Game over, Sixers win 106-100: Life without a losing record did not last long for the Celtics. With an underwhelming defensive effort and a shaky offensive effort at that, the Celtics fell to the Sixers in a game that never seemed as close as the final score indicated.
Kevin Garnett had a strong 20 points and 10 rebounds, Paul Pierce scored 24 points off pure effort and Rajon Rondo had 14 points with 20 dimes, but none of them controlled the game as effectively as Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday. The Sixers’ starting backcourt combined for 46 points, 15 rebounds and 18 assists.
The Celtics also wasted an impactful effort off the bench by Jason Terry, who scored all 13 of his points in the final 15 minutes.
Fourth quarter, 1:44, Sixers 100-94: Turning it on when it mattered worked two nights ago against the Wizards, but it was dangerous to try the same thing twice. When a team plays like that, it opens itself up to making a missed play or a bad call looming large.
That may have occurred with about two minutes left in this one. As Holiday spun to the hoop, Barbosa appeared to strip the ball cleanly, but a foul was called. That call could be huge, but the Celtics put themselves in position to make that call matter at all.
Fourth quarter, 4:52, Sixers 98-88: Rivers complimented the Sixers during last season’s playoff series, calling the young squad a “resilient” bunch. They lived up to that billing in that series and continued it in this game. Even without their best player from last year, Andre Iguodala, and their best player this year, Andrew Bynum, the Sixers had given the Celtics all they could handle and did not fold when Boston made a push.
Fourth quarter, 6:51, Sixers 93-86: Since Terry’s aforementioned three to pull Boston within four points, the Sixers outscored the Celtics 10-7 and seemed to have control over the game, even if that control was tenuous. Still, the Celtics did their best to make things interesting.
The Celtics’ closers, Pierce and Terry, scored seven straight points after Thaddeus Young made the lead a solid 14 points with a three-point play. The Celtics just have to hope the Sixers do not give the ball to Turner, who has been a primetime scorer in this game.
Fourth quarter, 9:27, Sixers 87-79: Whether by design or by accident, Bass kept ending up guarding Holiday. The crazy part was, the Celtics power forward did not look terrible against the Sixers point guard, but his teammates failed to help out much defensively or on the glass.
Holiday had to force up an awkward floater against Bass’ tough defense, but Garnett failed to box out and Allen was able to score on a putback. That bucket all but wiped out any momentum the Celtics might have gotten from Terry’s arrival, which included a trey that cut the deficit to four points early in the fourth quarter.
End of third quarter, Sixers lead 83-74: The Sixers continued to have a response to everything the Celtics managed to throw at them, even if those responses came from some unlikely places.
Turner, who had an up-and-down first two years as a pro, was virtually unstoppable. Capitalizing on the Celtics’ switching on screen defensively, Turner took Bass and Wilcox to school. Turner’s work nullified a small flurry by Terry, who finally got in the scoring column with less than three minutes left in the third quarter and then hit a three to momentarily cut the deficit to seven points.
Third quarter, 2:17, Sixers 79-68: Trading baskets without any real sense of urgency, the Celtics and Sixers played at stasis for most of the third quarter. Although Rondo got to double digits in assists for his 29th straight game, the most since John Stockton’s such streak in 1990-91, there was very little for the Celtics to get excited about. When Garnett was off the court, the team seemed directionless, and while Pierce did have 14 points, he had to gradually climb his way back after a 2-for-8 first half.
Third quarter, 8:06, Sixers 63-54: The scoreboard may not reflect it, but the Celtics finally showed up after halftime. By forcing three early turnovers, the Celtics were able to turn up the tempo and outscored the Sixers 9-6 over the first four minutes of the third quarter. That only cut their deficit down by three points, but that sort of chipping away is needed for them to get within a manageable margin by the end of the frame.
Halftime, Sixers lead 57-45: When things are going bad, sometimes they just seem to get worse.
Lee had what should have been a simple layup on a run-out as the first half expired to cut the Celtics’ deficit to 10 points, but Holiday chased him down and blocked the shot away at the buzzer. The moment was just another incident of frustration for the Celtics in a frustrating first half.
Holiday led a strong first half for the Sixers backcourt — and that includes the reserves as well as the starters. Holiday had 10 points, eight assists, two blocked shots, two steals and only two turnovers in the first half. Turner had 14 points on 6-for-11 shooting and seven rebounds. (Turner is one of the best rebounding wing players in the NBA.) Royal Ivey had six points and Nick Young had 10 points to lead all bench scorers.
Other than Lee, who scored six points early and never scored again, no member of Boston’s backcourt had more than four points. Terry had one measly point.
Yet again, Rondo and Garnett were the only Celtics to play anything resembling a solid all-around game. Garnett was excellent in all facets, with 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting while propping up the Celtics defense, not always effectively, but he did not have much to work with. Rondo handed out eight assists with only one turnover.
