixers on every front.

Game 3 was the game the Celtics should have been expected to win. It should have been their first, last stand. Tonight should have been their second.

The Hawks, with superior talent but inferior heart, did the heavy lifting for the Sixers. They eroded Paul Pierce’s knee and Ray Allen’s ankle and Kevin Garnett’s temper.

The Hawks prepared the Celtics for the end of their era. They tenderized them.

The Sixers declined to dine.

The Sixers blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 1, a moment wasted. They failed to build momentum, and character, on the series win the Bulls gifted them.

“It does; it hurts,” Brand said of Game 1.

He knows that, entering the series, the Sixers’ best bet to beat this more professional, more talented team from Boston lay in the Sixers’ youth. That advantage evaporated.

They had the edge in the first four games. They needed to win the first two.

Even at the Garden, they needed to win the first two.

Playing the same team for the fourth time in 7 days, Celtics should have been expected to lose Game 4. By a lot.

Inexplicably, the Sixers let them unleash early before the Sixers pushed the issue.

“The pace of the game really helped us. As a result, we’re hoping that takes a little bit out of Kevin Garnett,” Collins said.

Because of the comeback, Garnett was able to rest only 2 minutes, 14 seconds in the third quarter. That meant a 40-minute night for Garnett, his third 40-minute night of the postseason.

He had one 40-minute night in the regular season.

Pierce logged his sixth 40-minute night of the playoffs Friday. He had nine in the regular season.

“Doc probably would probably like to not have to do that. He felt he needed KG on the floor,” Collins said. “If you can make Paul Pierce … and KG work on both ends of the floor, run the floor – it helps us play to our strengths a little bit more.”

All this down time, however, does not play to the Sixers’ strength.

It might help, say, second-year guard Evan Turner, who seemed sharper on more rest during the season. He is shooting 30.4 percent in the series, 23.2 percent since Game 1. He might disappear again.

Brand, averaging 4.3 points and 2.8 rebounds in this series, said his neck injury was not appreciably improved with the second day of rest. Andre Iguodala said his Achilles’ tendon and sore knee were improving, anyway.

“Yeah. When it was one game, day off, then a game, that was to our advantage,” Brand admitted. “They have a lot of veterans on their team that can use the rest.”

Well, they got it. n

Contact Marcus Hayes at hayesm@phillynews.com

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