The Philadelphia 76ers led by as many as 13 points in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, but at no point did anyone believe that the Boston Celtics, led by another renaissance performance from Kevin Garnett, would just roll over. The Celtics battled back, fell behind again, battled back and eventually held off a late Sixers run to win, 92-91, and take a 1-0 lead in the series.
Garnett was spectacular in the game. The Big Ticket (remember when we called him that?) was written off by many with chronic knee issues, but he's come through again and again for the Celtics in the first seven games of the playoffs. He finished with a brilliant 29 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks, and had one of his typical, terrific defensive efforts. On a night when Paul Pierce struggled — he shot just 3-11 for 14 points, though he did have six rebounds and six assists — Garnett was the Celtics' alpha and omega, and it was enough.
Of course, it helped that Rajon Rondo, who played far below his capabilities in the first half, wound up finishing with another one of his ludicrous triple-doubles: 13 points, 17 assists, 12 rebounds. Rondo, defying all logic, even hit several clutch jump shots late in the game to help seal the victory, also committing the most intelligent foul of the playoffs so far.
The Sixers probably played better than anyone, save for the most devout Sixers fans, expected. Spencer Hawes was their catalyst against the Bulls and he keyed their efforts in the second half, making a few plays only he could make. As a 7-footer, he went coast-to-coast on a layup, hit some crucial jumpers and played largely mistake-free basketball. He finished with 15 points and eight rebounds.
What ultimately doomed Philly on Saturday was also their main bugaboo during the regular season: They have no go-to scorer. Once Paul Pierce hit a jumper to put the Celtics up 90-84, Andre Iguodala (19 points, six rebounds, six assists) and Jrue Holiday hit clutch jumpers, but it was too late. Rondo's heady foul ensured they wouldn't have a chance to tie the game and send it to overtime. While Pierce, Rondo and Garnett were hitting their clutch buckets, the Sixers' offense floundered, ultimately dooming them to a loss. All they need, however, is to win in Game 2 and they'll take home-court advantage. After their performance in Game 1, no one would be surprised if that happened.