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.

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

BOSTON –  Terry Rozier was having a rough stretch where his minutes were limited and when he did play, he didn’t play particularly well.
 
Among the voices in his ear offering words of encouragement was Avery Bradley who knows all too well what Rozier was going through.
 
For all his time as a Celtic, Bradley has let his work on the floor do the talking for him.
 
But as the most tenured Celtic on the roster, his leadership has to be about more than just getting the job done, but servicing as a vocal leader as well.
 
For a player whose growth from one year to the next has been a constant, being a more vocal leader has been the one dynamic of his game that has improved the most during this past season.
 
And it is that kind of leadership that will carry into the summer what is a pivotal offseason for both Bradley and this Celtics franchise which was eliminated by Cleveland in the Conference finals, the first time the Celtics got that deep in the playoffs since 2012.
 
He is entering the final year of the four-year, $32 million contract he signed in 2014. And it comes at a time when his fellow Tacoma, Wash. native and backcourt mate Isaiah Thomas will likely hit free agency where he’s expected to command a max or near-max contract that would pay him an annual salary in the neighborhood of $30 million.
 
At this point in time, Bradley isn’t giving too much thought to his impending contract status.
 
Instead, he’s more consumed by finding ways to improve his overall game and in doing so, help guide the Celtics to what has to be their focus for next season – a trip to the NBA Finals.
 
While Celtics players have said their focus has always been on advancing as far into the playoffs as possible, it wasn’t until this past season did they actually provide hope and promise that Banner 18 may be closer than you think.
 
It was an emotional time for the Celtics, dealing with the unexpected death of Chyna Thomas, the younger sister of Isaiah Thomas, just hours before Boston’s first playoff game this season.
 
And then there were injuries such as Thomas’ right hip strain that ended his postseason by halftime of Boston’s Eastern Conference finals matchup with Cleveland.
 
But through that pain, we saw the emergence of Bradley in a light we have seldom seen him in as a Celtic.
 
We have seen him play well in the past, but it wasn’t until Thomas’ injury did we see Bradley showcase even more elements of his game that had been overlooked.
 
One of the constant knocks on Bradley has been his ball-handling.
 
And yet there were a number of occasions following Thomas’ playoff-ending injury, where Bradley attacked defenders off the dribble and finished with lay-ups and an occasional dunk in transition.
 
Among players who appeared in at least 12 playoff games this year, only Washington’s John Wall (7.9), Cleveland’s LeBron James (6.8) and Golden State’s Stephen Curry (5.2) averaged more points in transition than Bradley (4.7).
 
Bradley recognized the team needed him to be more assertive, do things that forced him to be more front-and-center which is part of his evolution in Boston as a leader on this team.
 
“It’s weird but players like Al (Horford) definitely helped me get out of my shell and pushed me this year to be more of a vocal leader,” Bradley said.
 
And that talent combined with Bradley doing what he does every offseason – come back significantly better in some facet of his game – speaks to how he’s steadily growing into being a leader whose actions as well as his words are impactful.