In the first leg of the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics home and home weekend series, fans were treated to a thriller that came down to the last 4 seconds of overtime. The Sixers snuck out a one-point home win, edging out Boston 95-94 on Evan Turner’s bucket with 3.9 seconds to go in OT.
Boston was beaten in two key areas on Friday night. The first was in the turnover battle, where they coughed up the rock on 16.4 percent of their possessions. While a full two percentage points over their turnover rate for the season, it shouldn’t have been a killer against a Sixers team that had a lot of trouble with turnovers early in the season.
The Sixers have managed to right that ship after that rocky start, dropping their turnover percentage to 11.8, good for second in the league after Friday’s win. That number is a little rosier than it had been going in, as the Celtics could only force the Sixers into a turnover on only 7.5 percent of their possessions, with nine total giveaways. In a game where the Sixers shot only 37.4 (!) percent from the field, the Celtics likely would have had a comfortable win if they had forced turnovers at their usual rate. Neither Paul Pierce nor Jason Terry, two of the Celtics five best performers in terms of their steal rate, at 2.1 and 1.7, respectively, registered a single swipe on Friday.
In Friday’s preview, rebounding seemed to be one of the major keys for these two teams; it’s another battle the Celtics lost on Friday. They allowed the Sixers to rebound 27 percent of their own misses, well above their offensive rebounding rate for the season.
Thaddeus Young in particular was a major thorn in Boston’s side. The Sixers power forward got eight of his 12 rebounds on the offensive end. While the extra possessions Young created only netted the Sixers five points, they were vital in keeping Philadelphia in a game in which they shot very poorly. While Boston has surprisingly struggled relative to their past defensive success (they rank 11th in the league with 103.6 defensive rating), defensive rebounding has been one of their strengths over the first 19 games, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Doc Rivers’ crew adjust in the second leg.
The above two factors led directly to the true reason the Sixers were able to hang in and eventually win this game - they simply had more possessions and more shots than did Boston. The Sixers took 99 shots against only 81 from the Celtics. Obviously, Boston shot the ball more efficiently by leaps and bounds. They finished with a 46.9 effective field goal percentage, although that number dropped off precipitously in the fourth quarter and overtime.
If Philadelphia plans on shooting as poorly as they did Friday again on Saturday - a ghastly 38.4 eFG% and an offensive rating of 94.2 - they’ll have to do a better job of closing out on Boston’s mid-range shooters. Kevin Garnett hit a jumper from the left elbow to tie it up at the end of the fourth, and Boston is shooting a very respectable 47 percent from the mid-range area against the Sixers in their two matchups so far.