Much has been made of the way the Philadelphia 76ers stood toe-to-toe with the Boston Celtics in the first two games of their Eastern Conference semifinal series, storming out to a sizable lead in Game 1 before faltering late and dropping a one-point affair, then withstanding an early Celtics barrage on Monday night before locking down late to secure a Game 2 win. One of the key elements in Philly's strong close to the second game was Evan Turner. While the sophomore needed 11 shots to score 10 points on Monday and turned the ball over five times, he made several big plays at critical moments to help Doug Collins' team snare a split at the TD Garden and home-court advantage heading back to the Wells Fargo Center for Game 3 on Wednesday night.
It was a hard game to win — and in some respects, as Turner told Jessica Camerato of CSNNE.com, it's the kind of game the Celtics have taught the former No. 2 overall pick, who struggled mightily in the early going as a rook and in his first two career games against Boston, how to win.
When Turner played against the Boston Celtics last season as a 22-year-old rookie on the Philadelphia 76ers, he was already familiar with his opponents from what he had seen of them on TV.
Then the veterans introduced him to their game in the NBA. They tested the young guard during his first year in the NBA, a challenge he appreciates now.
"Watching them on TV and playing against them is two different things," Turner told CSNNE.com. "First few times we played against them, they kicked our butts. One of the best things is getting your butts kicked and paying your dues. I can't say it enough — paying your dues and earning the right to play well and earning the right to play well versus them, that's the most important thing."
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This may seem like a far-too-positive stance on getting one's butt kicked, but it's precisely the kind of response that coaches and team executives want to see from a young player — acceptance of the struggles you've faced, willingness to learn from them and purposeful action toward changing the outcome next time.
After making very little impact the first two times he faced Boston, going scoreless in a 6:26 run in a December 2010 loss and missing all three of his field-goal attempts in 14 minutes of play in a March 2011 win, Turner has learned from the butt-kicking the veterans dished out. Two of his best games as a pro have come against the C's — a 21-point, five-assist night in April 2011, and a 26-point, nine-rebound outing two months ago.
He played well in Game 1, too, scoring 16 points on 13 shots and adding 10 boards, four steals and three assists in the one-point loss. And while his numbers weren't gaudy, he was there when it counted in Game 2.
Turner had missed four straight shots and gone more than 10 minutes without scoring before hitting a jumper to give the Sixers a 71-69 lead with just under three minutes remaining in regulation. On the ensuing Celtics possession, Turner then blocked a Rajon Rondo layup attempt to keep Philly ahead as the clock ticked down. After Avery Bradley, Jrue Holiday and Ray Allen traded 3-pointers over the next minute to give Boston a one-point lead, Turner beat Rondo off the dribble at the elbow, gained the lane, somehow avoided a rotating Paul Pierce and finished a sensational layup in traffic to put Philly up 76-75 with 40 seconds left.
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After the Sixers played some sensational defense to keep Boston from getting a clean look to re-take the lead, Turner — a 67.6 percent free-throw shooter on the season — put the cherry on top by sinking two freebies with 12 seconds left to give the Sixers a lead they'd hang on to through the final buzzer.
Turner still has a long way to go to validate his lofty draft position in the minds of many fans, and the eighth-seeded Sixers have a long way to go before they shake both the memory of how the Miami Heat rolled them last postseason and the skepticism many felt following their first-round win over a hobbled Chicago Bulls team without its two best players. But late-game performances like the one Monday night show that Turner and his teammates have made some progress since those learning experiences last year against a Celtics team that he told Camerato "just enjoyed" the grind of the game and "kept coming back at you."
"Paul gets going, he starts talking. Same with Ray and everything. They were taking turns on you, seeing how tough you were. You had to toughen up. The whole thing with them was seeing how tough you were. And if not, they were going to run right over you."
The Celtics aren't going to run over these Sixers — not with Philly defending the way they are, not with Pierce and Allen hobbled, not with Rondo seemingly refusing to take layups, Brandon Bass bricking everything in sight and Kevin Garnett left to carry all Boston's baggage. But it's a sound bet that they'll push back on Collins' young team to see if Turner's mates have learned the same lessons he shared. If they have, and if Philly can get out and run off Boston's misses, the Sixers could be the ones doing the kicking in Game 3.
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