Second quarter, 2:58, Sixers 48-37: No team has shot the ball worse than the Sixers, but they must have picked up their stroke somewhere between Philly and Beantown. The Sixers entered the game shooting a league-worst 38 percent from the field but were scorching the nets to the tune of 51 percent. That, not to mention their 4-for-6 mark from downtown, left very little mystery about their wide lead.
Second quarter, 6:16, Sixers 39-28: Do not tell Boston fans they are being too hard on Green. They clearly want the 26-year-old Maryland native to do well. That was obvious when Green went to the hoop, was fouled hard and muscled up a shot that settled through the hoop to start a three-point play. The reaction from the crowd made it clear that Green’s large multi-year contract will not matter to the fans as long as Green finds a way to produce.
Second quarter, 8:59, Sixers 33-24: Nick Young has never met a shot he did not like, and early in this game it was tough to find a shot that did not like him. Young hit three of his first five shots, including two no-doubter 3-pointers early in the second quarter, to help Philadelphia stretch its lead to 11 points.
Garnett, once again one of the few Boston players playing a halfway decent game, stemmed the bleeding with a finger-roll off an over-the-top feed from Leandro Barbosa, but not even the presence of Barbosa and Terry together in the backcourt could get the Celtics to show any oomph offensively.
End of first quarter, Sixers lead 23-20: Being unselfish is nice, but at some point Jeff Green needs to size up his defender and decide, “Screw it, I’m taking this guy.”
Green declined to pull the trigger on Royal Ivey, on whom Green had a speed and size advantage, or Spencer Hawes, on whom Green had a speed and athleticism advantage. The Celtics scored one field goal in the last 5:56 of the first quarter, so they could have used Green’s contribution on offense.
Evan Turner needed no prodding to get his shots. The much-maligned former No. 2 overall pick was 3-for-7 from the field in the first.
First quarter, 2:58, Sixers 17-13: Rivers found lightning in a bottle with Chris Wilcox against the Wizards, so he figured he would try the same against the Sixers. Wilcox was a game-changer in the third quarter of Boston’s win over Washington on Wednesday, so with the Celtics looking sluggish on both ends of the floor on Friday, Rivers went to the veteran reserve big man even earlier.
Wilcox’ energy would have been a boon to the Celtics, who needed someone to light a fire under their you-know-whats.
First quarter, 4:05, Sixers 15-10: In order for the Celtics’ many lineup combinations to work, the players in those lineups need to be willing to step into different roles when required.
An unconventional lineup of Green, Bass, Sullinger, Lee and Rondo looked like the perfect matchup for the speedy Sixers. But no matter how many open looks Rondo generated, the other four players would not pull the trigger on a shot. The result was tentative offense and a 6-0 run by the Sixers to pull into the lead.
Lee was aggressive early, hitting his first two shots, but he suddenly thought twice after getting a couple of open looks from the elbow off screens. Lee sacrificed money and minutes to come to Boston, and his scoring and playing time is down year-over-year, so he should relish these opportunities with no true scorer on the floor.
7:14 p.m.: Jared Sullinger gets his third start of the season, but the speed and versatility of the man he will be guarding may have made Doc Rivers think about giving Jeff Green some extra time at the four spot in this game.
Thaddeus Young, the sixth-year forward out of Georgia Tech, starts opposite Sullinger and presents all sorts of matchup problems for opposing power forwards. Not only does Young use his lanky 6-foot-8 frame effectively, according to Rivers, he brings pure hustle that cannot be measured. The trend away from physical big men to speedsters or shooters makes Young an ideal four for the new generation.
“Speed and playing hard, that combination is pretty tough to deal with,” Rivers said. “When he’s making his shots, then it’s really hard. The whole league, you can see it. It doesn’t even have to be a hybrid anymore. Now it’s gotten even further so that we have fives who are shooting. Shooting has absolutely changed our game at the big spots because you can open up the offense and spread the floor.”
The Sixers have not had much game-changing shooting thus far, but Young has been one of the welcome exceptions. Through four games he posted a .565 field goal percentage.
The projected starters appear below.
8 a.m. ET: As underwhelming as the first two weeks of the season have been for the Celtics, the team can climb above .500 and notch its first three-game winning streak of the season with a victory on Friday against a familiar foe.
The rival Philadelphia 76ers come to town with just as many nagging questions as the Celtics. For the Sixers, the primary concern is when they will finally see Andrew Bynum, the All-Star center they picked up in the offseason while shipping franchise player Andre Iguodala to Denver. A knee injury of uncertain severity has kept Bynum from suiting up for his new team, and in the meantime they have been predictably average with two wins in four games. Point guard Jrue Holiday and center Spencer Hawes have played well at times, but for the Sixers to build on last year’s respectable run to the Eastern Conference semifinals, they need Bynum on the court.
Join us for updates and analysis from the TD Garden during the game, which tips off at 7:30 p.m.