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Celtics center Kevin Garnett helped ignite a third-quarter outburst with his play at both ends.BOSTON -- For a play that changed the entire complexion of the Boston Celtics' 101-85 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 5 of an Eastern Conference semifinal series on Monday, no one claimed to actually remember it.
Paul Pierce shrugged his shoulders, and Rajon Rondo pleaded ignorance shortly after. And even Kevin Garnett -- the one player directly involved -- played aloof to the scenario in question as well.
The play itself occurred with 7:41 remaining in the third frame, as Garnett drove at Philadelphia center Spencer Hawes on the left blocks and skied up, hoping to put in a layup, dunk the ball, draw a foul -- or some combination of the three -- only he was instead whistled for an offensive foul by referee Rodney Mott and went sprawling to the floor.
It was certainly a questionable call, and, as expected, the TD Garden crowd erupted in protest (chanting an unprintable phrase). Garnett sat with his back to the floor for a moment, before being helped to his feet by his teammates The 76ers were out front at the time, 57-53. Just under three minutes later, the Celtics had completed a 10-0 run and assumed a 63-57 advantage -- a lead they would not rescind for the remainder of the game.
"I have no idea what you're talking about, to be honest," said Garnett, who finished with 20 points and six rebounds.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers, however, remembered the play quite vividly and even pointed to it as a potential turning point for his club.
"You could say the foul called on Kevin -- I thought from that point on we exploded," Rivers said. "It was one of those games, we needed something to ignite us, together... I don't know what did it, but something did it, and once we started playing right, then we played very well."
Garnett's been known to spark his club through his relentless energy in the past, but perhaps it took a questionable call against the club's emotional leader to jumpstart those very emotions for Boston on Monday night. In the first half, the 76ers shot 54.8 percent from the field, and while the Celtics were able to hang around (they trailed 50-47 at the break), they ratcheted up both their effort and their defensive intensity over the final two quarters, holding the 76ers to a combined 37.1 percent shooting for frames three and four -- and it all seemed to start once Garnett hit the deck and the ball went the other way.
"We feed off of Kevin's energy in a lot of ways," said rookie center Greg Stiemsma. "Tonight it was a play like that where it kind of just rallies the troops, gets us all together, knowing that, "Alright, we've got to pick this up,' and play our style of game, and we just follow the leader. That's all it is."
Added Mickael Pietrus: "I think [in] the second half, everybody's energy kind of mixed together, it got us a big lead, and you could see everybody... They enjoy playing defense, because, when, offensively, things don't go well, you can always count on everybody to play great defense. That's our clutch mentality, that's the Celtics' mentality. I think that's, if we want to win a championship, we definitely have to think about defense first."
Part of the reason the Celtics even had a fighter's chance in the second half was because of Garnett's assertiveness in the second quarter. After a rough opening frame in which he managed only four points on 1-of-3 shooting, Garnett played the full 12 minutes of the second frame, knocking down 4-of-7 shot attempts and 2-of-3 free throw attempts, amassing 10 points to go along with four rebounds.
And while it was his offense that kept the Celtics breathing heading into the break, it was him being denied on the aggressive take against Hawes -- what would have been the 76ers center's fifth foul -- that rallied his club and allowed the likes of Rondo and Brandon Bass (18 third-quarter points) to take the reigns from there.
Now if only he remembered it actually happening.