Final: Celtics 96, Sixers 86. The Sixers don't die quietly, but they eventually bite the dust. One of those painful final minutes — quick jumper, foul, two shots, another quick jumper, another foul, another two shots. The Sixers finally raise the white flag with 22 seconds remaining, when KG comes up with the final defensive rebound off a missed Lou Williams three. The Celtics come away with their third win in four nights, polishing off the Sixers with a nice double-digit victory. A solid win to continue a solid week for the Celtics.
Fourth quarter, 2:33, Celtics 90-85: Tempers are flaring as this game winds down — Rajon Rondo drives the lane and tries to embarrass Samuel Dalembert with a posterizing dunk. He fails miserably, flopping to the floor and falling flat on his face. Back on the other end, an unusually aggressive Ray Allen grabs Andre Iguodala and brings him to a halt in transition, getting called for an obvious foul. This thing might get really physical if things get really close in the final minute or two.
Fourth quarter, 5:50, Celtics 84-78: The Celtics are still in control, but this thing's not over yet. Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams fuel an 11-6 run for the Sixers here in the fourth quarter, breaking out of the team's offensive funk with a dose of good old-fashioned run-and-gun basketball. It's what these Sixers do best, and it's what they're going to need to do against the slower but more physical Celtics. If you can't outplay, might as well settle for outrunning.
Fourth quarter, 9:17, Celtics 78-67: The Celtics' defense has risen to the occasion here in the fourth quarter, forcing the Sixers into long-range shots, blocked shots and occasionally no shots at all. Nearly three minutes in, the Sixers are scoreless since the 1:20 mark of the third quarter, and the Celtics have opened the first double-digit lead of this game. Unless Brand and Iguodala suddenly decide to wake up again, expect them to hold it.
End of third quarter, Celtics 74-67: The Celtics are out to a seven-point lead for the first time tonight, as they start to create some separation heading into the fourth quarter. Key stat for Boston in quarter number three: 14 points for Rajon Rondo, eight from Kevin Garnett, six from the rest of the Celtics combined. Every play is either Rondo hitting Garnett for an open jumper, or Garnett setting a pick for a Rondo driving layup. How good a two-on-two squad would these two guys make?
Third quarter, 2:40, Celtics 67-63: This is an entirely different team offensively from the one that trailed in this game earlier in the third quarter. They're functioning beautifully as a team — setting picks for teammates, making the extra pass, creating smart shots at every opportunity. A strong team effort from the Celtics to pull ahead in the second half, but they'll have to figure out a way to stop the slashing, scoring Lou Williams if they want to hold this lead. Easier said than done.
Third quarter, 5:22, Celtics 60-57: Looks like Rondo suddenly decided to wake up in the third quarter. With KG setting a couple of timely picks to create open lanes for the speedy guard, Rondo has developed into an offensive monster midway through the third quarter, driving to the bucket for four easy layups in four minutes. The point guard has eight of the Celtics' last 10 points, and the Celtics are back in front.
Third quarter, 9:08, Sixers 50-48: The Celtics' goal for this third quarter was to do a better job getting the ball inside and creating scoring opportunities. And they're starting to do that, with Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett both getting good looks inside early. But the Sixers are beating them with straight-up run-and-gun basketball — Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams are running wild and getting off lots of good shots. And speaking of speedy guards, what happened to Rajon Rondo? Still hasn't made a basket tonight.
Halftime, Celtics 46-43: Halfway done now from the Wachovia Center, and this game is looking like a battle of which star can outscore which. At the break, Ray Allen and Elton Brand are just dominating this thing for their respective teams — Allen is shooting 6-for-9 from the floor and Brand is 7-for-9, and each has a team-high 14 points. The Sixers are drilling the ball inside and scoring; the Celtics are driving in and kicking out for the open jumpers. Which style will prevail? We'll have to wait and see.
