Celtics-Sixers preview: Keep your eye on . . .

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Celtics-Sixers preview: Keep your eye on . . .

PHILADELPHIA Even with the games coming at a dizzying and at times frenetic pace, there are some that are more than just etch-a-sketch memory that can easily be washed away and forgotten.

Boston's 103-71 loss at Philadelphia on March 7 was one of those games.

For C's coach Doc Rivers, a "butt whipping" is what he says he took from it.

Paul Pierce said he takes nothing from the blowout loss, the worst of the Big Three era.

"That's one of those games, you kind of throw out the window," he said. "I think we kind of got blown out that game, right? Can't take nothing from that."

As forgettable as they would want it to be, it's clear that the Celtics haven't forgotten and to some degree, will look to exact some revenge or at the very least, put forth a better effort than they did when the two played . . . when was that again?

Ray Allen is one who openly admits it was a game that, eight games later, he remembers all too well.

"They handled us pretty well," Allen said. "So we know going in we have some business we need to take care of. We don't need any motivation. We know what we gotta do going in; get a win."

There are a number of factors that will play a role in Boston's chances of beating the Atlantic Division-leading Sixers. Here are some of the keys to the game as the Celtics (25-21) face off against the Sixers (26-21) with the winner staking their claim to having the best record in the Atlantic Division.

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.

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.
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.

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.

Celtics force overtime, come up short in 127-123 loss to Blazers

Celtics force overtime, come up short in 127-123 loss to Blazers

BOSTON – For the second time in as many games, the Boston Celtics ran into a team that played with a greater sense of desperation.

And the result was yet another defeat as the Portland Trail Blazers, playing their second game in less than 24 hours, were able to get off their losing skid with a 127-123 overtime win over the Celtics.

Boston (26-17) has now lost back-to-back games at home, while the Blazers (19-27) snapped a four-game losing streak.

In the extra session, Portland jumped out to a 117-113 lead only for Boston’s Al Horford scoring on a bank-shot in the paint and Thomas draining a go-ahead 3-pointer for Boston.

Portland regained the lead when Al-Farouq Aminu made a pair of free throws with 59.3 seconds to play to make it a 119-118 game.

Boston soon fell behind 122-118, but a pair of Thomas free throws with 44.8 seconds to play made it a two-point game.

Mason Plumlee scored with 24 seconds to play in overtime, and an Al Horford miss – rebounded by Plumlee who was then fouled by Horford – essentially put the game away with 13.5 seconds to play.

Boston found themselves down late in the fourth quarter and seemingly headed towards defeat, only to get an unexpected lift in the final seconds from Terry Rozier.

Trailing by three points late in the fourth, Boston had one last chance to force overtime so who did they turn to?

If you were thinking Thomas which is what the Blazers and most fans were thinking, you would have been dead wrong.

The fourth quarter may be Thomas’ time to shine, but at that point in the game it was Rozier’s moment as he drained a 3-pointer with 8.4 seconds left that ultimately forced overtime. He finished with 15 points, three rebounds and three assists off the bench.

The Blazers came into the game with the kind of potent scoring punch in the backcourt that strikes the fear into the heart of any defense, let alone one that has been as up and down as the Boston Celtics this season.

For most of the game, Portland’s 1-2 punch of Damian Lillard (28 points) and C.J. McCollum (35 points) lived up to the lofty billing as they combined for 63 points.

McCollum and Lillard both did their share of damage down the stretch, but it was their bench – specifically Meyers Leonard – whose play kept Portland in the game early on.

He finished with 17 points off the bench.

Boston led 65-56 at the half, but soon found itself in a 67-all game after McCollum made the second of two free throws.

But Boston countered with a put-back basket by Kelly Olynyk and a 3-pointer from Isaiah Thomas to push Boston’s lead to 72-67.

Once again the Blazers fought back and eventually took the lead 74-72 on a powerful put-back dunk by Haverill (Mass.) native Noah Vonleh.

Brad Stevens had seen enough of his team getting pushed around, as he called a time-out with 5:31 to play in the quarter.

It didn’t help as Portland continued to bully their way around the rim for second and third-shot opportunities with their lead peaking at 78-72 following a put-back basket by  Plumlee.

But the Celtics responded with a 7-2 spurt capped off by an end-to-end, driving lay-up by Rozier that cut Portland’s lead to 80-79 with 2:44 to play in the quarter. Boston continued to be within striking distance as the third quarter ended with the Celtics trailing 88-86.