Saturday, May 26, 2012

Sixers fall to Celtics in Game 7

BOSTON -- The 76ers seemed to get what they wanted.
They watched Paul Pierce walk off the floor in Game 7 before he, Doc Rivers, the Celtics bench and the Boston metropolitan area wanted to see it happen. With four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter of the deciding game of this bruising Eastern Conference semifinal series, the Celtics' most dependable scorer fouled out.
Yet Pierce's departure only seemed to set off a trigger in Rajon Rondo. And with three big shots, Boston's floor leader put an end to the Sixers' longer-than-expected postseason journey.

The Celtics prevailed, 85-75, in a game much like the rest in the series: A battle between a team too old for this, a team too young for this. Flawed they both are. What wasn't lacking were players putting out effort.
Kevin Garnett, in the twilight of his career, had 18 points and 13 rebounds during 38 grueling minutes. He tangled most of the night with Elton Brand, who had 15 points and six rebounds, including a pair of big jumpers in the fourth quarter that got the Sixers within a point, before he fouled out in the final two minutes.
"They didn't want to lose in the second round and face those questions about the Big Three and age," said Brand, who if he played his final game with the Sixers went out with an effort he can be proud of. "And we wanted to grow up and put them out. That was our goal -- put them out. And we couldn't do it.
"They survived this one."
In the end, as it so often does, it came down to Rondo.
The Celtics point guard had a furious start to the game, but was invisible for a huge chunk of the middle of the game. Then, with 4:16 remaining and the Sixers trailing by just one possession, 71-68, Pierce was called for a charging foul when he shouldered into Thad Young.
It seemed like a damning moment for the Celtics, who have struggled to get anything at all from their weak and weakened bench the entire series. Yet Rondo didn't let that happen.
After turning down so many shots on the night, Rondo scored seven straight points -- a drive to the hole, a pull-up 22 footer and a 3-pointer -- that put Boston in control at 78-68 with 2:10 remaining. The Sixers, who struggled at the offensive end all night, had nothing to offer and their season was over.
"I thought we had a great chance to win -- a great chance to win," Doug Collins said. "And then Rondo made some great plays.
"Those were the shots we would like him to take, but he made them. Those shots went in, and my hat's off to him. He's not afraid to take them."
"I thought we did a good job defensively of forcing him to shoot that shot," Lou Williams said. "We were stopping everyone else ... and he hit two big ones for them."
It didn't help that the possession after Pierce fouled out, the Sixers didn't even get a shot off. They committed their 16th and final turnover of the night, a deadly total for a team that depended so dearly on taking care of the ball this season.
"Ultimately, it was execution. At the end, we couldn't execute," Brand said. "We learned we need to finish properly. The coaches designed the right defensive schemes, we just didn't execute.
"Hopefully we learn from it, take our lumps and grow."
Which players will be here to partake in the growth is up in the air. Josh Harris, the man who put together a group to buy the Sixers away from Comcast last summer, stood crimson-faced in the back of the interview room as Collins spoke after the game. There was disappointment in his eyes. Yet there also was determination to do what's needed to give the Sixers a chance to be better than pretty good.
"We know we have to grow as a team, add pieces," Collins said. "Josh Harris is committed to that. A day like today I tell the players to look around the locker room and make sure you see the people you bonded with. But this team won't be the same team next year. That's the nature of sports."


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