A tied series hanging in the balance
Sharks smell blood and attack. In the NBA playoffs, teams attack injured players, whether they'll admit it or not. Boston's Paul Pierce has sprained ligaments in his left knee, an injury that prevents him from being able to move side-to-side with any quickness. On offense, he has to catch and shoot while his feet are planted. Any type of movement to get himself open is an adventure. On defense, if Pierce has to do anything but move forward or backward, he's done.
Sharks smell blood and attack. In the NBA playoffs, teams attack injured players, whether they'll admit it or not.
Boston's Paul Pierce has sprained ligaments in his left knee, an injury that prevents him from being able to move side-to-side with any quickness. On offense, he has to catch and shoot while his feet are planted. Any type of movement to get himself open is an adventure. On defense, if Pierce has to do anything but move forward or backward, he's done.
His teammate Ray Allen is suffering from bone spurs in his foot. While he still spins through picks and runs his defender through a myriad of elbow-extended screens, the step is a little slower, the shot a half-second later to leave his hands.
That's why Wednesday's Game 3 between the 76ers and Celtics might be the most pivotal of this Eastern Conference semifinal series. After the Sixers tied the series with an 82-81 win Monday in Boston's TD Garden, the momentum seemed to have shifted. Attacking the aging Celtics in Game 3 with their speed and athleticism is certainly the theme of the series for the Sixers, never more so than on Wednesday.
Although they aren't eager to admit that is the game plan.
"We view everybody that's on the floor as healthy," coach Doug Collins said. "We're not the kind of team that says we're going to go at somebody. We just don't play that way. We sort of come down and play and attack. That's the way we sort of do."
At the same time, Andre Iguodala, who has smothered Pierce defensively in the two games, has been very aggressive in taking the ball to the basket and efficient in his offensive game. He is dominating Pierce on both ends of the court, thinking his way throughout.
"I don't really think about that too much," Iguodala said of injuries. "I'm just trying to be alert on him, guard him the same wherever he is on the floor."
As for his offense, Iguodala has been taking the ball to the basket consistently against Pierce, more than he's done against any defender during the regular season. But it's not easy for him.
"They are a really good defensive team, not just individually but as a unit," Iguodala said. "Their bigs do a good job of stepping out. [As for defense on Pierce] I try to play him like I do the other scorers I go against - whether it be Carmelo [Anthony] or LeBron [James] or Kobe [Bryant] or Kevin Durant.
"You've got to make him work, catch it as far out as possible and just try to take it out of their comfort zones."
In other words, they have to attack the injuries, on both sides of the court.
All the talk after Monday's Game 2 was about the illegal pick called on Kevin Garnett with 10 seconds left in the game and the Sixers leading by three. Garnett got called for blocking Iguodala, a crucial call in the Sixers win.
"If a foul is committed it's a foul, whether it's the first minute of the game or the last play," Collins said. "If you don't call it, and it's a foul, and you then say you're going to let the players decide the game? What if that means a guy gets free for a three-point play and he knocks it down?
"I know they say that the guy still had to make the three-point shot, but if you set an illegal screen, it's a foul. It doesn't matter when it occurs. I've never understood the mentality that if it's late in the game, so don't call it? Are we working on some innate skill?
"Come on. If it's a foul, it's a foul. . . . It's part of the game."
Said Iguodala, who was the recipient of the hit: "Late in the game sometimes a lot of things that get let go shouldn't. I felt it [the pick]. So when I heard the whistle I thought it was somewhere else.
"Looking at the replay it was as blatant as anything I've seen. It was definitely an offensive foul. It was good that the call was made."