- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- Poor Doug Collins. All that research for nothing.
The Philadelphia 76ers coach must have spent much of his Saturday morning combing through Basketball-Reference.com, totaling up all the regular-season and playoff minutes logged by Boston's veteran core. All with the goal of inspiring his team by showcasing just how tired the high-mileage Boston Celtics would be on the second night of a back-to-back, particularly coming off an overtime loss to youthful Philadelphia on Friday.
Instead, in itemizing the 150,000 combined minutes on the odometers of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Rajon Rondo, Collins unintentionally poured gasoline on a fire that was already burning for an agitated Celtics squad that crashed in trying to close out Friday's game.
While meeting with the media 75 minutes before Saturday's back end of a home-and-home, Collins noted, "There's no reason [the Celtics] should be fresher than us. Not with the amount of playoff games, the amount of minutes they've put into this league."
Those remarks were relayed to Celtics coach Doc Rivers 20 minutes later and he quipped, "[Collins is] probably right. But I don't want to go in our locker room and tell them that."
Or maybe he did want to go in the Celtics' locker room and tell his players that.
So Rivers did. And asked after the game how Garnett and his 51,152 minutes responded to the news, Rivers noted, "Kevin reacted the way you think he would react."
Which is to say that Garnett was essentially enraged.
After passing up an opportunity to take a potential winning shot in overtime on Friday, Garnett called his own number early and often on Saturday. He finished with a team-high 19 points on 9-of-11 shooting and helped Boston build as much as a 21-point cushion before fending off Philadelphia's lone second-half charge.
Boston never trailed.
"One thing they don't keep track of is heart and cajones," said Garnett. "OK? You can monitor all the minutes you want, but you can't monitor someone's drive, what fuels them and motivates them. Doc came in here and gave us that so -- Doc's the best at getting the best out of us in certain ways, and tonight's no different from that."
Garnett said the Celtics already had a bit of a chip on their shoulder after a marathon film session following Friday's loss. He detailed how players watched the tape on the flight back from Philly, then again after landing in Boston, and one more time in a silent locker room before Saturday's game. Players were calling and texting each other throughout the day lamenting all the opportunities they missed to close out the 76ers.
In this blossoming rivalry, that didn't sit well with Boston. The 76ers have emerged as a real thorn in the Celtics' side -- playing Boston tough during the regular season each meeting over the past two seasons and engaging in a seven-game war during the Eastern Conference quarterfinals last year.
Collins might simply have been asserting facts, but the Celtics were not in the mood to hear them.
"It feels good," said Garnett. "Philly has played us tough, a couple times. So this is not the last we are going to see of them. Doug gets those guys up and ready to play us for some reason, they play us well. Tonight, I was just glad that we were able to not only defend home court, and be solid at home, but after last night's performance, everybody came in here with a little chip on their shoulder. So we need to play with a little edge more -- more and more often."
By referencing the age of Boston's core, Collins simply poked the Celtics amid a sleepy 10-9 start to the 2012-13 campaign.
Now the Celtics and 76ers find themselves knotted in the middle of the Atlantic Division standings. And this rivalry is only getting more intense.
"Fresh legs don't mean anything if you don't have the heart to go with it," said Jason Terry. "You've got three champions when you talk about the guys that logged the most minutes over the last how many years. After losing a game like [Friday] night, tonight was personal. Philly has had our number so to speak, and this was a game for us to prove to ourselves that that team is not better than us, and that's what we believe."
The Celtics cranked up their defensive intensity Saturday, limiting the 76ers to 39.2 percent shooting (31-of-79 overall). Philadelphia mustered a mere 28 points in the first half, including just 12 in the second quarter as Boston blew the game open.
And just when some of the Celtics' younger players let the 76ers back into the game in the third quarter, in came old man Garnett to slam the door.
Rivers, having endured an emotional and travel-heavy day after trekking to Milwaukee for the funeral of Rick Majerus, arrived at TD Garden less than two hours before tipoff. His good friend Collins did him a favor by writing his pregame speech.
Even Collins admitted his approach was off the mark after Saturday's loss.
"I've been around greatness in my 40 years in the NBA. I've seen Michael Jordan at 40, that there's nothing there and get 50 points," said Collins. "All with [his head]. Not wasting anything, just knowing where to be and just taking yourself to another level to fight through fatigue. And that's what young guys have to learn and so that's what we're in the process of doing."
The Celtics didn't mind an extra dose of motivation. Even if they probably didn't need it.
"[Friday's loss] left a bad taste in our mouths," said Garnett. "Like I said, playing edgy, with a chip on our shoulders, is not a bad thing."
That's something Boston's veterans know all too well from all their time on the floor.