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Sixers’ season rests on matching energy, defense of Celtics

May 18, 2012, 2:45 PM EDT

Philadelphia 76ers  v Boston Celtics - Game One Getty Images

Boston’s veterans came out playing in another gear in Game 3, leaving the Sixers standing by the side of the road looking confused.

Rajon Rondo got wherever he wanted on the court and was aggressive doing so on his way to 23 points and 14 assists. Kevin Garnett looked young and quick while Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes looked neither, and Garnett had 27 points. Boston blew the Sixers’ doors off and lead the series 2-1. A Boston win Friday and this series all but wrapped up.

Game 4 is all about how the young Sixers respond. Can they find that next level of energy? Can they return to a defensive focus that contains Rondo and disrupts the Celtics offensive sets? Can they take the next step of team evolution?

The Sixers talked a lot about defense on their off-day. Coach Doug Collins pulled no punches talking to CSNPhilly.com.

“We have to do a better job when Kevin Garnett is off the floor,” Collins said. “We can’t let them go to their bench and build a lead. We never got Rondo stopped all night long. He took the ball wherever he wanted to take it on the floor. We have to take the challenge that he is the guy that is going to push on the break, get the ball up the floor. He’s going to make the passes and initiating most of the stuff, so we need to take the challenge of doing a better job on him.”

The Sixers also need to get some easy buckets in transition and bump the tempo of the game up — which is hard when Rondo has 27 assists and two turnovers in the last two games. Andre Iguodala and Jrue Holiday need to take on more offense. They must do more.

Expect this game to be closer than Game 3, although Rondo and Garnett are the guys to watch, if they are getting a lot of points Philly is in trouble.

The all the Sixers have to do is out execute the Celtics at the end of a game — which they have done this series but will need to replicate if they plan to even things up.

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