PHILADELPHIA For the second time this month, the Boston Celtics had a chance to beat Philadelphia and take over the top spot in the Atlantic Division.
And for the second time this month, they failed.
Philadelphia (27-21) used a strong third quarter surge to pull away for a 99-86 win over the C's.
Boston led 49-43 at the half, but soon saw its control - and the lead - disappear in the third.
Usually the third quarter has been a good one for the Celtics, especially for the C's defensively.
This season, Boston ranks No. 2 in fewest points allowed (21.7) in the third quarter, while averaging 24.1 which ranks 11th.
But in the third, the C's defense disappeared which allowed Philadelphia to score 37 points.
"When you give up 37 points in a quarter, regardless if it's the first, second, third or fourth, that team got going and it was hard to shut them off," said C's guard Rajon Rondo.
Indeed, Philadelphia's big third quarter was a major factor in the game's outcome. But there were other keys at play in determining the outcome. Here we'll review some identified prior to the game.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR - The Celtics came out playing very aggressive on offense against Milwaukee Thursday night, and they'll look to do more of the same against Philadelphia. The result was 35 points scored in the first quarter, a season-high for a Celtics team that averages 22.5 points in the first quarter which ranks 26th in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Sixers are about as good a team defensively as you'll find to start games. Teams are averaging just 22 points against the Sixers in the first quarter which ranks No. 2 in the league.
WHAT WE SAW: Boston seemed well positioned for another strong night, as the C's came out surprisingly hot from the field. The end result was a 32-26 lead after the first, which included another big first quarter scoring from Paul Pierce. He scored 11 of his team-high 20 points in the first six minutes of the game.
MATCHUP TO WATCH - Ray Allen vs. Evan Turner: The second-year guardforward torched the Celtics for a career-high 26 points in the blowout win on March 7. But the 6-7 Turner has struggled recently, scoring a total of just 14 points in Philadelphia's last three games. As for Allen, the March 7 loss at Philadelphia was one of the worst games of his NBA career. He missed all five of his shots from the field, finishing with just two points. When you take that kind of game combined with Thursday night's 1-for-8 shooting performance against the Bucks, no one should be surprised if Allen has a big - BIG - night scoring tonight against the Sixers.
WHAT WE SAW: A left ankle injury kept Allen out of the lineup. And a head injury in the second quarter sidelined Allen's replacement, Mickael Pietrus. The 6-foot-6 swingman suffered a head injury with 5:08 to play in the first half after a hard landing after being fouled by Lou Williams. As for Turner, the C's did a much better job of not allowing him to get into a similar flow that he had earlier this month when he scored a career-high 26 points against the C's. On Friday, he had nine points on 3-for-9 shooting.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Like most of his teammates in the blowout loss earlier this month, Rajon Rondo will look to bounce back with a better performance. Rondo is putting together an incredibly strong stretch of play lately. Rondo has had at least a dozen assists in Boston's last five games which, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, is a franchise record. Look for him to try and get out in transition as much as possible to put the Sixers defense on its heals.
WHAT WE SAW: Despite the Celtics' up and down ways of late, Rajon Rondo continues to remain a surprisingly steady force. On Friday, he had six points and 17 assists which extends his franchise record of games with 12 or more assists, to six. "It's really a credit to my teammates," Rondo said. "I'm passing them the ball, but at the end of the day they have to make the shots."
STAT TO TRACK: Balancing good ball movement with taking care of the ball has been essential to the Sixers' success this season. They have a 2.01 assists-to-turnover ratio which is tops in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Celtics have been one of the NBA's best at forcing teams into a relatively low assists-to-turnover ratio all season. Opponents have a 1.181 assists-to-turnover ratio against Boston, which is the fourth-lowest in the league.
WHAT WE SAW: Philadelphia had an excellent game in terms of its ball movement. The Sixers had 24 assists while turning the ball over just nine times which is actually better than their season average.