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There was disappointment in the locker room but the Celtics appeared resigned. They didn’t attempt a free throw from the 11-minute mark of the second period to the 28.3-second mark of the third period, a stretch of 22 minutes, 32 seconds. The 76ers attempted 16 in that span.
When the referee assignments for last night’s Game 4 became known yesterday morning, a collective groan was heard from Celtics Nation. And with good reason: one official was Scott Foster, AKA the worst ref in the NBA. The second was Tony Brothers; the Celtics had lost seven straight playoff games that Tony worked before last night. The third was Sean Corbin, who’s not as notorious but is not a ray of sunshine either.
A common belief among fans is that the NBA hierarchy doesn’t like sweeps, because a short series cuts down on ticket revenue, TV ratings and publicity. Hypothetically, if that were true, then what could the league do to subtly give the team in the 0-3 hole a better chance to win? Answer: Assign a sketchy officiating crew.
With the Celtics trying to close out a series on the road against the desperate Sixers, everyone knew the home team would be ultra-aggressive and their crowd extra hostile. It was easy to predict that these particular referees would be influenced by that atmosphere.
Narrator voice: “They were.”
The evening started well for the Celtics, as they led by a point after one quarter. Philly finished the period with seven fouls to Boston’s four. But, as shown in the statistical gamebook, the second quarter was different. The Sixers were called for a foul one minute in, and then the next 12 fouls were called against the Celtics. To repeat, a dozen consecutive foul calls went against Boston in 11 minutes. The Sixers took the lead before halftime and never gave it back. Four Celtics had three fouls each by then, which pretty much killed any aggressiveness they might have mustered.
Officials: The Celtics earned a lot of whistles in the second quarter but a 12-1 deficit in one quarter is absurd. They called things tight against Boston, with a number of touch fouls over the course of the frame, but consistency was an issue as the Sixers appeared to get away with some similar physicality on the defensive end. It didn’t cost the C’s the game by any means (the free throw count was relatively even) but it helped keep the Sixers in the game during what was largely a lifeless offensive first half for them.
Boston Sports Journal: BSJ Game Report: Sixers 103, Celtics 92 — Lineup change sparks Sixers
In the third, Embiid elbowed Smart hard in the head, and a foul was whistled, but the refs never considered looking at the replay. The way that type of action has been called all year, that could’ve resulted in a technical on Embiid – except he already had one from provoking an earlier pushing match with Terry Rozier.
The officials also T’d up both Jaylen Brown and Brad Stevens, and made no call for this obvious offensive goaltending…
…or this three seconds.
In the fourth, after the Philly lead reached 18, the fouls suddenly started piling up on the Sixers. In the end, the team foul totals were almost even and both squads had shot 26 free throws. Funny how the box score balanced out.
And now we’re going to Game 5.
Related – MassLive: Boston Celtics fans on officiating in Game 4 vs. Philadelphia 76ers: ‘The refs are unbearable’ | Boston Celtics’ Jaylen Brown surprised by fouls, technicals: ‘I don’t have a bad reputation’
On Page 2: A missed opportunity
The Philadelphia 76ers live to fight another day, and they have T.J. McConnell to thank for it.
McConnell, a last-minute insertion into the lineup ahead of a struggling Robert Covington, had the game of his life in Philly’s 103-92 win that staved off playoff elimination for one more game. He finished with a career-high 19 points on 9-for-12 shooting to go with seven rebounds and five assists.
After the game, Sixers head coach Brett Brown explained why he made the decision to put McConnell into the starting lineup in place of Robert Covington with Philly’s season on the line.
“It’s the way he (McConnell) plays,” Brown said. “It’s an injection of energy that you immediately know you’re going to get with him.”
NBC Sports Boston: 76ers’ T.J. McConnell stuns Celtics with efficient, productive performance
The word from Stevens was a fair warning.
“If you don’t bring it, the game will be honest,” the Celtics coach said.
And on a night when his team was moved to question the judgment, if not the integrity, of the officiating, the Celts honestly didn’t help themselves. They rarely got fully into their offense and committed 15 turnovers, from which the 76ers derived 16 points and an all-expenses-paid trip to Boston for a Game 5 tomorrow night.
For all the process trusting and playing to the home crowd, the Sixers’ 103-92 win came from a 16-3 advantage in points off turnovers and nine-point edge in second-chance scoring.
In the end, the Celtics were called for just five more fouls, and the teams each attempted 26 free throws.
Put it this way, when you allow your opponent 16 offensive rebounds, it’s hard to point the finger anywhere but at thyself. Because of their giveaways and meek work on the glass, the Celtics took 19 fewer shots than Philly’s 94. Nineteen shots.
You let that happen, you’re begging for an L.
The Celtics can’t blame the officials for everything. They let McConnell light a fire under his team. They let Dario Saric (game-high 25 points, 9-17 shooting) break out for the first time in the series. They shot poorly (41.3% overall, 34.4% from the arc). Unlike early in the series, they got beat in second-chance points (18-9). Aron Baynes was slightly too eager to shoot from deep (2-6). And when Philly, leading by 10 with under six minutes left, failed to score for almost three minutes, the Celts missed four straight threes and got no closer.
The only offensive spark came from Mook Morris (17 points) and Jayson Tatum (20), although neither shot especially well. There was maybe one silver lining:
Game 5 will be Wednesday at 8 p.m. in Boston. I hope Smart is right about how it will go.
Game coverage links
MassLive: Philadelphia 76ers hold off Boston Celtics: T.J. McConnell stars, Jaylen Brown’s tech & 10 things we learned | Boston Celtics struggle offensively as T.J. McConnell, Philadelphia 76ers take Game 4 | Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers: Terry Rozier, Joel Embiid get into brief altercation, earn techs (watch) | Shane Larkin injury: Boston Celtics guard leaves Game 4 vs 76ers after colliding with Joel Embiid
NBC Sports Boston: Celtics lose to Sixers in Game 4, can’t close out series | Stars, studs and duds: Jayson Tatum leads Celtics in scoring in Game 4 | Joel Embiid, Marcus Morris exchange barbs after chippy Game 4
It was only a matter of time before these two got in each other’s faces. Gotta love playoff beefing.
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