Unheralded forward Brandon Bass outscored the 76ers all by himself during the third quarter of Game 5, helping the Celtics pull away for a 101-85 victory. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (pictured) added 20 and 16 points for the Celtics.
Brandon Bass 18, 76ers 16.
That was the partial score during the third quarter. When the rest of the Celtics are added into the equation, the Celtics amassed a 28-16 advantage.
That third-quarter run propelled the Celtics to an easy 101-85 victory in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. The Sixers will try to stay alive Wednesday night (8 p.m.) in Game 6 at Wells Fargo Center.
Moments before the Celtics’ third-quarter fireworks, the 76ers had the Celtics on the ropes. In fact, they had a chance to tighten the noose around the Celtics’ collective necks.
The Sixers were up four points with 8 minutes remaining in the third quarter when Andre Iguodala stole a pass and was fouled near midcourt by Paul Pierce. The referees ruled Pierce’s infraction to be a clear-path foul, meaning the Sixers would get two free throws and retain possession.
But Iguodala missed both free throws and the Sixers failed to score on the ensuing possession. An opportunity to increase the lead to eight or nine points evaporated into thin air. More accurately, it disappeared into a sea of Celtics green, as their defense clamped down on the Sixers.
“We fell apart,” Sixers head coach Doug Collins said in the huddle.
The Celtics went on a 10-0 run to take a 63-57 lead before Collins called timeout to stop the bleeding. Bass (27 points, 22 during second half) had six straight points during this run. The Sixers made a brief mini-comeback after the timeout, but the Celtics pulled away for an 11-point lead after three quarters, and the lead hit 20 during the fourth quarter.
“I thought we had a good grip on the game,” Collins said. “I really did. But it went downhill quickly.”
After the Sixers pulled within 65-64, the Celtics finished the third quarter with a 10-2 run. Not surprisingly, Bass was in the middle of it, draining jump shots, sinking free throws and slamming home dunks.
“They started making big baskets,” Sixers forward Thaddeus Young said, “and we just never recovered.”
The Sixers’ struggles continued in the fourth quarter. They didn’t score until 4:12 into the fourth, when Lavoy Allen (12 points, 6 for 6 shooting) scored. By that time, however, the Celtics’ lead had grown to 13 points.
The collapse came during the second half, but there were signs the Sixers weren’t hitting on all cylinders during the first half. The Sixers entered halftime with a 50-47 lead, but had only attempted two free throws. The Sixers were primarily settling for jump shots. They were leading because they were making those jump shots.
Elton Brand, a player many suggested should be taken out the starting lineup, made 6 of 7 first-half shots to lead the Sixers with 12 points. Brand finished with a team-high 19 points. Jrue Holiday had 10 points at halftime, but he didn’t score the rest of the night, only getting one shot after halftime.
The Sixers’ field-goal percentage dropped below 50 percent in the second half. The bigger problem, though, was that, on many occasions, they weren’t even getting shots. The Sixers had an uncharacteristic 15 turnovers, so it was the Celtics who were scoring in transition, as happened in Game 3.
“They cranked up their defense and we got careless with the ball,” Collins said. “You can’t make careless one-hand passes against this team.”
The turnovers turned the second half into a track meet, with Rajon Rondo (13 points, 14 assists) demonstrating his wizardry in transition and in the lane. On one play late in the third quarter, Rondo slipped to the floor, but, looking like he was in a Globetrotters routine, never lost his dribble before dishing to little-used center Greg Stiemsma (10 points) for the dunk.
Stiemsma’s production was surprising, but Kevin Garnett (20 points), Paul Pierce (16 points) and Rondo were within a reasonable range. The difference-maker was Bass, whose 27 points tipped the scales in the Celtics’ favor.
In hindsight, Bass’ total may not have been as unexpected as it first appears. Although the focus has been on his better-known teammates, the unheralded Bass has been the only Celtic in double figures in all five games. It also didn’t help the Sixers that Spencer Hawes was on the bench with four fouls while Bass did most of his damage.
The Sixers need to find an answer to Bass and the Celtics’ pressure defense before Game 6, or else their enjoyable playoff run will come to an end Wednesday.
“I told our guys that to win Game 6 we’re going to have to be physically and mentally tougher than we were the last 18 minutes (of Game 5),” Collins said.