Final, Celtics 109-101: We did not think it was possible for a while there, but it has ended. Despite giving up 64 points in the paint and coughing up the ball an unheard-of 22 times, the Celtics managed to escape with a victory that did not need to be nearly as difficult as it was.
Avery Bradley led all scorers with 22 points and Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett added 18 each, but the Celtics’ bench served as the difference. Boston’s reserves outscored Philadelphia’s backups 41-22, helping the Celtics escape even though seven Sixers players reached double figures in scoring.
The Celtics (32-27) end up with a needed win to start a two-game, two-day road trip that continues Wednesday against a tough Pacers squad.
Fourth quarter, :39.5, Celtics 103-96: Almost as if he just wanted to prove they could get there, Pierce committed the 22nd turnover to establish a new season high for the Celtics. Turner drew the foul as Garnett goaltended his bank shot, and the game is elongated.
The Sixers probably do not have much of a shot, but this is still a shoddier ending than the Celtics need it to be.
Fourth quarter, 2:25, Celtics 99-89: Even with a season-high 21 turnovers, the Celtics keep tossing lazy passes. It is almost as though they are not watching the game. The Sixers are barely alive here, but the Celtics are letting them stay tantalizingly close.
Fourth quarter, 4:43, Celtics 97-85: These turnovers are starting to become laughable. With nearly five minutes to go, the Celtics have 21 turnovers, an unusually high number especially since Rajon Rondo’s season-ending injury.
The Celtics’ carelessness with the ball has helped the Sixers build up their 56 points in the paint, since turnovers tend to lead to layups or dunks. It is the only thing keeping the Sixers in this game. The only thing. If Pierce was not hitting every three he took (he’s 4-for-4 from deep), the Celtics could be in real trouble.
Fourth quarter, 7:56, Celtics 91-76: With a healthy dose of Rivers’ guidance and Garnett’s intimidation, Crawford might just work out for the Celtics. Crawford faded into the corner on the break, collected a pass from Terrence Williams and buried a three to push Boston’s lead to 15 points. The Celtics are on an 11-2 run spanning the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth.
Fourth quarter, 10:42, Celtics 86-74: The Jordan Crawford Show is warming up here in the fourth. With the Celtics in need of a spark off their bench, since the starters will need to play shorter minutes on the first end of a back-to-back, Crawford popped off the pine and scored five quick points to help Boston’s cause.
Crawford stepped off a pick and hit a three, then banked home a runner against three defenders within 36 seconds to grow the Celtics’ lead to 12 points.
End of third quarter, Celtics 79-74: Maybe it is the ghosts of Wilt Chamberlain and Hal Greer, but the Celtics just cannot seem to win any easy ones in Philly.
When Pierce hit a three to give Boston a 14-point advantage, this one should have been over. But some careless turnovers by the Celtics — both their starters and reserves — helped the Sixers push back into contention. They ended the quarter on an 8-0 run with Holiday, who has taken a backseat to Bradley for much of this game, dropping two pairs of free throws.
The Sixers point guard has 14 points and 10 assists heading into the final 12 minutes. Bradley has 22 points, five assists and five rebounds.
Third quarter, 4:04, Celtics 71-60: Bradley continues his hot shooting, reaching 20 points before anybody on the Sixers has surpassed 13, yet not even Bradley is feeling it as much as Pierce.
Pierce drained a heavily contested three from the left wing to build the Celtics’ lead to 14 points and make the captain a perfect 3-for-3 from deep. Pierce has 10 rebounds and six assists so far in another all-around performance. If it were not for some untimely turnovers and unnecessary fouls, he would be having a near-perfect game.
Third quarter, 9:50, Celtics 59-48: March must be Bradley’s month. It was March, remember, when Bradley came on and eventually replaced Ray Allen for good, more or less, and he may be up to his old tricks. Early in the third quarter Bradley has a game-high 18 points and has scored four of Boston’s first six points to begin the second half.
Halftime, Celtics 53-46: It says a lot that these teams played a breakneck pace (for them) yet they have not even totaled 100 points by halftime.
Neither team seemed to want to take control in the first half, as the Celtics repeatedly looked ready to run away and hide before the Sixers fired back to narrow the gap. Pierce closed out the first half by scoring eight of the last 16 points to protect Boston’s lead heading into the locker room.
Bradley is the high man at the break, leading three Celtics players in double figures with 14 points. The Celtics hold a 26-18 edge on the glass and have held the Sixers to 2-for-11 shooting from outside, which is crucial because Philly owns a 34-22 advantage in points in the paint.
If the Celtics are to stay ahead and put the lowly Sixers in their place, they need to continue to keep the Sixers in check from beyond the arc while also clamping down in the paint. The Sixers are unlikely to help them out by turning over the ball. The Sixers have committed the second-fewest turnovers in all of basketball.
Second quarter, 3:11, Celtics 46-40: The Celtics decided to not hang onto the ball for a stretch, which turned out to be a great strategy for getting Philly back into the game. After a couple wild exchanges, Turner threw down a dunk to pull the Sixers within one point.
