Celtics take back home court with 107-91 win over Sixers

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Celtics take back home court with 107-91 win over Sixers

PHILADELPHIA It wasn't supposed to be like this.

The Boston Celtics were hurting at so many positions. The Sixers had home court advantage and apparently some momentum from their Game 2 win, and would feed off their fans.

And you know what all that meant to the Celtics?

Absolutely nothing.

The only thing the C's were concerned about was getting a win, something they were able to do in emphatic fashion with a 107-91 victory. The C's now lead the best-of-seven series 2-1 with Game 4 in Philadelphia on Friday and Game 5 back in Boston on Monday.

The 'You Can't Stop Me' Tour featuring Kevin Garnett was rolling along, with Garnett delivering yet another show-stopping performance with 27 points and 13 rebounds. Rajon Rondo had a solid night as well, with 23 points, 14 assists and six rebounds. Ditto for Paul Pierce (24 points, 12 rebounds, four assists).

After taking a double-digit lead into the half, the Celtics were hoping that the third quarter would be better - much better - than it was for them in Games 1 and 2.

In less than five minutes, the Celtics' lead had ballooned to 20 points (71-51) with Garnett leading the charge.

His ability to score both inside the paint and from the perimeter, not to mention his defense, was just too much for the Sixers to handle.

Boston's blowout win was a bit surprising when you consider the game's early moments which saw Philadelphia open the game with a 7-2 run.

Throughout those early possessions, the Celtics were seemingly a step slow in getting free for shots, as well as their defensive rotations.

But the steadying force during those struggles, Garnett, continued to remind us all that there's still good basketball - a lot of good basketball - in those soon-to-be-36 year old bones of his.

However, Garnett soon found himself battling something much tougher than the Sixers defense - foul trouble.

He picked up two in the first quarter, which ended with the Celtics behind 33-28.

Garnett's departure might have been a blessing in the disguise for Boston.

It forced them to run more of their offense through Pierce.

Pierce, still dealing with a sprained medial collateral ligament injury in his left knee, appeared to have found that much-needed bounce with back-to-back emphatic dunks followed by a pair of primal yells for good measure.

His play, along with Rondo's scoring, was instrumental in the Celtics being within striking distance going into the second quarter.

Facing a five-point deficit to start the second, Garnett immediately made up for lost time with the first of many baskets.

It didn't' take long before Garnett was joined by Rondo. And Brandon Bass. And Keyon Dooling. And Mickael Pietrus. And

Yeah, it was becoming that kind of game for the C's, courtesy of their small ball lineup that Celtics coach Doc Rivers normally waits until the fourth quarter to use.

But in the first, the C's had a stretch in which their lineup included Rondo, Ray Allen, Avery Bradley, Paul Pierce and Greg Stiemsma.

The Celtics thrived with a similar small ball unit in the second quarter that included Garnett who was trending towards a double-double (17 points, nine rebounds) by halftime.

Boston pulled ahead by as many as 13 points (56-43) in the second, but soon saw its lead down to just seven after a 3-point play by Lou Williams and a 3-pointer by Andre Iguodala.

The C's had played too well for too long to go into the half without a double digit lead. Boston took a 60-49 lead into the half following a pair of free throws by Rondo and a driving lay-up.

Boston had a chance to make the lead even bigger when Pierce stole the ball and launched a desperation, off-balance shot that was on line with the basket but came up short as time expired.

It didn't matter, though.

Because the half ended with the Celtics ahead comfortably, setting the stage for them to walk off the floor accomplishing the only thing they wanted all along - a victory.

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

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Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

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Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.