Second quarter, 3:11, Celtics 43-39: Can't wait to hear the official attendance figure for this game. Judging by the atmosphere here at the Wachovia Center, it really can't be a lick over 12,000. You can hear everything in this place — every bounce on the floor, every clank off the rim, every time a player yells "Shot!" One thing I couldn't make out, though, was what Kendrick Perkins just said to the officials to earn himself his 13th technical foul of the season. Heads up: The NBA starts handing out one-game suspensions when you hit 16. Something to be aware of, Perk.
Second quarter, 6:07, Celtics 39-34: The Celtics are getting less and less tentative as the game goes on about driving into the lane and creating open looks at the basket. By the same token, they're also getting more contributions from outside the Big Three — Glen Davis, Marquis Daniels and Rasheed Wallace are starting to sneak into the paint and get some decent shots. On the Sixers' side, the forwards Brand and Iguodala have started to slow down offensively, enabling the Celtics to establish control of this game. Boston by five midway through the second quarter.
Second quarter, 9:18, Celtics 32-30: Maybe we should all get Achilles tendinitis once in a while. Even when the Celtics go big with Perk and Rasheed Wallace both on the floor, the Sixers are pounding the ball down low with ease, and Elton Brand is having the game of his life. No rust at all from the injury problems of this week — Brand is 6-for-8 from the floor for a game high of 12 points. He's lighting the Celtics up, and they don't appear to have an answer.
End of first quarter, Sixers 25-23: They're called the Big Three for a reason. I get that. But it really shouldn't be this lopsided. Fast fact: For the first 10 minutes of this game, the Celtics got nine points from Ray, six from KG and three from Paul Pierce. From the rest of the team? Zero. Rondo is passing well, and Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis have helped to outrebound the Sixers 10-7. But someone else has got to help out with the scoring load going forward. It's not easy to win in the NBA with three guys carrying the load themselves.
First quarter, 3:01, Sixers 21-16: You have to be impressed with how these Sixers, even in Allen Iverson's absence, are able to maintain the Iversonesque speed and athleticism that's defined these Philly teams of the past decade. Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams have done a beautiful job spearheading the Sixers' attack offensively — neither one is putting up a storm scoring-wise, but they're both using their dribble penetration to rattle the Boston defense and create opportunities for teammates. It's no A.I., but this team is still fun to watch.
First quarter, 6:27, Celtics 11-9: Of the nine shots the Celtics have taken in the first five-plus minutes, only three have been in the paint. They're gunning from all over the perimeter, and as the shots start to fall, the Celtics begin to take control of this game. Live by the jumper, die by the jumper — that appears to be the plan. With Kevin Garnett starting to knock down his open looks from mid-range, the C's are looking good offensively.
First quarter, 9:24, Sixers 9-3: Doc Rivers said before this game that he wanted to run an inside-out offense, with the Celtics pounding the ball inside, drawing coverage, and then kicking it out for open jumpers. But when you don't hit those jumpers, it presents a problem — Paul Pierce is 0-for-2 with a couple of long jumpers, and Ray Allen is 1-for-2. The Sixers are torching the C's so far with transition buckets from Andre Iguodala.
7:02 p.m.: The Sixers throw us a curveball tonight leading up to game time, announcing that Elton Brand will play tonight after a painful bout this week with Achilles tendinitis. Brand missed two games this week, and the Sixers lost them both, to strong East playoff contenders Orlando and Atlanta. This is a mighty difficult stretch for the Sixers, who also recently squared off with the West heavyweight Lakers and Suns.
3:36 p.m.: The Celtics have turned a corner this week, getting their roster healthy and rattling off back-to-back wins in short succession, one on the road at Detroit and one back at the Garden against a strong Charlotte team. They'll now look to keep the winning going in the City of Brotherly Love.
The C's pay a visit Friday night to the Philadelphia 76ers, an also-ran in the Eastern Conference playoff race that has lost seven of its last nine games. The Sixers are banged up at the moment, missing Elton Brand in their starting five, missing Marreese Speights on their bench and missing Allen Iverson. The Sixers have seen better days, but the Celtics are just starting to see better ones themselves.
This is a matchup between one team that's quickly fading to the bottom of the barrel and another that's slowly climbing back to the top of the heap. The Celtics have won two of three meetings with the Sixers this season, and they've got a good shot at winning the fourth.