Then Bradley answered with a jumper and Pierce followed with a contested three to extend Boston’s lead again. And all it took was holding on to the ball. Imagine that.
Second quarter, 6:01, Celtics 36-34: In all fairness, referees allow Garnett to be very liberal with his screen-setting. The Big Ticket uses a lot of hands and elbows to help his teammates get free.
When officials suddenly decide to crack down, Garnett therefore can get himself in a lot of trouble quickly. Garnett already has two fouls for illegal screens, which is about the only thing marring his performance so far. Garnett has 10 points and has helped the Celtics own a 17-14 advantage on the glass.
Second quarter, 8:57, Celtics 30-23: After a relatively scoring-friendly first quarter, both these defense-oriented teams reverted to form in the second quarter.
It took close to two full minutes before either team finally got on the board. Jason Terry slipped into the lane on a screen-and-roll with Garnett and flipped the ball to a sliding KG for the layup to end the drought. Two possessions later, Terry got past Ivey on the baseline and drew a shooting foul to extend the Celtics’ lead to seven points, their largest lead thus far.
End of first quarter, Celtics 26-23: This Jeff Green guy can play a little bit. It sure is a good thing the Celtics locked him up with a long-term contract, eh, haters? Green ends the first quarter knotted with Bradley for the team lead in scoring, at seven points apiece. Green has scored in his typical array of ways, draining corner threes and posting up early to get himself into position to score or be fouled.
Still, the most impressive man so far has been Holiday. Philly’s young point guard, who was also signed to a multi-year contract at the beginning of the year, is completely in control. He has eight points on 4-for-6 shooting and four assists with no turnovers at the end of one.
First quarter, 3:15, Celtics 20-19: Bradley and Holiday are having a duel, with the two point guards exchanging blows in a back-and-forth game early. Holiday earned the early lead with his controlled ballhandling and tough defense on Bradley, which took the Celtics guard out of his game a bit.
Bradley has responded by getting his offense before Holiday or the Sixers have a chance to dig in on defense. Bradley scored on a floater in transition and then pulled up on the break for an elbow jump shot to give the Celtics the lead back.
First quarter, 5:58, Sixers 17-11: Spencer Hawes’ fall is shocking. The veteran center was never All-Star caliber, but last year he was a key piece of a team that made it to the East semis and was one of their better playmakers in the halfcourt.
This year, Hawes has been terrible. Never a defensive stopper, Hawes looked silly trying to stop Garnett in the early going. Garnett hit his first three shots to give Boston and early lead, but fortunately for Hawes his teammates were not as ineffective. Jrue Holiday, one of the most improved players in the league this year, has six points and two assists in the early going. The Sixers point guard looks to be having little trouble with Avery Bradley’s pressure defense.
6:06 p.m.: Paul Pierce has been dealing with a pain in his neck for some time. But that won’t keep the Celtics forward from being a pain in the neck for the Sixers.
Pierce, who is battling a pinched nerve in his neck that is also causing numbness down his back and in his leg, is not expected to miss any time on Boston’s current two-game, back-to-back road trip. Celtics coach Doc Rivers has said that Pierce, as well as Kevin Garnett, has an open offer to sit out a game whenever he chooses. But Pierce has played in all 58 games the Celtics have played to this point.
This is great news for Sixers fans, who get their chance to boo one of the most despised professional athletes among Philadelphia sports fans. Seriously, they really, really hate the guy. Trust me.
The projected starters appear below.
3:26 p.m.: Nobody in Philly seems particularly optimistic about Bynum suiting up this season.
Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer joined the chorus on Tuesday with a revealing column on the big man, who seems even farther from playing for the Sixers — ever — after saying last week that he would not play with pain. Sixers beat reporters found this little detail, uh, interesting.
In other words, do not worry about Kevin Garnett having to bang down low with Bynum in this one, or in any game, honestly, for quite some time.
8 a.m. ET: As the Celtics brought an end to their three-day break on Monday, they talked about this being the stretch run. If they intend to make another late-season push and make noise in the playoffs, they must start now.
Their quest begins in one of the key locations of last year’s run. Philadelphia, home of the struggling 76ers (23-35), will welcome the Celtics (31-27) in a showdown of two teams who have reacted very differently to major injuries to their stars. The Celtics have bounced back in a big way from the loss of Rajon Rondo, winning 11 of 15 games since the point guard went down with a torn right ACL. The Sixers started off valiantly without Andrew Bynum, the hobbled center who came over from Los Angeles in an offseason trade, but they have faded back and now have little realistic chance of making the playoffs.
Having won two straight, the Celtics are beginning a key stretch. Four of their next six games are on the road, with three straight challenging foes in Indiana, Atlanta and Oklahoma City to follow. That makes this game doubly important, as a loss could mean the start of a long drought.
Join us for updates and analysis during the game, which tips off at 7 p.m. ET.