Celtics fight back to stave off Sixers, 99-82

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Celtics fight back to stave off Sixers, 99-82

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Uh-oh. Here we go again.

The Boston Celtics' double-digit lead in the third quarter was trimmed to just a handful of points.

And then, they did something we haven't seen them do much of lately when put in that predicament -- fight back.

The lead was soon pushed back to double digits as the Celtics steadily pulled away for a 99-82 win over Philadelphia Tuesday night.

We've seen the Celtics (54-23) deliver some masterful performances this season, with Tuesday's win ranking among their more complete performances.

"We ran up against a team that played probably as well as they've played in a long time," said Sixers coach Doug Collins.

Although the final score doesn't speak to how close the game was for most of the night, there was little doubt about which team was better.

And while much of the talk leading up to the game centered around it being a playoff preview - if the players were today, these two would meet in the first round - Celtics coach Doc Rivers didn't see his team's win being any kind of statement-like victory.

"Not at all," Rivers said. "I just think we won today, and they lost, and they're going to watch film and we're going to watch film. But it's a good win."

Especially when you consider the second-half slump that has engulfed this team far too many times lately, was never an issue.

In the third quarter, a jumper by Kevin Garnett gave the Celtics a 63-50 lead, their largest of the game at that time.

The Sixers responded by scoring 10 of the next 11 points to cut Boston's lead to 64-60.

Lately, that was the kind of run that set up an even bigger run by Boston's opponents.

But rather than continue to slump, the Celtics surged ahead by closing out the quarter with an 11-5 run to take a 75-65 lead into the fourth.

"It was nice, and we did it while subbing," said Rivers. "So to me that was even more important."

Paul Pierce, who had 18 points - all coming after the first quarter - echoed similar sentiments about the Celtics' strong play to close out the third quarter.

"We had a better sense of urgency, coming out of that time-out with 3:59 to play in the third," Pierce said. "The last couple games, we built up 10-point leads and teams got right back in to it. We did a better job of holding the lead, and being a little bit more solid."

Fueling Boston's strong play was Rajon Rondo, who continues to play at a level we haven't seen since the start of the season when he was among the top players in the NBA.

On Tuesday, he had a near double-double of 12 points and nine assists by halftime before finishing with 16 points and 13 assists for his 30th double-double this season.

"He was just aggressive, attacking and shooting," Rivers said. "You can see, he's getting himself ready for the playoffs."

And it wasn't just his scoring that gave the Sixers problems.

After Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday had 11 points in the first quarter, Rondo was part of a Celtics defense that kept him scoreless for the rest of the game.

For the game, Boston limited the Sixers to just 39.3 percent shooting, which included just 31.8 percent in the fourth.

"It started with Rondo," said Kevin Garnett, referring to Boston's strong play defensively. "He started to put pressure on the ball and I thought it just trickled down. I thought when we needed to get stops we got stops. multiple stops. After that, it was pretty much over."

And so now the Celtics move on to where they'll face the Chicago Bulls, yet another opponent that they might see at some point in the postseason.

Chances are at some point in that game, the Celtics will be have a lead and have it challenged by the Bulls who sit atop the Eastern Conference standings.

But Boston comes into that game off a night when as the game got tight, for a change, they didn't.

"Hopefully we can play a lot more games like this," Pierce said. "Just try to finish off the season on a good note."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Celtics move into No. 1 spot in East as Cavs get crushed by Spurs

Celtics move into No. 1 spot in East as Cavs get crushed by Spurs

SAN ANTONIO -- The Cavaliers acknowledged having heavy legs, yet there is something far weightier on the minds of the defending NBA champions.

Cleveland is in the midst of one of its worst stretches this season and there is little time to fix it.

Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points and the San Antonio Spurs dismantled the ailing Cavs 103-74 on Monday night in a much-anticipated showdown that turned into a major letdown for Cleveland.

"The way we've been struggling, (the Spurs are) the last team that you want to play," said LeBron James, who was fine after taking an elbow to the neck. "A well-oiled machine like this, they exploit everything that you're not doing well at that point in time of the season and right now we're not playing good basketball."

James, who finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 29 minutes, said he will play Thursday at Chicago.

Cleveland (47-26) dropped its second in a row, set a season low for points and fell a half-game behind Boston (48-26) for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Cavaliers have nine games remaining, all against teams in the East, including a visit to Boston on April 5.

James said the standings "always matter," but playing more consistently is far more important and he refused to blame injuries or an arduous schedule for the team's troubles.

"It matters more that we're playing better basketball than where we're at," he said. "If that results in us having the No. 1 seed, the No. 2 seed, 3 or whatever the hell it is, we need to play better basketball. That's what it comes down to."

What Cleveland is seeking, the Spurs have already found.

San Antonio (57-16) is two games behind Golden State (59-14) for the league's best record entering a home game against the Warriors on Wednesday.

The Spurs have won five straight and 8 of 10 after sweeping the season series with the Cavaliers.

"It was a big game, but in the end, it's just one game, and one win," San Antonio guard Tony Parker said. "We're trying to be consistent. We're trying to play the same way every game. It was definitely surprising. Coming off a loss, I thought they would play with a lot more energy, but it can happen. It's a long season. It's just one game and I'm sure they're going to bounce back and use this game as motivation."

LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol added 14 points apiece for the Spurs.

San Antonio led by as many as 33 to the delight of the sold-out crowd, and the Spurs' bench outscored the Cavaliers' reserves 49-24.

"We did a good job coming out early and then keeping our foot on the pedal," Leonard said.

Cleveland, which was already without injured Iman Shumpert, received more bad news Monday morning when it was announced that Kyle Korver will miss at least two more games with a sore left foot.

"You lose Korver and Shumpert off your bench and things tend to change," Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. "With those two guys out, we tried some different things and it didn't work. It was not on the bench. It was on me."

Cleveland opted to play its stars rather than rest them, but the trio of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love sat out the fourth quarter of the Cav's second lopsided loss in the past two weeks.

Lue said he has considered resting his stars over the team's final nine games, which James is not in favor of.

"Coach is going to have his logic of things, but we need to play," he said.

James exited with 25 seconds remaining in the third after taking an elbow to his neck from David Lee on a rebound. James continually rubbed the area before collapsing after he crossed midcourt. He remained on the floor for about a minute before walking unassisted to the bench.

James left for the locker room early in the fourth quarter during a timeout, but said afterward he is fine.

EXTRA SHOOTING

Irving returned to the court for about 15 minutes following the loss to work on his jump shot. The star guard had eight points and two assists in 26 minutes. He finished 4 for 13 from the field and missed his two 3-point attempts.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: Cleveland completed its schedule against the West, finishing 16-14. In addition to losing to the Spurs by 29 points, the Cavaliers lost by 35 to Golden State and 30 to the Los Angeles Clippers . . . James needs 24 points to pass Shaquille O'Neal for seventh overall in career scoring. O'Neal has 28,596 career points . . . The Cavaliers averaged 116.3 points in their previous four games.

Spurs: San Antonio is holding opponents under 100 points per game for the 22nd straight season . . . Danny Green tied his season high with four blocked shots . . . Leonard has scored in double figures in 100 straight games.

UP NEXT

Cavaliers: At the Chicago Bulls on Thursday night.

Spurs: Host the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night.

Bertrand: Raptors a 'scary team' in the Eastern Conference

Bertrand: Raptors a 'scary team' in the Eastern Conference

Mike Felger and Marc Bertrand talk about the Celtics clinching the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference and other potential threats for the C's.