With 6:41 left in the second quarter, the Sixers took a 22-point lead and looked all the aggressors. J.J. Redick caught fire from behind the arc, Joel Embiid was pounding the paint and the offensive glass, and T.J. McConnell was cutting up the defense (and outplaying Ben Simmons but that’s a subplot for another story).
The Celtics, on the other hand, were stuck in the mud. Terry Rozier was cold with an 0-for and no assists. Turnover after dumb turnover turned into easy Philly baskets. Boston was getting bullied in the Garden.
And then it happened. The Run.
We should be used to it by now. It’s been a season of runs, micro and macro. After losing Gordon Hayward in Cleveland Day 1 and then dropping the home opener to the Bucks, the Celtics won 16 games in a row. They’d later have five 4 or more win streaks the rest of the season. However, it might be their in game streaking that might be more impressive. Sean Grande, the play-by-play man for the Celtics, has been tracking their come back wins all season and he updated his last after Game 2’s improbable win:
Fittingly, last night’s stirring rally started with a Marcus Smart three-pointer (that would later be ruled a long 2 at halftime, but narratives are written in real time). With a make shift lineup of Smart, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, and the debut of Greg Monroe (and later Marcus Morris and no Jayson Tatum) to the conference semis, the Celtics closed the first half on a defining 26-8 run to cut the Sixers’ lead to 5.
There are moments that just turn games. You can feel it. Sometimes, it’s not off a bucket or a block. Sometimes, it’s just how a player reacts that feeds the frenzy of the fans and then right back into the team. After getting raked across the face by Covington, Brown was dazed, but got a second look after Smart deflected a Simmons’ pass. Covington wrapped him up on the fast break and Brown shoved out of the hold. The first play was incidental and the second was actually good sportsmanship, but Brown bristled at the contact and that ignited TD Garden. Brown airballed the first free throw and the TNT broadcast cut courtside to a laughing Kevin Hart. That’s really when the run started. Philadelphia, blame your boy Kevin Hart.
Several pundits including Charles Barkley and Stephen A. Smith criticized head coach Brett Brown for not slowing down the game to close out the half, but not enough credit is given to the Celtics for speeding it up. Boston converted four unProcessed turnovers (3 from Simmons, 1 from Embiid) into six points. More importantly, they contested shots all over the perimeter and converted defense into offense.
Offensively, the Sixers kinda got what they want. Philly plays games three-pointer thirsty. Their roster is built around a traditional inside out game. If they can get their shooters good looks from behind the arc, Embiid and Simmons are doing their jobs and in turn, shooters are making it easier for them to wreak havoc in the paint. During this stretch, six of the Sixers’ ten field goal attempts came from behind the arc. They made three total: two heavily contested jumpers (a 3 from Covington and a 2 from Redick) and an Embiid gimme dunk. Otherwise, most everything else came under duress. Missed perimeter shots are almost just as good as live ball turnovers to generate transition points.
The killer sequence was a ninety-second stretch when Philly was nursing a 14-point lead with just over two minutes to go. Get into the locker room with a double digit difference and you can feel good about yourself, right? Wrong. It started raining and the Sixers didn’t have raincoats. Conversely to the Sixers taking a bunch of contested 25-footers, the Celtics moved the ball time and time again and found the open shooter. Where Philly can be a little one dimensional getting the ball from their A players to the B role players, Boston can tic-tac-toe the ball all over the floor and it doesn’t matter who takes the shot.
"Man, I’ve never seen TD Garden like it was tonight. I think I’ll remember that game forever. The way the crowd got behind us before the half. That last five minutes [of the first half], man. The energy was insane. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that." pic.twitter.com/r5sOpLwpOj— Chris Forsberg (@ESPNForsberg) May 4, 2018
Game 2 wasn’t won in those six minutes, but it’ll certainly be remembered for them. It was an important stand in a battle that could eventually win the war. After the game, Smart said that, “it’s like a movie. You only see these types of comebacks in movies.” Well, I’ve seen this movie so many times this year and it never gets old.