The 76ers shipped up to Boston trying to repeat history from 1982, but the Celtics repeatedly held off their charge until Rajon Rondo’s 11 points in the last 3:39 of the game did them in.
Final score in Game 7: Celtics 85, Sixers 75.
By all measures, the Sixers exceeded expectations this season, beating the top-seeded Chicago Bulls and taking the Boston Celtics to a 7th game. Further rationalization would dictate that the Sixers would have stood little chance had they advanced to the Eastern Conference final against the Miami Heat. The Heat not only have something to prove after losing in the NBA finals in a season nearly everyone expected a championship of them, but also raced out to a 3-0 lead against the Sixers in the opening round last season, looked disinterested and finally won that series in 5 games. Miami continued to toy with the 76ers this season, winning all 4 meetings by a combined 53 points.
Nevertheless, this series was tantalizingly close to the Sixers’ grasp. Looking back, many will lament Game 1, where the Sixers led for over 41 minutes of game time, but the Celtics squeezed out a 92-91 victory with a late surge.
Game 7 left Sixers fans feeling that maybe a complete reversal of Game 1 was unfolding. Boston raced out to a 6-0 lead and Doug Collins soon after called a timeout less than 4 minutes into the game, with his team trailing 10-2. Collins admonished his team for trying to do too much, too fast and told them to settle things down and play at a methodical pace when playing their halfcourt game. The Sixers chipped away at the Boston lead, and after Lou Williams sank a foul shot to complete a 3-point play with 41 seconds left in the quarter, Philadelphia took its first lead of the game, at 20-19.
Unfortunately, that lead lasted a mere 17 seconds.
With 9:55 left in the second quarter, Keyon Dooling’s own 3-point play put the Celtics up 25-22, and it was a lead they would never relinquish, despite repeated runs by the Sixers to close the gap.
The SIxers closed to 32-30 on a Spencer Hawes dunk with 4:22 left in the quarter, but Boston went on a 9-3 run to end the half with their biggest lead of the game, at 41-33.
The supposedly old Celtics rode their starting lineup of Rondo-Allen-Pierce-Bass-Garnett extensively in Game 7, taking advantage of the two days off after Game 6. In fact, on both occasions that there were 3 days between games in this series, the Celtics claimed double-digit victories, having won Game 5 by a 101-85 score. Boston’s starting 5 played 197 of the game’s 240 minutes, and scored 78 of the team’s 85 points – even after Pierce fouled out with 4:16 left in the game.
In the third quarter, which has been the key quarter all series, the Sixers gave their best sustained effort. Entering the quarter, the Sixers were down 8, but they cut the Celtics’ lead to 4 points with 5:07 left, at which point Boston called their mandatory timeout. Less than 2 minutes later, the Boston lead was back up to 8, at 53-45, and the 76ers called timeout.
With the game potentially hanging in the balance, the Sixers came out firing. After Ryan Hollins blocked a Lavoy Allen shot, Rajon Rondo missed a three-pointer. Andre Iguodala then responded with a three. After a Jrue Holiday layup, Iguodala and Rondo traded turnovers, with Holiday feeding Iguodala for a dunk. The Sixers had drawn to 53-52.
The game then turned in the last 22 seconds of the third quarter.
After Thaddeus Young rejected Kevin Garnett, Rondo fouled Iguodala and sent him to the line with a chance to give the Sixers the lead. Instead, Iguodala missed both free throws, and the Celtics would get the last shot of the quarter. Jodie Meeks smartly used the foul the Sixers had to give with 4.3 seconds left, but Garnett took the inbound pass, backed in, and hit a turnaround jumper from the left wing as time ran out on the quarter, extending the Celtics’ cushion to 55-52.
In the fourth quarter, Boston extended their lead to 7, but Young and Elton Brand’s back-to-back buckets again made it a 3-point game with 6:35 to play. With 5:16 left and the score 69-63, Iguodala hit a pair of free throws coming out of a Boston timeout, and then after a Pierce basket, Iguodala hit another big three-pointer, again cutting the Boston lead to 3, this time with 4:30 left.
Boston’s next possession was a key one, as Thaddeus Young drew a questionable charging call on Paul Pierce, which was Pierce’s 6th foul. Young’s great play was followed by his bad pass to Brand in the paint. Next thing you know, Rajon Rondo scores 7 straight points, and the Celtics are suddenly up 78-68 with 2:09 left. The Sixers were forced to begin fouling, and Rondo hit 4 free throws, while Garnett hit 1 of 2. Despite Holiday’s three-pointer, the 76ers still found themselves down 10 with 53 seconds left. After Iguodala missed a three-point attempt, Jodie Meeks hit for 2 points – but after Ray Allen made 2 foul shots with 44 seconds left and Meeks missed a three-point attempt, Collins called off the dogs and the Celtics ran out the 24 second clock without being fouled. The Sixers ran out the game’s remaining time, and what was tantalizingly close at various junctures, was now officially out of reach, with the Celtics winning 85-75.
The Sixers’ guard play, maddeningly inconsistent all season, cost them the game – at least at the offensive end – and also while trying to guard Rondo.
The ugly line was a combined 11-38 for the Sixers’ backcourt, with Jrue Holiday shooting 5-17, Evan Turner going 3-8 (and having an awful -20 point differential while in the game), Lou Williams shooting 2-9 and Jodie Meeks going 1-4.
Williams is a free agent next season, as is Spencer Hawes. The Andre Iguodala trade rumors may or may not start again, and the talk about using cap amnesty on Elton Brand will likely heat up, even as Brand played very well in Games 6 and 7.
All of these issues will come up in due time, but right now it’s a time to reflect on a season that started off exceedingly well, looked lost sometime in March, and then caught on for a terrific month of May, especially at a time when the Flyers were suddenly bounced and the Phillies are hovering around .500.
Thank you, Sixers!