The Celtics knew March would be a grind, with the tightly packed schedule and the constant traveling to and from Boston all month long. So far, that hasn't seemed to bother them one bit.
The C's cruised to a 96-86 win over the 76ers at the Wachovia Center, pulling ahead with a strong surge in the second half to break open a game that looked like a nail-biter up until the break. Rajon Rondo led the way with another double-double of 16 points and 11 assists, getting help from an efficient Kevin Garnett.
Elton Brand made his comeback Friday night from a bout with Achilles tendinitis that had sidelined him earlier this week. His return was a good one, as the Sixers' big man piled up 17 points, four rebounds and two blocks. Brand was the center of attention in the first half, holding his own against the physical interior defense of Kendrick Perkins and the Celtics.
Louis Williams led the Sixers with 22 points; Garnett had 22 on the Boston side.
The Celtics are now 3-0 in March, having also polished off the Pistons and the Bobcats earlier this week. They remain alive and well in the hunt for the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Celtics 96, Sixers 86
Wachovia Center, Philadelphia, Pa.
March 5, 2010
After being held scoreless in the first half, Rondo exploded for 14 points in the third quarter alone, breaking the deadlock by using his explosive energy to dribble, drive and dominate the scoring in the quarter. The point guard finished with 16 points, 11 assists, six rebounds and two steals, an impressive stat line considering his relatively silent first half.
Unsung Hero: It may sound strange to hear Kevin Garnett referred to as "unsung," but KG's 22 points in the win were the quietest 22 you'll ever see. He wasn't throwing down powerful dunks, he wasn't talking trash, he wasn't driving the lane and showing people up.
All the Celtics got out of Kevin Garnett was a modest, respectable, unnoticed 22 points and 8 rebounds, fueled by smart jump shooting and quick reflexes on the defensive boards. If they get that every night, they'd be more than satisfied with their 33-year-old power forward.
Scrub: Who knows what you're going to get with Paul Pierce these days? On Tuesday night, he was the goat, shooting 2-for-6 and failing to assert himself offensively when his team needed him. On Wednesday, he was the hero, going off for 27. Now he's the goat again.
Pierce was 1-for-9 from the floor against the Sixers and finished with only seven points. His lone field goal in the game came with 9:07 remaining in the first quarter; in the next 45 minutes, he couldn't buy a basket. Doc Rivers talks about re-establishing Pierce as the team's go-to player offensively, but that didn't happen in his one.
Turning Point: With 1:20 remaining in the third quarter, Samuel Dalembert made an easy tip-in off a Jason Smith miss to bring the Sixers to within four, 71-67. Over the next four minutes, the Celtics' defense silenced Philly's attack completely, with the Sixers shooting 0-for-4 from the floor and never putting a dent in the Boston lead.
The Celtics' 7-0 run made it a double-digit lead for the first time, and the Sixers really never found it within themselves to spark a comeback. It was smooth sailing from there — a few stops early in the fourth quarter were all the Celtics needed to pave the way for an easy win in the closing minutes.
Up Next: The Celtics return home this weekend to play host to a Washington Wizards team that has lost four of its last five, including a 102-74 pummeling in a visit to Milwaukee on Friday night. The Wiz are rebuilding after the suspension of Gilbert Arenas and the trades that shipped Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison out of town. Don't expect much from them this season — they're in "wait 'til next year" mode at this point.
The Celtics, on the other hand, are cruising. They return home in search of their fourth straight win, and they'll try to hand the Wizards their third straight loss.