Kevin Garnett got a few things off his chest after Boston’s one-point home loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday.
Frustrated by the 1-1 tie in his team’s Eastern Conference semifinal against an inferior, untested Sixers squad, the 14-time All-Star was irate with what he’d witnessed during two sloppy games at home, and he didn’t want to see it happen again once the series shifted to Philly.
“After the game, I just came in and I said, ‘We’re not going to beat anybody, and that includes JV teams and high-school teams, if we’re not going to play together,’” Garnett recalled at the Wells Fargo Center after Game 3 on Wednesday night, looking back on the tense meeting.
“We worked so hard to get to where we’re at, and we got there together. We’ve been preaching that since I’ve been here, and I had to just remind them, including the younger guys and the new guys, of how we succeed here and the creed and Celtics basketball and what we are.”
When an incensed leader like Garnett has something to say, you better believe his team listens.
And the Celtics responded appropriately Wednesday, with a 107-91 drubbing of the No. 8 Sixers to take a 2-1 series lead and reclaim home-court advantage — as Garnett himself led the way with 27 points and 13 rebounds.
“We needed this game,” said point guard Rajon Rondo, who scored 23 points and had 14 assists in yet another masterful playoff performance.
“I think our team responded well tonight. … We had two close games at home, and we wanted to show these guys and send a message tonight, and I think we did a pretty good job of that.”
The Celtics were the only team in this series that had the potential to break it open and dominate, and that’s exactly what they did in Game 3, erasing any confidence the Sixers may have gained in two hard-fought games in Boston.
“They probably felt like they should have been up 2-0,” said Celtics forward Paul Pierce, who scored 24 points and had 12 rebounds Wednesday, in easily his best game of the series.
“So we wanted to come out and establish who we are as a team, offensively and defensively, and try to take come confidence from them.”
Despite the lopsided final score, it wasn’t exactly an early-round knockout for the Celtics.
Pierce, who was limited to 10.5 points per game during the first two games, came out aggressively but not efficiently, missing his first six shots, his struggles emblematic of a much larger issue with the Celtics in the first quarter.
The team started 0 for 7 from the field, made its next five shots, then missed five of the next six and trailed 19-14 with 3:45 left in the period.
But as Pierce found his stroke, scoring seven straight points to end the first, so did the Celtics, who hit 16 of 21 shots during a 42-24 run that gave them a 56-43 advantage, their largest of the first half.
“Paul’s having a tough series as far as scoring, but tonight he did so many things to impact the game,” Garnett said.
“Rebounds, setting guys up, assists, steals, being active defensively, talking … and we’re going to need that, man. Stuff like that spreads like wildfire when your best players are doing it.”
Sparked by Pierce, Garnett scored 13 of his game-high 27 in the second quarter, joining Rondo, who also had 17 first-half points.
As the Boston lead ballooned, you couldn’t help but sense the Sixers losing control of the game and the series. In the third quarter, paced by 10 more points from Pierce, the Celtics’ lead grew to 25, and eventually reached 27 in the fourth before Sixers coach Doug Collins threw in the towel.
“This was a team that, you could see coming in, did not want to be down 2-1 playing Game 4,” Collins said of the Celtics, praising their veteran poise often in his postgame news conference. “You could just see … they came in and they have been in a lot of these kind of games that they know how important the swing game is to get that home court back, and they played great.”
True, Game 3 in no way resembled the first two for the Celtics, and that’s exactly what Garnett had in mind when he intervened on Monday.
“He was really upset after the game the other night because he didn’t think we played the right way as a team,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said, “And if you know Kevin, it’s all about doing things right for the team.”
The Celtics did just about everything right Wednesday, and on Friday, they’ll have an opportunity to take a commanding 3-1 lead before heading back to Boston for Game 5 Monday.
“When you have somebody down,” Celtics forward Brandon Bass said, “you want to stay on them.”
And with a veteran leader like KG breathing down the team’s collective neck and a blueprint for domination now in hand, that shouldn’t be a problem.