PHILADELPHIA — See ya, Chicago. Thanks for the split, Boston.
These young-and-fun 76ers are loaded with postseason surprises, aren’t they?
Who guessed Lavoy Allen, an unheralded rookie, would toss a last-gasp bank shot with 0.9 seconds left on the shot clock for the clutch points in Game 2?
Not the Celtics. And probably not even the Sixers.
Yet, here is Philadelphia, after knocking off the top-seeded Bulls in six games in Round 1, set for its first second-round home playoff games in nine years after a 1-1 split in Boston.
“After this,” team CEO Adam Aron said late Monday night, “we better come up with something special.”
Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals is today in Philadelphia, where the Sixers are 3-0 in the playoffs. The city hasn’t hosted a second-round game since 2003, when coach Larry Brown and All-Star Allen Iverson ruled the town, and will be welcoming home a confident, young group of players who have shown the kind of grit Philadelphia fans love.
“The fans are very appreciative of what we’re doing,” forward Elton Brand said Tuesday. “And they’re happy.”
With good reason. The Sixers turned a bad habit of losing close games in the regular season into a winning edge this postseason. The Sixers have benefited from their share of good fortune, like finishing off a Bulls team without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.
“They beat a really good Chicago Bulls team,” Celtics guard Ray Allen said. “So, that has us all on notice.”
The aging Celtics are showing the effects of all the hard miles put on their sneakers. Paul Pierce is gutting out an MCL injury in his left knee that has robbed him of his jumper and slowed him down on both sides of the ball. Allen is out there on a bad right ankle.
The tight games — both were decided by one point each — mean the veterans play from start to finish and the minutes are piling up. So are the aches and pains.
Sixers postseason star Andre Iguodala is in charge of locking down Pierce. Injured or not, Iguodala knows the Celtics’ captain is always dangerous as long as he’s on the floor.
“I’m not really thinking a lot about that,” Iguodala said. “I’m trying to guard him the same, whether he’s hurt or not. It’s been a tough season for a lot of guys. Some days you feel good. Some days you don’t. I take it as, he’s going to give me his best shot.”
That’s what the championship-tested Celtics do — banged-up or not.
The Celtics have other pressing issues that prevented them from taking a 2-0 lead on their home court. Kevin Garnett struggled to find his shot in Game 2 until the fourth quarter. Allen pinned the blame on an offense that has forgotten how to share the ball. Rajon Rondo has failed to take control of the offense. With Allen and Pierce hobbling, their ability to catch and shoot off screens has been stripped away. Rondo needs to attack the basket or find the Big Three in their comfort zone. They can’t lean on Brandon Bass as their go-to scorer when postseason games get tight.
“I don’t like the fact that we took, to me, almost three quarters to play the right way offensively,” coach Doc Rivers said. “We knew the blueprint before the game. It took us three quarters to get into it. I always say that’s on me. Somehow, I have to figure that out with our guys.”
The Celtics believe they can figure it out in Philadelphia. Game 5 is Friday.
“Being in their building really isn’t going to affect us,” Allen said. “It’s all about how we play them when we get out there, how we take care and work together better than what we did (in Game 2).”
The Sixers have their own injuries to worry about. Thaddeus Young has a sore right ankle and a bruised shin. Brand is playing with a neck injury suffered against the Bulls.
The Sixers, though, have backup.
“It’s the strength we have in our bench,” Iguodala said. "(We) tried to use it to our advantage throughout the season, strength in numbers.”
Like Lavoy Allen.
He was a second-round pick out of nearby Temple and was ranked by ESPN as the 500th best (best?) player in the league in a preseason poll. In Game 2, though, Allen had 10 points, eight rebounds, and one heck of a desperation heave. His 22-footer off the glass snapped a tie game and was easily the highlight of the night. Allen sheepishly joked he called the bank.
Just another stunning shot in a postseason full of them.
When Game 2 was over, Aron walked out of the locker room with coach Doug Collins to head to the press conference.
Exhausted and amazed, the pair took a moment to admire their handiwork.
“Well,” Aron said, “we just stole one here tonight.”
The Sixers are shooting for three more just like it.