PHILADELPHIA Even now the subject of the Boston Celtics being a "soft" team still comes up - and it's not from the media.
It's from the Celtics players who still feel the sting of their coaches' assessment following a loss to Brooklyn last month.
"We're a soft team right now; we have no toughness," C's coach Doc Rivers said following a 95-83 loss to Brooklyn on Nov. 28 that also involved Rajon Rondo being ejected.
Following Boston's 104-94 win over Minnesota on Wednesday, Kevin Garnett was asked about the team's rebounding performance which led him down the road of discussing toughness which then took a detour down the road of being labeled a "soft" team by Rivers.
"Obviously being called soft is not something that you want to be called," Garnett said. "It still lives in the back of our minds. Work in progress, man."
Since the Brooklyn loss, the Celtics have tried to go about proving their coach wrong with a brand of basketball that's reminiscent of the days not that long ago when the Celtics had a defense that teams feared.
Boston has held its last three opponents to 94 or less points scored. Prior to the Brooklyn loss, C's opponents cracked the 100-point plateau in five of the previous six games.
"We've got a long way to go, but we're getting better," Rivers said. "You can see it, for sure."
The Sixers have been one of the few teams in recent years to find success against Boston with wins in four of their last six regular season matchups.
Rivers and his players are all too aware of their recent struggles against the Sixers.
"I've always said consistency has always been our biggest question mark," Garnett said. "Philly always plays us tough, and we have a back-to-back (the two meet again Saturday in Boston). Let's see how consistent we can be with this."
Here are a few keys to tonight's game as the Celtics try to take another step towards shedding that "soft" label put on them by their head coach.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Kevin Garnett was so good against Minnesota because he got the ball so often on the block with plenty of time on the shot clock. Getting Garnett lots of early touches offensively usually works out well for the C's over the course of a game. Knowing this and actually doing it, that's another story.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Jason Terry vs. Jason Richardson: Terry has been in a nice groove lately, scoring at least 13 points in each of the Celtics' last four games. The C's will need more of that, especially with Richardson struggling the way he has shooting the ball recently.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Brandon Bass had a stretch in the third quarter of Boston's win over Minnesota in which he was the best scorer on the floor. Finding a stretch like that against the Sixers will bode well both for him and the Celtics' chances of winning.
STAT TO TRACK: The third quarter is usually a big one for both teams. The Celtics average 24.9 points in the third which ranks seventh in the league, while the Sixers are giving up just 23 points in the third quarter which is the sixth-lowest average in the league.